At this time of year, it is common for Europe’s leading clubs to delve into the South American market, where there is often much better value to be found than in many of the so-called top five or six leagues. Some have already made the journey across, with Thiago Maia joining Marcelo Bielsa’s Lille from Santos and Rodrigo Bentancur leaving Boca Juniors for Serie A champions Juventus.
However, it is another of Latin America’s finest who could take centre stage in one of the longest-running transfer sagas of the summer. Palmeiras centre-back Yerry Mina has been linked with a whole host of clubs in recent months, and rightly so. Many would call him the best defender in South America right now, and it is hard to argue against that.
Not only is he a dominant presence in defence, but he is also deadly from attacking set pieces, scoring goals at a rate most midfielders would be proud of. Without doubt, Mina is one of most well-rounded footballers available on the market. His ability to carry the ball forward and start attacking moves would be an invaluable asset to any team looking to control ball possession and play and exciting brand of football.
Believe it or not, Mina actually began his career as a goalkeeper, following in the footsteps of his father who played between the sticks for América de Cali and Once Caldas. However, he quickly decided he wanted to stand out more, so he moved outfield. Having joined the youth setup at Deportivo Pasto at the age of 17, his potential was clear immediately. Former coach Fernando Figueroa said of him: “He had good technical ability, a good pass, a good physique, plus intelligence and intuition.” In other words, he is an idyllic example of the modern-day centre-back.
Mina consolidated his status as one of Colombia’s hottest prospects when he was signed by Independiente Santa Fe, where he became a first team regular and quickly began attracting interest from foreign clubs after some stellar performances in the 2015 Copa Sul-Americana. The following season, he proved himself in the Copa Libertadores which prompted Palmeiras to bring him to Brazil, where he helped them win their first national title in 22 years. He has since established himself as a regular in the Colombia team this year.
Brazilians call him a “zagueiro artilheiro” – a goalscoring centre-back, due to his knack of being in the right place at the right time, often at critical points in very important matches too. With eight goals to his name for Palmeiras, he remains ahead of marquee signing Miguel Borja in the club’s goalscoring charts. A fair few of those goals have been scored with his feet too, showing he is much more than an aerial one-trick pony. Fortunately for him and his teammates, he is even more reliable at the back, where he has the ability to bully opposition strikers and bring the ball into midfield with impressive ease.
Since joining Palmeiras in June 2016, the Colombian stopper has displayed outstandingly consistent form. He was one of Verdão’s stand-out performers under Cuca, as they were crowned Brazilian champions back in December. Of course, Gabriel Jesus’ goalscoring exploits and subsequent move to Manchester City meant he grabbed most of the headlines, but many of Europe’s top scouts sat up and took note of Mina’s impressive physical attributes and technical ability.
Initially, Cuca had been concerned about Mina’s perceived tendency to dally on the ball, putting his team in danger, but this has rarely happened in truth. Far more often than not, he appears to be in complete control of his game, as well as those around him. For example, there is no doubt Vitor Hugo (recently joined Fiorentina for €8m) improved significantly during his time playing alongside him. It is safe to say the coach is now completely convinced by his Colombian recruit.
“He’s got everything it takes to be a top centre-back, one of the best in the world. He’s a player who will outgrow Palmeiras, no doubt about that,” said Cuca. “He’s really strong in the air when he goes forward and is quick in defence. He doesn’t back off; he attacks the ball and also builds play from the back.”
It is crucial to remember that the deal which took him to Allianz Parque was effectively done in tandem with Barcelona, who ensured they have an option to buy the player from Palmeiras next summer for a fee in the region of €9 million. The Catalan club will almost certainly activate this clause after the World Cup, unless another of European football’s superpowers beats them to the chase in the next few weeks. However, in the past week, both Colombian and Catalan sources have reported that Barcelona will exercise their buyout option, with Mina joining the club in January was he recovers from a broken metatarsal and enjoys his farewell semester in South America.
Backed by their ambitious Chinese owners Suning, Inter have been linked with a move for him as they seek to reinforce a defence still blighted by the presence of Andrea Ranocchia, Yuto Nagatomo et al. Sections of the Italian media believe an offer between €15-20 million could be enough to tempt Mauricio Galiotte’s club into selling.
Barcelona’s fiercest rivals Real Madrid have also been touted as a possible destination for Mina should he feel the time is right to move on. Palmeiras are of course obliged to give La Blaugrana the opportunity to match any offer they receive as part of their agreement. Regardless of whether a deal is reached this summer or next, Barcelona remain heavy favourites to secure his signature, due to the continually expanding cooperation between the two clubs.
By: Jordan Russell/@JordRuss96