FC Barcelona, famed for its youth academy, have splurged out a heavy sum this transfer window on what can be seen as a mix of youth coupled with experienced professionals to add craft to each segment of its current team. Liam Cairns discusses the transitional period of the Catalan club.
After what can be described as a dreadful season by their very high standards, the Barcelona have been looking for added creativity from Eastern Europe by the signing of Ivan Rakitić from Sevilla and little known whiz-kid Alen Halilović from Dynamo Zagreb – the latter will play for the B side this coming season.
With Marc-André ter Stegen the club has signed a talented no.1 who will threaten the same spot in the German national side in time to come as he is rated very highly across Europe. Ter Stegen will become a very astute understudy to the excellent Manuel Neuer in what is a burgeoning German national side filled with sublime talent.
In Thomas Vermaelen they have at last added some much needed extra cover for both the left-back and central defensive position where, in the middle, Barcelona have been reluctant to add to for far too long. The club has held out for a highly technical ball carrier and were defiant at not just adding a player for the sake of it but were cautiously waiting for the right man to become available.
The addition of Jérémy Mathieu, who can also play on the left, from Valencia, raised eyebrows but despite his height the Frenchman can be very quick on his feet, like Vermaelen. Both men are versatile and will get plenty of games next season. Over €30 million was spent on both and good business considering the options they bring.
But this area of the side has been over reluctant on Javier Mascherano for far too long, and he’ll be only too happy to revert back to the role he made his own at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But does Luis Enrique play both Mascherano and Sergio Busquets in midfield, or just the one, or does Javier Mascherano continue in defence? The recent signings suggest he may be plonked back into his holding role in midfield. In any case whatever transpires Barcelona will have plenty of options for 2014-15.
One could argue though that the club were two seasons too late as the rigours of two games a week finally started to catch up with them come the business end of the season. And who can forget the addition of that flawed diamond that is Luis Suarez. Once he is eligible he will add an abundance of power to an already formidable front-line richly supplied with none other than Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr.
The side looks to add much-needed depth in each area on the pitch as the conveyor belt of sublime talent seems to be churning out far less than five or six years ago.
The ‘La Masia’ contingent that are young and still less known is probably one prime reason for this kind of football manager splurge into the transfer market this summer. Over €100 million has been spent as they try to keep up with Real Madrid.
Sergi Roberto, Martin Montoya, and Marc Bartra seem to have been on the cusp of the first team for a couple of years but have given very little in terms of self-belief or confidence by any manager under them as the constant over reliance on the stars, even in dire-straits, backfired on more than one occasion.
The lack of faith must have played on the young players’ minds as, for example, Marc Bartra looks nowhere near the type of player fit to wear the Barcelona shirt. He has looked lost in the side, especially in the rare occurrence where he has been thrust into the limelight having to fill the gap for Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, or Javier Mascherano due to injuries or suspensions.
Unfortunately his time to shine seems to come against the bigger sides and he looks average at best. A certain Gareth Bale goal, though majestic, in the Copa Del Rey final earlier this year showed he had plenty of time to adjust and make a decision but was duly exposed in the blink of an eye, which was an all too alarming piece of naivety that needed replacing.
Carles Puyol has retired after a fine career at the Camp Nou – who was undeservedly lambasted by Eamon Dunphy in the earlier part of his career. He will be a hard leader to replace. He is definitely a once-in-a-generation type of leader whose Barcelona career was unfortunately cut short in the last couple of seasons due to injury.
Cristian Tello has been farmed out to Porto on loan for two seasons. Another, Isaac Cuenca, who famously burst into the scene in 2011, was released and joined Deportivo La Coroña. Again he showed promise but in a midfield with a gulf of talent he had little time to progress or stake a claim.
Tello had a promising start like so many of the young starlets left hanging on, relying on loan spells to keep the club intrigued and well informed only to fall through the cracks. A lot of talented individuals seemed to arrive at once but with little opportunities to prevail, they disappeared into the background. Had it been a different era who knows what could have happened.
One starlet that seemed to fall out of form so evidently was the promising Bojan Krkić. Now a Stoke City player, Bojan was one of the nearly runs in the Barcelona side that exploded into the first team back in 2007 only to turn into a footballing nomad and play in the Serie A twice with Roma and AC Milan, and then the Eredivisie with Ajax before moving on to the Premier League. Each of the spells were less spectacular than the next and it is crazy to think that he is still just twenty three.
If anything Barcelona will be a better side than last season. The addition of extra vigour in defence along with the attacking players will improve the side on paper but the pressure will be intense from the off. If Luis Enrique does not hit the ground running come the season’s first couple of games he will be on the chopping block for sure. This is one job across the whole of European football where many sleepless nights will be a given considering the high standards that the Barcelona hierarchy in Catalonia demand.
Everyone thought that Pep Guardiola had it easy as Barcelona manager but he was the first to admit that despite the immensely talented squad at his disposal the pressure to stay at that top was far greater than anyone could ever imagine. That element was the reason alone for him leaving Barcelona. Even after fourteen trophies in four years it was still not enough to change his mind. After losing to Chelsea in the Champions League in 2012 he felt his job was done and would find it even more difficult to motivate his team. A year’s sabbatical and Bayern Munich was the destination.
“If you can no longer motivate the players, as a coach, you know that the time has come to leave. We were incredibly successful – 14 trophies in four years. But that can also weigh you down.”
Luis Enrique will know this all too well and there will be no honeymoon period for him to ease into his new role as manager. As the pressure begins to take hold he will be nervously counting down the weeks and days until he leads them out for their first competitive game in charge.
Liam Cairns, Pundit Arena.