It was the first big deal in the COVID-19 era, and it allowed both Barcelona and Juventus to make their books look more balanced/favourable, yet from a footballing perspective neither club has benefitted from the Arthur Melo–Miralem Pjanic swap deal that took place in the summer of 2020.
Whilst not directly a swap, with the two players both signed for respective transfer fees, it was a deal which made very little sense at the time.
Barcelona had never fully replaced Xavi Hernandez, much to the chagrin of Lionel Messi, and decided to let the closest thing they had to the veteran Catalan leave the club in order to sign a player that had just turned 30.
Juventus, on the other hand, allowed one of the most trusted, veteran lieutenants to depart in the form of Pjanic, instead welcoming Arthur to a team that had no clear place for him.
It was difficult to make a case at the time that either team had definitively improved, although common sense did give the Italians the slight edge because of the Brazilian’s age of 23.
From the perspective of the players, neither was walking into an ideal situation either. Barcelona had just collapsed to an 8-2 defeat in the Champions League to Bayern Munich, whilst Juventus appointed first-time head coach Andrea Pirlo completely out of the blue.
Neither player was set up for success, and as such we’ve seen them struggle ever since. Pjanic has barely featured for Ronald Koeman this season, totalling just 599 minutes of football in LaLiga Santander to this point.
Arthur has played more in Turin, making 16 Serie A appearances for a total of 938 minutes, but he has only scored one goal and contributed no assists, which is disappointing.
When you look at specifically how both teams can move forward and improve, it’s difficult to make a case for keeping either player.
Barcelona have found incredibly talented midfielders in Pedri and Ilaix Moriba, whilst Frenkie de Jong has come on leaps and bounds this season.
Juventus need to focus on how they want to move forward. Do they want to continue with Cristiano Ronaldo, or hire a dynamic young coach who will need an entirely different profile of player?
In midfield they already have Rodrigo Bentancur, and it’s easy to make a case for him being given priority over the Brazilian, given his talent.
Both Pjanic and Arthur are likely to be stuck in career purgatory unless their situation dramatically changes, and it’s unfortunate that pretty much everyone could see this coming when the deal was announced. It made little sense then and it makes even less sense now.