Q&A: Tranquillo Barnetta

Photo: Daniel Studio

Foreign summer signings are generally slow to adapt to Major League Soccer.

Didier Drogba is the exception, with his 11 goals in 11 games last season, including a hat trick in his first start.

Tim Cahill is the norm, struggling for form in 2012 before breaking out to become the leading goal scorer on the 2013 shield-winning Red Bull team.

Union fans should hope that Tranquillo Barnetta is on the same path as Cahill, or Marco Di Vaio, or even David Beckham. Sometimes these guys just need a full offseason to find their form in a new league.

You might remember that Barnetta’s first action as a Union player was to concede a penalty. Philly went on to lose 3-1 at home to New York. It seemed like he was a bit “off,” and wasn’t doing that much to influence the course of a game.

But Barnetta slowly improved in September and October. He bagged a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win vs. Houston and looked more assured of his role in the Union attack. He played the full 90 minutes in five games over those two months, and seemed to be adjusting to the flow and style of MLS.

This year, the No. 10 spot is Barnetta’s to lose. The former Swiss international played most of his career on the left, but he’s tasked in 2016 with filling the 15-assist void created by the offseason trade of Cristian Maidana. If the Union is to be successful this year, it needs production from its most experienced player.

Barnetta spoke to reporters following Day One of Union preseason training.

Kevin Kinkead / PSP: Tranquillo, thoughts on being back in camp? How did you spend your offseason?

Barnetta: I came back last Wednesday. Most of the offseason was spent in Switzerland with my family and friends. But I’m happy to be back and to have a whole season, to have real preparation because last year was a little bit tough for me, not to come into the team but to perform well. I hope this year will be better. I’m sure it will be better because if you have the whole team together, and you can have a full training camp, it will be better.

Matt DeGeorge / Delco Times: What are some of things you can work on in the preseason, that maybe in the middle of a season you can’t get to?

Barnetta: The most important thing would be that you get fit and ready, the physical stuff. All of those things you can work on during the season, but (in preseason) you can also focus on how you want to play, how you want to defend, how you want to attack, you can work on all of that. We’ll be physically ready for every game, but it’s also about how we want to play. For me, if we defend well, we have so much potential in the offense. But we can’t always score so the most important thing is to defend well as a team.

[Tranquillo is basically saying that it’s easier to build an identity and a tactical plan with a full preseason of preparation.]

Kinkead: You played the bulk of your career at left midfield, but in recent years you’ve seen more time in the No. 10 spot. Obviously Cristian Maidana was traded. Do you expect to start the year in that central role?

Barnetta: Yeah, I always said that I have no problem playing any position in the midfield, even as a six it would be not a problem. But I always, when Cristian was not available I played behind the striker. So I think that it in the beginning of the season, we will (start this way). But if we have other plans or the coaches add other players, we’ll be fine too.

De George: There are a lot of new faces here. What’s the process like, getting up to speed and getting used to all of these new players?

Barnetta: It’s a little bit new for me that you have so many new faces, it’s like going to a new team a little bit (laughs). But no, we have a couple of players who, I think some important players are still here. For sure we lost some key players as well. But other key players are still here. We’ll talk with the new guys and invite them into the team but usually it’s never a problem. The way these guys brought me into the team, I have no worries that the new players would be treated any differently.


  1. I know it is not the point of the article, but Didier Drogba did not have a hat trick against the Philadelphia Union (that was his second game and first start against Chicago.) Philadelphia held him to no goals and a bunch of flops as a second half sub on his debut in August.

    Having said that I have high hopes for the U and especially Barnetta. I like his approach; he comes off as a seasoned vet in this interview.

    While I’d like to see another attacking player or two signed, I feel like this team does have talent, especially in the midfield.

    Can’t wait for March.

  2. One thing I get from this while I feel like everyone keeps saying Barnetta wants to play the 10 role, is not what I get out of this at all. It seems to me he will do what he can to help the team and I like that (not just play in the center of the pitch). He also doesn’t seem to complain about where he is going to play like Edu. Also no glaring points one way or another on Chaco’s play seems to me it would’ve been fine to keep them both on the field at the same time. As I’ve said before always thought the odd man out in this midfield was Edu and his giant contract and I still think that is the case.

    • The thing is Barnetta and Maidana could totally coexist together, that’s not the problem. The problem is the coaches didn’t feel that Maidana fit what they wanted to do. He is a very polarizing player. He does some things very well and some things very bad. The coaches feel he has fatal flaws in his game within the system they want to run.
      I actually think it’s more that Nogueira and Maidana do not fit together at all because neither of them gets into the middle of the field around the goal and it created a huge hole there all season. This made our attack so easy to defend and left us with only 1 player in the most dangerous spot on the field and everyone else pushed out wide or back too deep. In my opinion the choice was to keep Nogueira over Maidana.

    • I don’t think Barnetta ever said he wanted to play the #10 role. He’s always seemed open to play any mid role. Curtain was the one who said he wanted Tranquillo to play the #10.
      As for Chaco, there is no denying his talent. What I think was the problem, Chaco always floating out to the wing. Chaco’s lack luster defending. And his fitness.
      When Chaco went out for a game and Curtain put Barnetta in the #10, the rest of the team got more involved in attack. I believe Curtain saw this, and realized what a more “traditional” #10 could do. I commented at the time, that this might spell the end of Chaco. And it did.
      Chaco will be missed. He has a great left foot and vision greater than most. But he was slow, a defensive liability, and almost refused to shoot. None of these things are the case with Barnetta. In the end I believe the rest of the team will be more involved, instead of waiting for Chaco to do something. Barnetta is an upgrade in my eyes.

      • I can agree with all these points. However If Barnetta could play the 6 role not that I think it is his best role (personally I think his best spot is LM). Would you rather have a midfield of Barnetta Nogs Edu or Chaco Nogs Barnetta. Personally I think the later is more creative, stronger in possession, quicker on the ball, and more free flowing (yes the defense could lack some). Hence why I wanted to upgrade the defense on this team. However, with Edu you have someone in the middle with a sloppy first touch, who doesn’t stick to his position. Now I understand that based on contracts and who they valued and the style of play the choice was prob Chaco or Nogs and yes everyday I would’ve kept Nogs. I am just thinking of things in another way they could’ve taken things. It is what it is however so ultimately we need to move on. But I think that hopefully overall the midfield can score more goals and the assists can come from a variety of people because currently no one on this team will be equaling Chaco’s total.

      • I agree with you on Edu. His tendency to take runs up field and his strolling back into position is maddening. I just don’t see Barnetta being as strong in defense. He’s better than Chaco. I just don’t think he’s as good as Edu.
        I also agree with your statement that no one will equal Chaco’s assist total. But I also feel those assists will get spread out more with Barnetta in the mid. Instead of isolating himself, and leaving the rest of the team disjointed, like Chaco, Barnetta brings the rest of the players into play. He’s also going to shoot. Which wasn’t a worry with Chaco. That will then cause defenders to have to respect his shooting ability and thus open spaces for other players.
        In the end I think you are going to see a more fluid attack this season. More passing. More creativity from other players, not just Chaco.

      • .
        I think the attack will almost certainly be more fluid as you say – related to the bellicose or pell mell or haphazard way this team has played since its inception… I also think we are going to see a player that comes into his own with The Calm this season and MLS… There is no question he is a better player than Chaco… by a wide margin.
        I think he’s good enough to be in a league MVP discussion and certainly capable of being the MVP of the team.
        He strikes me as a durable player as well.

      • Can you imagine a #10 that actually scores goals? What a revelation.
        MVP of the Union is most definitely possible. The league? OOF. Giovinco, Kamara (if he becomes not disgruntled), and a full season (possibly in doubt) of Drogba, seems to argue against Barnetta’s league MVP candidacy. But stranger things have happened.

      • Yeah, Nogueira is no longer our best player in my opinion, that title now belongs to Barnetta. I think he will show that this year.
        I can’t disagree about Edu at all. He’s a dangerous player for a coach because the things he brings to the table in terms of speed and strength can cause you to overlook his weaknesses. IF they can get him to play within the system he can be a monster. That is a big IF though. I will say I have not seen many players with his strength and balance though, players seem to just bounce off him while he barely moves.

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