So, the title above may seem like an exaggeration. Sure, Barcelona have been knocked out of the semi’s for the second consecutive year, but they’ve just won the La Liga title, at a comfortable pace, and still have the greatest player in the world, in Lionel Messi, what on earth could be wrong? Well truth be told, a fair few of Barca’s most important cornerstones are crumbling away, and the team’s dominance as ‘the best in the world’, looks to be coming to a swift end as a result…
Firstly, the rise of the Bundesliga. Now I’m not reacting unreasonably and claiming that Germany has the best league in the world, is the most exciting, blah, blah, blah. I don’t regularly watch it, for a start, and the lack of star names in depth at a number of clubs doesn’t really compare to La Liga, or that little league in England. But, what has happened, at a couple of the biggest clubs in the country, is that they’ve learnt how to win playing their own tweaked style of the successful formulas that have gone before, with a mixture of players that haven’t taken too long to adapt. I am, of course talking about Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, the two Champions League finalists, and the conquerors of the top two Spanish clubs at the semi-final stage.
Look within the ranks of Dortmund, for example. They have many players, Marco Reus aside, who between them cost a fraction of what Barca, Real and even Bayern regularly pay for their marquee summer signings. It’s a system that coach Jurgen Klopp has worked with and made a great success out of it, delivering a German domestic double, successive titles and European success. Bayern, on the other hand, known as ‘Hollywood FC’ in the homeland, for their excessive spending on big-name players, are a little bit different. They do spend a lot, but they have also altered their specifications slightly. Younger, fresher players are being signed, the likes of whom other clubs fight with them tooth and nail for their signatures, whereas in another life, Bayern may have had to have the left-overs of the English and Spanish teams, never dreaming to match the biggest wages of the lot. But then a sea of change began, small at first but gaining in larger spades.
It began with signings like Franck Ribery, who’s never really hit his expected ‘peak’, but at the time, a highly-sought after youngster, Madrid wanted him, Chelsea wanted him, but Bayern got him. It was a statement of intent, the Germans could fight for players again, after a few transitional years, they were too good for the Bundesliga, but not good enough for European glory. Then came fellow domesticated Germans like Mario Gomez, and later on, Manuel Neuer, complementing their few home-grown players, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Muller and Alaba, chuck in a couple of ‘rejects’ in Robben and Mandzukic and you’ve got a winning team. The resurgence of Germany as a footballing nation helped, but the attractiveness of Bayern grew and grew, to the point where they have just stolen the most highly-sought after boss in the world over to be their next manager, Pep Guardiola.
All of this, after I was beginning to talk about Barcelona, well it’s starting to come full circle. You see, Guardiola left Barca in a bit of a state. They’d lost their domestic crown to Real, been stifled by Chelsea in Europe and had an ultimately empty season, bar another Copa Del Rey triumph and Lionel Messi’s exceedingly good, goalscoring exploits bringing excitement to the Nou Camp. In stepped Guardiola’s assistant, Tito Villanova. He signed a couple of players, the hit and miss, Alex Song and the exceptional Jordi Alba, who fitted in especially well after Spain’s magnificent summer of football. In fact, after winning their first 6 games and not losing until January time, all was looking rosy. Then came February.
February saw many structures of the team crumble. Villanova had a reacurrence of his cancer troubles that had dogged him the season before, injuries to players like Villa and Puyol began to pile up and three successive losses, in three different competitions saw their season laying in tatters. AC Milan looked like they had knocked them out of the Champions League, Real Madrid HAD knocked them out of the King’s Cup and then shortened their lengthy gap at the top of La Liga, the Barca dynasty was being bulldozed to the ground. Sure they may have saved some heart by killing of AC in the second leg, but this Barca were totally different to the tika taka kings of Europe that had so confidently swept aside EVERYONE just a couple of years beforehand. This side looked aged, fragile and lost without it’s main man, Lionel Messi. Frankly, they got what was coming to them with the combined 7-0 aggregate semi-final loss to Bayern Munich, they were battered and beaten in every department by the quicker, more eager, technically superior Germans. But in a way, this could be the wake-up call the Catalans needed, the start of a summer revolution at the Camp Nou.
Before that double-header, you looked at Barca’s team and you saw a bunch of great players, matched with some under-achievers. I’m talking the likes of Alexis Sanchez, David Villa, at times Victor Valdes and some of the club’s younger future stars, who, in my opinion, haven’t quite been given the amount of opportunities they should’ve done. The Bayern game, highlighted these issues, and now rumours are flying that the three above will be part of a freshening up of playing staff, much-needed in my point of view. The stars have always been there, but a constant issue has been the quality in depth that they possess, something which shines through once injuries pile up, which they have in the past couple of seasons of football.
But aswell as a good few signings to freshen up the squad, a striker, couple of keepers and a defender would be ideal, the club’s next wave of youngsters, should see more playing time. With the sheer amount of success seen over the past decade at Barca, less youngsters than you’d think have actually broken through and stayed their in the XI. Pedro was the last to truly successfully manage it, and since then, opportunities have been limited. Now, however, with new blood needed as the likes of Puyol and Xavi are shown up for their accumulation of injuries, and the under-acheivers are chucked out, it is time for them to step up.
Thiago Alcantra, Marc Bartra, Christian Tello and Martin Montoya have all seen game time in the past year or two, but none has become a regular starter. Alongside the experienced, yet younger, heads of Dani Alves, Pique, Iniesta and Messi, these guys can be swiftly integrated in, to ensure that the next generation aren’t left all on their own, stranded due to a lack of game time. That is how the reigns should be ideally carried over to ensure that this ‘greatest ever team’ didn’t just last for a few years, it lasted for generations.
Any signings made, must be big, they must be brash and perhaps a bit risky, to reinvigorate the club and bring in some genuine starpower. The likes of Neymar, or even someone like Luis Suarez, would fit the bill for me, livewires, that you’re never sure of what you’re going to get next. Players that have character, and don’t always abide by the rules, whilst also having special talents and flexibility that would fit in with Barca’s fluent attacking style. A new centre-back partner for Gerard Pique wouldn’t go amiss, a young Spaniard from La Liga perhaps, to develop? And if Valdes needs replacing expect Barca to go for Jose Reina, of Liverpool, a guy who deserves to be playing for the best club in Spain, given his recent disappointments on Merseyside, despite consistent, if nothing short of spectacular performances, for years.
Well that’s what I think of Barca, that they aren’t quite done yet, but need some spicing up, but what do YOU think? Should they be in the money for a big name like Neymar or Suarez? Should youth be the priority? Write down below!