BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino is happy to wait until January to see whether he needs to sign a new centre-back, the Argentine said ahead of the opening game of their La Liga title defence.
Barca’s search for a defensive reinforcement has dominated their pre-season preparations, with seemingly unsuccessful attempts to land Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Daniel Agger, leaving them potentially thin at the back.
Latest reports are that Martino, who was rushed in as a replacement for Tito Vilanova last month when Pep Guardiola’s former assistant stepped down for health reasons, wants time to consider his options.
“Just to make my position clear regarding centre-backs,” Martino told a news conference on Saturday, ahead of the visit of Levante.
”I know what the club was doing before I came here and what they wanted, even with Tito here.
”What I say is that as long as (Carles) Puyol is fine - and he will be because his recovery is going well - with Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra, Adriano or Sergio Busquets as centre-backs, we are fine.
“If we have an injury, there is always the winter transfer window.”
Inspirational captain Puyol has yet to return to full training with the squad after knee surgery and failed to make the squad for Sunday, which means Pique and converted midfielder Mascherano are likely to resume their partnership at the back.
The debate over Barca’s defensive frailties has almost over-shadowed the eagerly-awaited La Liga debut of their new 57 million euro signing Neymar, and how he might link up with World Player of the Year Lionel Messi.
The young Brazil forward is set to form part of a fearsome frontline at the Nou Camp and could get his first competitive run out against Levante.
“It is hard to imagine someone with the quality of Neymar not adding what Barcelona needs,” Martino said, with Neymar expected to help take the pressure off Messi up front.
“He is an amazing player, he is very good one-on-one. He has played well with the team, and with Messi so far, and they feel comfortable together in training.”
Neymar had his tonsils removed just after helping Brazil win the Confederations Cup at the end of June, and there has been speculation that his recovery from the procedure has taken longer than expected.
He has scored a couple of goals in pre-season games, albeit against mediocre opposition, but has yet to play a full 90 minutes.
“My idea is for him to be patient and calm,” Martino said.
”He needs to get fit step by step as we are in no hurry. The only thing I am not going to do as a coach is to rush somebody onto the pitch who is not completely fit to do so.
“I have no doubt that we will be seeing the best version of Neymar soon.”
Barca host Levante on Sunday and then travel to play King’s Cup winners Atletico Madrid for the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup next Wednesday.
Writing by Mark Elkington, editing by Rex Gowar