Marc Bartra has been in the wrong place at the wrong time on so many occasions. First, he emerged into the Barcelona senior squad in the 2012/13 season, following his impressive performances for the B team, where he was one of the calmest and most composed centre-backs in Spain’s frantic second tier. Given that Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano – three of the best Blaugrana centre-backs of the 21st century – were all in the squad at that time, 2012/13 was hardly an ideal season to search for first-team opportunities. Had he been born a few years earlier or later, that path from La Masia to the Camp Nou might have been smoother.
Then, when he did start earning opportunities for the senior XI, he found himself isolated on the right touchline of the Mestalla in the 85th minute of the 2014 Copa del Rey final. It was Barcelona vs Real Madrid and there was a trophy at stake, so this was hardly a good time to find yourself one-on-one against Gareth Bale during a Real Madrid counter attack. As we’ve all seen in the countless replays, Bale pushes past Bartra, runs off the pitch and back on it, unleashing Road Runner speed that leaves the Catalan looking as hapless as Wile E Coyote. Could he have done better? Sure. But was there any cover behind him at all as he took on one of the fastest men in the sport? No.
Another example of Bartra’s unfortunate timing came earlier this season. With Puyol now Bartra’s agent, the former Barcelona captain had orchestrated a deal for Bartra to move to Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2016. His first season was a largely successful one and Dortmund won the German Cup, meaning Bartra finished the season with as many major medals as he’d have earned had he stayed at the Camp Nou, but with far more minutes to his name. The cup win put Dortmund in the German Super Cup clash against Bayern Munich at the start of the 2017/18 season and, after a 2-2 draw, the victors would be decided via a penalty shootout. With the scores level at 4-4 after five attempts each, both coaches looked further down their lists. Up stepped Niklas Süle, who scored. Up stepped Marc Bartra, who didn’t. He was a centre-back taking the decisive spot kick in Der Klassiker. Wrong place, wrong time.
Of course, the gravest example of Bartra being in the wrong place at the wrong time was when he picked his seat at the window towards the back of the Dortmund team bus on the way to a Champions League match against Monaco on April 11, 2017. That was the night of the terrorist attack against the team and Bartra was the player who was most severely injured, requiring surgery after breaking bones in his wrist.
“I was scared that I would die and I feared I would never see my family again,” the defender later explained during the court trial. “I then found it very difficult to be strong in front of my wife and my daughter and I found it very difficult to avoid constantly crying. When I think back about it, I don’t feel good.” While he only missed five weeks of action, making an emotional return at the Westfalenstadion on the 2016/17 season’s final day, his wrist wasn’t fully recovered until the following autumn and the physiological trauma stayed with him too. Bartra’s doctor has admitted that the defender frequently suffered nightmares in the months after the attack. To this day he still tears up when talking about that incident.
Bartra turned 27 last month, but he has experienced more pressure, frustration and hardship during those 27 years than most of us will go through in a lifetime. Never has he complained, though, and he remains one of the most likeable people in football. The Dortmund fans certainly thought so, and he was a fan favourite long before the team bus attack, given that he always spoke well in interviews, gave his all on the pitch and showed his appreciation for the fans. On one occasion he even made a social media plea to find the brave Dortmund-supporting woman who sat in her not-exactly-subtle yellow shirt in the Schalke 04 section during a Revierderby. It worked and he met with her, commending her bravery. It was gestures like these that won him the hearts of the city.
So who could possibly root against Marc Bartra as he begins a new adventure back in Spain? Signed by Real Betis during the January transfer window, the Spain international will be working hard to try to earn a spot in La Roja’s World Cup squad. Unless you are a fellow Spanish centre-back with hopes of going to Russia, why wouldn’t you want this man to do well? Even then, he is so well-liked by his teammates that there will be surely no hard feelings if he does pinch a World Cup spot from somebody.
Bartra has so often been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Let’s hope Real Betis’ Estadio Benito Villamarín in 2018 is the right place for him and the right time.