The transformation in Braithwaite’s fortunes comes after one of the most extraordinary chains of events in recent sporting history, as injuries to Suarez and Dembele, a quirk in La Liga’s transfer rules and a large slice of luck have conspired to enable Braithwaite’s meteoric rise.
The Danish international started out with Esbjerg fB in 2009. He scored 17 goals in 89 games for the club and helped them to a Danish Cup and Danish first division title before moving to French side Toulouse. He achieved moderate success with the club as he scored 35 goals over four seasons and helped them to a string of midtable finishes.
From there he moved to Teeside, where he endured a disappointing few years, failing to nail down a first team spot and only scoring eight goals. Languishing as a Championship backup striker at the age of 27 Braithwaite must have felt that his opportunity to play for a major club had passed, but that started to change when he fell out with ‘Boro boss Tony Pulis and left the club.
After a couple of loan moves he departed for good last summer, joining La Liga side Leganés. Braithwaite enjoyed an upturn in form at the Madrid based side, he’s scored six goals and made two assists so far this season. Whilst the Dane has been praised for his performances he’s been nowhere near good enough to attract the interest of Barcelona under normal circumstances. The circumstance that led to his move, however, were far from normal.
Barcelona were dealt a blow earlier in the season as Luis Suarez was ruled out due to injury. Their situation worsened earlier this month as Ousmane Dembele suffered a serious hamstring tear. The French striker had to undergo surgery and was ruled out for six months, leaving Barcelona with only two fit forward players.
The severity of Dembele’s injury, however, meant Barcelona were handed a lifeline due to an unusual La Liga transfer rule not seen in any other major league. The law states that if a club has a shortage of players in a certain position, and are willing to deregister a player who has a long term injury, they are allowed to sign a player outside of a transfer window, as long as they are either a free agent or play for another La Liga club. Despite the fact that Barca’s two available strikers were Messi and Griezmann they qualified for the rule and were granted approval to sign a striker.
Looking to spend as little as possible on the replacement Barcelona’s attention turned to Braithwaite and last week they had a bid of £15m accepted. Braithwaite, who is surely as surprised as the rest of us, jumped at the opportunity and signed a three and a half year deal with the Catalan club.
Whilst many see the story as a romantic one that gives all lower league players hope that their time may come, not everyone is happy with the move. Leganés had little choice but to allow Braithwaite to move after his release clause was met and director general Martin Ortega has been vocal in his condemnation of the move. "We cannot understand the current regulation that a club, having a long-term injury, can perform this operation unilaterally and transfer their problem to our club,” he said. "We consider that there is a regulation that is unfair, from which Barcelona has benefited. The one who is damaged by this is Leganes”.
Whatever anyone’s view on the fairness of the regulation, what can’t be denied is that it has ended up providing us with one of the most unexpected stories of the season, as Braithwaite becomes quite possibly the first player to go from ‘Boro to Barca in little over a year.