When Tranquillo Barnetta leaves the Philadelphia Union at the end of the season, his presence will be missed in many aspects.
That is why Union boss Jim Curtin called the 31-year-old Swiss midfielder the best player in club history during his weekly press conference on Wednesday.
“Pedigree-wise what he brought to the locker room, what he brings to young players, his talent on the field, the best player to wear a Philadelphia Union jersey in my opinion,” Curtin said. “It’s a short history that the club has, but he’s a guy that gave everything for the team, the fans and he did it the right way. You won’t meet many people like him in this game and we want it to last as long as possible.”
Barnetta only has six goals and seven assists in 37 matches in MLS, but his impact has been felt in every aspect of the game as the No. 10 in the Union lineup. An argument can be made that Barnetta will go down as one of the most underrated signings in league history.
The midfielder’s intentions and character were on display from the start of his time in Philadelphia as he was adamant about taking an 18-month contract instead of a three-year offer.
“To rewind back when he signed his deal, we offered him several years and he was very adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about money, but Tranquillo truly means it when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market.”
Barnetta’s end goal was to always play a year with his hometown club St. Gallen. He will join the Swiss club after the Union conclude their playoff push. One of the reasons Barnetta may have opted to leave MLS at this point is the pain he’s feeling in his knee. The former Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke man has been dealing with a knee issue this season, including in the buildup to Saturday’s trip to Red Bull Arena.
“I don’t want to speak for him, but I do think the chronic feeling he has in his knee is a scare to him that if he doesn’t pull the trigger now, he won’t ever get to be himself playing for his hometown team so I respect that,” Curtin said.
Replacing Barnetta will be a tough task due to his impact on and off the pitch. The Union have a replacement on the current roster in Roland Alberg to play the No. 10 position, but Curtin and sporting director Earnie Stewart may go after a big target in the offseason. The rest of the midfield seems set with United States internationals Alejandro Bedoya and Maurice Edu expected to slot in behind the No. 10. Bedoya could also play the position if asked.
But before all of the talk surrounding Barnetta’s successor takes over, the Union want to send one of their leaders off with a memorable run through the playoffs.
“By no means is this the end, we want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be MLS Cup,” Curtin said. “I’ve preached that to our guys to prolong it and run with him in our group as long as possible.”