BARCELONA, Spain (AP)Xavi Hernandez can scratch the last item off his wish list after Barcelona struck a deal for France defender Jules Kounde on Thursday.
Barcelona said that Sevilla agreed to transfer the highly touted center back for a still-undisclosed sum. The deal will be complete after the 23-year-old Kounde undergoes a medical exam.
Kounde, who also drew interest from Chelsea, will provide Barcelona’s coach a skilled and versatile defender as the team tries to transition beyond a backline still led by the 35-year-old Gerard Pique.
The France international will join Ronald Araujo (23) and Eric Garcia (21) as Barcelona’s young core of central defenders playing with Pique.
Kounde would be Barcelona’s third major signing after it sold 25% of its Spanish league television rights for the next 25 years as it tries to both claw its way out of staggering debt and rebuild a competitive team after winning nothing last season.
Already this month Barcelona secured the transfers of striker Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich and winger Raphinha from Leeds for around a combined 110 million euros ($111 million).
Spanish sports media reported that the Kounde deal could cost Barcelona another 50 million euros ($50.8 million).
”Sevilla is a great club, (but) Barca is a step forward in my career in every aspect,” Kounde said in a video released by Barcelona with the player wearing a Barcelona team polo.
Xavi had asked club president Joan Laporta for a top striker and a quality defender to get his squad back to challenging for titles.
”Xavi played a big role in me coming here,” Kounde said in fluent Spanish. ”I spoke several times with him and I was thrilled with his plan for the team. I believe that we see football in the same way. I want to do all I can to play the maximum number of minutes, adapt to the team, and have a leading role in this club.”
Kounde, both fast in defense and an attacking threat on set pieces, has been considered one of the most promising young players at his position in the Spanish league since joining Sevilla in 2019 for 25 million euros ($25.4 million) from French club Bordeaux.
Kounde helped Sevilla win the Europa League in 2020 and scored nine goals in 133 appearances for the Andalusian club. He also won the 2021 Nations League with France, which beat Spain the final.
In a statement, Barcelona said it is getting a player who ”is very difficult to beat one on one and is comfortable defending high up the pitch.”
Kounde has also shown his versatility by playing as a full back on occasions under Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui.
Barcelona has also added midfielder Franck Kessie and defender Andreas Christensen, who arrived as free agents this offseason, in addition to signing Ousmane Dembele to a new contract.
Barcelona, currently on a preseason tour in the United States, opens the season at home against Rayo Vallecano on Aug. 13.
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