Has Martin Braithwaite just saved his Barcelona career?
Or will a stunning start to the new La Liga season aid the club’s attempts to cash in on a man whose stock – on the back of Denmark’s stirring run to the Euro 2020 finals and Sunday’s Man of the Match performance against Real Sociedad – has seldom been higher?
With just two weeks remaining in the transfer window, that question will be answered in due course.
What cannot be disputed, however, is that a man who arrived at the Camp Nou as something of a joke figure – a footballing punchline – is starting to make everyone take him that little bit more seriously.
But the one-time Middlesbrough bench-warmer is determined to prove that he can play a key role in the post-Lionel Messi era and, as Ronald Koeman’s side lifted the gloom with a 4-2 win over a much-fancied Sociedad side, it was Braithwaite – rather than Antoine Griezmann – who made everyone forget for a second or two about their dearly-departed number ten.
Is Martin Braithwaite now out of West Ham’s reach?
Burying a far post header following an inch-perfect Frenkie de Jong assist and then lashing home after the ball bounced loose inside the Sociedad box, Braithwaite equalled his tally from the whole of last season inside 59 minutes of the new campaign.
Not content with his two goals, the 30-year-old then showcased his often underrated acceleration, roasting a beleaguered Sociedad backline before setting up Sergi Roberto for the game’s stoppage-time clincher.
It was the best performance of Braithwaite’s strange Barcelona career to date. With Messi gone, and with his future on the line, it could hardly have come at a better time either.
“I think he (Braithwaite) is an example of a professional, he always works for the team and has improved his game,” manager Ronald Koeman told Marca at full-time.
“He helps us a lot. He has speed and is difficult to stop. I am delighted to have players like him.”
With West Ham still in the market for a new number nine, how much longer will Koeman be able to call on a man whose commitment to the cause has never wavered, even during those long spells on the Camp Nou bench?
Barcelona still need cash – and lots of it. Braithwaite’s performance might have enhanced his price-tag as well as his reputation.