Is it that time already? The Gamper Trophy match, the traditional festivity that is also a Friendly That Matters, is a herald for a new season at FC Barcelona. Liga starts next week, but the Gamper shows off the squad and its new signings, sets up a festive atmosphere and has, of late, rolled out a patsy for the boys to beat up on.
This year, it is expected that Leon, a club out of Mexico, won’t put up too much of a fuss. Nobody is expecting the 8-0 that Santos took last year, but let’s be serious about this whole friendly business — what team wants a friendly in their home stadium that has the potential of leaving egg on faces?
It also gets away from the point of the Gamper, which is a celebration. At this time of the season, right before footballs are kicked in anger, it seems a perfect time to take stock of what has happened.
Luis Enrique has come to the club, with carte blanche and a mandate to win. Now. After a trophyless season that sent culers into spasms of not at all introspective, accusatory babbling that resulted in the conclusion it was all Song’s and Martino’s fault, there is no time to waste for supporters or the club’s board.
Enrique has the pedigree, and the club opened the checkbook in a manner not seen since the last time a new coach took over the first team after a trophyless season. Heads and reputations are on the line here, as well as, potentially, the future of the club’s board.
Jeremy Mathieu, Claudio Bravo, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Ivan Rakitic, Thomas Vermaelen and Luis Suarez join Rafinha Alcantara in bolstering the club’s roster this season, in addition to Jordi Masip, who was promoted from the B team. Of the 8 squad additions, 7 of them are 6′ or taller. So much for Land of the Midgets.
Today’s match is usually the time to roll out debutants, and this can be expected in every case except for Vermaelen, who is still rehabbing from an injury at the World Cup, and Ter Stegen, who is recovering from a lower back contusion.
People have snarked and debated this list of new players for seeming eons, but on the surface, they address a number of essential club needs, adding to depth and strength, shoring up the team’s ability to defend in the midfield and press, while also adding height on attack and defense of set pieces.
Because the club’s nucleus is mostly intact and consisting of brilliant players, the team didn’t need to add any deities from Valhalla. The spending was (mostly) intelligent and targeted, and leaves the squad a far cry from last season, where when Martino looked down the bench for a match changer, he was greeted by the sound of crickets.
Suarez should play
As we all know, the CAS panel removed the silly part of Suarez’s FIFA sanction but kept the relevant one intact: he isn’t playing for Barça in matches that count until the first Classic at the end of October. But friendlies are fair game, and the Gamper is, albeit a trumped-up one, a friendly.
To be frank, this is a player with more to prove than when he first moved to a big club. After a number of disciplinary transgressions, he will be being watched like a hawk. He will have to prove to the club that bought him, himself and the rest of football that he can compete, and compete in his usual fierce manner, without adding any extras to the pot.
There will also be the question of how he gets on with Messi and Neymar, but the most important question will be whether he is worth the 81m that was spent for his signing. That, boys and girls, moms and dads, is a lot of money by any club’s standard. The pressure on Suarez will be colossal, and we will have a front row seat to the outcome.
Gerard Deulofeu returned to the club, too soon, many suggested, along with Rafinha. But only Deulofeu arrived with a question mark, and the word from the Barça-centric papers that if he didn’t impress, he would be sent out on loan again. He didn’t. Couch it any way you like, but he didn’t. And Enrique sent him to Sevilla on loan for a season, with playing time guarantees to ensure that he gets the development that he needs to possibly become the player that he has the talent to become.
Or he could become Tello 2.0, a bag of unrealized potential. Time will tell.
What we do know is that the decision to send him out on loan again is all the proof anyone needs about the leverage that Enrique has. Gobs of talent, shining smile, Masia graduate who raised eyebrows in the Premiership. Imagine Martino, or even Vilanova deciding to send that player out on another loan. Enrique made the decision, and a day or so later, it happened.
The latest rumor that popped up today is that Alex Song is available for 8m on a transfer, or a free loan (except for his salary). It has already been made clear to the player that if he doesn’t find a home, he will be registered but will not see a lick of match time this season. That is yet another sign that Enrique is the one with the whip hand. That situation is developing, but the player wants a move to the Premiership. Manchester United is one team that would be foolhardy to pass up that deal, if you ask me.
Rafa. Freakin’. Marquez. Yes, he who stomped the terra in the Barça back line, with laser-like long passes, is back, but for Leon. Expect the Camp to show him some love.
There shouldn’t be very many from today’s match. The biggest thing will be not to get anyone injured, and have a party. World Cup arrivals are still regaining full fitness, and this will be the first match where the coach (almost) has the full roster at his disposal.
The biggest expectation from the Gamper Trophy match for me has always been that kick-start to a new season in a safe way. The lights are on, everybody is smiling and the stands are usually pretty full. It’s the right start to a new season, and one that I am, as usual, looking forward to.