BARCELONA, Spain — Ernesto Valverde fought back against criticism that Barcelona’s signing of Jeison Murillo serves as a snub to the club’s academy.
Barca confirmed the arrival of Murillo from Valencia on a six-month loan on Thursday due to injuries to Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen.
The short-term deal has provoked complaints among some supporters, who feel Valverde should have instead turned Chumi, Jorge Cuenca or Oscar Mingueza, who play for the club’s reserve team in the Spanish third division.
“We can’t escape the fact we’ve been in a delicate situation at centre-back this season,” the coach said in a news conference on Friday. “Since the summer, we’ve basically had just two. We had [Umtiti] but then he’s had injury problems.
“The club’s idea was to get someone on loan, that didn’t cost a lot, that could play immediately and knew the league. In that sense, Murillo ticks all the boxes. It was an option on the table and we had to act to get it done quickly.
“We know he wasn’t playing much at Valencia, but if he was we wouldn’t have been able to sign him. If we had €100 million to sign a superstar it would have been a different situation. But he’s a good player and we’re hoping for the best.”
Valverde grew increasingly irritated as he was repeatedly asked about what Murillo’s signing means for the club’s youngsters.
“There has to be room for the B team players to get a chance, but we can’t go over the top on this subject,” he added. “[Juan] Miranda’s registered as [Jordi] Alba’s backup and there’s [Moussa] Wague, who can’t be registered yet but will be in January.
“We can’t play with all the B team players just to make people happy, we have to compete as well. With the demands we have here, we have to compete.
“The first team needs four centre-backs, then there’s those in the B team: Chumi, Cuenca, Mingueza … But you can’t [risk] having two centre-backs that are playing in the third division.”
Valverde says he doesn’t know when Umtiti will be available again. The France defender is continuing to refuse surgery to fix a knee issue and is undergoing treatment in Qatar. Vermaelen is out for the next month.
Murillo trained with his new teammates for the first time on Friday, but will not be available to face Celta Vigo on Saturday. Valverde will once again have to go with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet, the first team’s only fit centre-backs at the moment.
Right-back Nelson Semedo is expected to return to action, though, but the game at Camp Nou comes too soon for Sergi Roberto and Malcom.
Valverde hopes to end the year with a win which would allow Barca to maintain their three-point lead at the top of the table. Thoughts will then turn to the January transfer window. The coach is not ruling out more signings following the Murillo deal but suggested he’s happy with what he has for now.
“I would be the first manager to say we’re closed for business before the transfer market even opens,” he said. “We have to keep an eye on everything. The window’s open for everyone and we will see what happens.
“What’s the case on Jan. 5 may be completely different on Jan. 29. We have to be cautious and wait. We will start with what we have and see if we’re OK. We hope we don’t have any problems in January which force us to change things.”