Jean Michaël Seri: The Midfield Creator Interesting Liverpool and Barcelona
16th August 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
In a summer that’s seen the transfer market reach giddier heights of inflation than previously imagined possible – with Neymar’s switch to Paris Saint-Germain doubling the world transfer record and talk of €200 million bids for Kylian Mbappé – it’s puzzling that a player of Jean Michaël Seri’s quality, said to have a measly €40 million release clause, has not been snapped up.
The Ivory Coast midfielder shot to the attention of the wider European football-viewing public with his stellar displays for Nice last season, pulling the strings in midfield and guiding the Côte d’Azur club to a third-place Ligue 1 finish.
Having initially attracted interest from Barcelona, Roma and Arsenal, Seri is now being linked with a potential move to Liverpool as the Reds eye up an alternative to Naby Keïta. But the fact that no potential suitor has yet stumped up the asking price for the 26-year-old playmaker remains baffling, with inferior players switching clubs for higher fees.
Of all the clubs rumoured to be monitoring his progress at the Allianz Riviera, Barcelona would be Seri’s dream move. Speaking to Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo earlier this summer, the diminutive midfielder said: “If Barça comes to sign you, you can’t say no. No way.
“I have supported Barça since I was a child, when I was still in my native country, in Ivory Coast. I was always a big culé [Barcelona fan] and those who know me know it well. Then, when I moved to Portugal, I had the chance to follow their games closely.”
Seri is perfect for Barcelona, too. Especially in an era when Andrés Iniesta’s powers are fading and the Catalan giants’ once-dominant midfield has lost its customary poise, creativity and guile.
With his impeccable close control, sharp vision and spatial awareness, Seri is ready-made for a possession-based system, where rapid circulation of the ball is the order of the day. His technical mastery allows him to pick out a colleague over all distances with stunning regularity, while his upper-body strength – despite standing just 5ft 5ins tall – means he is unruffled and unhurried when pressed.
Last season, only Monaco’s Thomas Lemar (10) registered more Ligue 1 assists than Seri (nine), with the Nice midfielder also chipping in with seven league goals for Lucien Favre’s men.
Although he was initially signed from Portuguese side Paços de Ferreira as a defensive midfielder, it quickly became apparent that Seri was equally effective in the offensive phase of play, and has since inhabited a box-to-box role for Nice. This added freedom to roam has allowed him to showcase his thunderous and accurate long-range shooting, ability to time runs into the penalty area and creative flair in the final third.
Able to conduct play in deep zones – he averaged a mammoth 84.5 passes per 90 last term at an accuracy of 89.5 per cent – and break forward to instigate and join attacking moves, Seri combines the strengths of Barça legends Iniesta and Xavi, and could operate on either side of Sergio Busquets in the Blaugrana midfield.
If there were any further evidence of his suitability for the Camp Nou needed, the player comes with a ringing indorsement from none other than Xavi.
“When I was told that a Nice player was nicknamed the ‘African Xavi,’ I followed him very closely,” The iconic 2010 World Cup winner and Barça hero told Eurosport recently. “I watched matches and a ton of videos. I didn’t know him… and I was spellbound. I’m not used to seeing such a talent in midfield.
“Short passing, long passing, tactical intelligence, distance shooting, personality, organizing play, that last magic pass … ‘madre mia!’ He would do very well at Barça! He can play anywhere in the middle. Seri is fantastic. I can say, without hesitation, that he has what we call ‘Barça DNA.’”
Yet Barcelona have just spent €40million – the same figure that could have landed Seri – to sign 29-year-old Brazilian midfielder Paulinho from Guangzhou Evergrande, with what remains of the €222million they received for Neymar seemingly committed to the pursuits of Ousmane Dembélé and Coutinho.
If Barça are for some reason unwilling or at least reluctant to move for Seri, Liverpool should take advantage of the Spanish side’s hesitance. The Merseysiders have spent most of the summer trying to prise Guinean midfield dynamo Naby Keïta away from RB Leipzig, but the Bundesliga high-flyers are refusing to countenance the 22-year-old’s sale.
If Keïta is unavailable, Seri would be the next best thing. The Nice midfielder perhaps lacks a touch of the Leipzig star’s dynamism, but he more than makes up for that with his creativity and technique, also sharing a similar ability to position himself perfectly to plug any holes that open up in his side while simultaneously being able to swiftly turn defence into attack.
Liverpool have spent big to sign Mohamed Salah from Roma this summer, further bolstering Jürgen Klopp’s already frightening attack. But their 3-3 draw with Watford in the opening weekend of the 2017/18 Premier League season exposed not only defensive frailties, but also an inability to effectively move the ball up the pitch quickly enough to make full use of the front three’s blistering pace.
Without Coutinho in the line-up, who was omitted having submitted a transfer request in an effort to expedite a move to Barcelona, no-one in the Liverpool midfield, made up of Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum, possessed the requisite ball progression capabilities to properly service Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah out wide.
The addition of Seri would solve this issue instantly. The Ivory Coast playmaker is astute at spotting team-mates breaking into space and picking them out with accurate, vertical passes.
The one caveat to Seri’s suitability for an Anfield move is that he suffers from chilblains, a condition which causes painful swelling and itchiness of the skin in cold conditions – perhaps a worry when considering swapping the Côte d’Azur for Merseyside.
But if that can be overcome, and considering he is available for considerably less than they were willing to fork out for Keïta, Liverpool should pounce to sign Seri before Barcelona’s decision makers come to their senses.