Few high profile positions in this world have as many people thinking they can do a better job at than that of the technical director of a huge and powerful football club. With millions (and millions and millions and millions) of euros and one of the world’s largest scouting networks at your disposal, it’s hard to see how you could fail. You just have to watch loads of football and decide which players would improve your club. It’s easy. Peasy. Simple as. Do you want that piece of cake, because I’m about to eat it.
In comes Andoni Zubizarreta. Zubi was announced as FC Barcelona’s technical director on July 2, 2010. As a player he had enjoyed an impressive career, which included an eight-season spell of saving lots of shots but never penalties at the Camp Nou. After he hung up his gloves, he spent three years as a sports director at Athletic de Bilbao before writing columns for El País and analyzing games for TVE.
Much maligned and often ridiculed (occasionally by yours truly because, hey, it’s fun), he recently got booed, jeered and whistled by approximately a football stadium full of people when his already not so small face was projected on a giant screen during a tribute video for Messi’s total Liga goal record. In today’s climate it therefore becomes fashionable to ask “how bad has he been so far?” instead of “how has he done so far?” but if I did that, you might ask me “is this a Twitter account?” instead of an article on the hot-darnest most awesomest website dedicated to Barça. So instead, let’s examine his performance, year by year.
In the summer of 2010 Sandro Rosell headed a new board of directors which had comfortably won the elections to take over from Joan Laporta. He thus felt he had the mandate to start with a clean slate and replaced Txiki Beguiristain with Andoni Zubizaretta. Before Txiki left, however, he signed David Villa* (40M) and sold Yaya Touré (30M).
The squad he inherited looked as follows:
Zubizarreta’s coach, half man half I don’t know what kind of life form Gandalf is supposed to be, Josep Guardiola, felt right back Martin Cáceres, midfielder Victor Sánchez and Brazilian forward Keirrison de Souza Carneiro did not possess the necessary quality to make it at Barcelona. Hleb had not played for the club for over a year, as he was found lacking character during his first season. This was something Swedish superstar Ibrahimovic had perhaps too much of and he felt uncomfortable with his role in the team. He clashed with his coach and so turned the possibility of keeping him into an impossibility.
All this left the squad, which only a couple of months earlier had been a volcanic eruption and a scandal at San Siro away from reaching its second Champions League final in a row, with real needs at the right back and defensive midfield positions. In a pinch, Carles Puyol could cover for Dani Alves, as could Seydou Keita and Rafa Marquez for holding midfield revelation Sergio Busquets, but these were not ideal solutions, neither in case of injury nor for rotational purposes.
When looking at the diagram above, the need for a central midfielder seems obvious as well. It was felt, however, that Thiago could rotate in from the B-team and that sooner or later Cesc Fàbregas would come home. In the meantime Seydou Keita could ably back up Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta. Another thing to keep in mind is the age of the central defenders: All of Puyol, Marquez, Milito and Abidal would have walked up the stairs to the third floor by the end of September and we all know that the longer you walk on that floor, the heavier your boots become.
Although Barça narrowly missed out on the CL final, there was little doubt who were the best team in Europe. Guardiola had already turned himself into a living legend by winning the sextuple Liga, Cup, Champion’s League, Supercup, European Supercup and the club World Cup. No way was he going to ditch his players after only two seasons in charge, right? Not necessarily. Let’s just say that there are reasons to believe he was not as comfortable with the new board of directors as others. Sandro Rosell’s first act as president to strip Johan Cruijff’s off of his title of “honorary president” did not sit right the Dutchman’s former pupil. After all the two men were still friends and held regular golf and dinner dates. Guardiola has never hid his admiration of and gratitude towards the guru. Still, two weeks after Cruijff stormed the club office to give back his title of honor, Pep signed a one-year extension to his contract and by the end of the season he signed on for another year. It was not the long term commitment many had hoped for, but at least the immediate future felt safe.
VERDICT: Zubi got Pep to commit… but only just.
Pretty standard stuff, here. All three players signed extensions that would keep them at the club until 2015. Bojan was the first to put pen to paper, in December 2010. The diminutive forward had not enjoyed the best first half of the season but he was still considered an important talent. Sergio Busquets, who had dislodged the moving man-mountain called Yaya the season before, signed his extension a month later. Dani Alves was last up and signed his in March, an important deal to secure a player whose only competition for the best at his position at the time came from fellow Brazilian Maicon, who pledged his trade at Internazionale.
VERDICT: Zubi got no complaints from me.
Having hardly featured under Pep since his 2009 league debut, central defender and Masía graduate Andreu Fontàs i Prat was called up for the November 2010 eight zero drubbing of Almería and showed great promise. The sharper memories among us will recall his fifty yard pass that led to a goal and the even sharper ones will tell me in the comment section who scored. When Abidal fell ill with cancer halfway through the season, the twenty-year old was promoted to the first team.
Promoted from the youth ranks to the B-team were: Isaac Cuenca, Marti Riverola and a young Spanish Brazilian who went by the name of Rafinha.
VERDICT: Zubi gotta promote at least one player.
A year earlier, Pep had sent Mad Sammy Eto’o packing because of a lack of “feeling,” upon which Txiki Beguiristain gave him a suitcase full of 56 million euros to pass on to Massimo Moratti along with a Google Maps printout with directions of how to send tae kwon do expert Zlatan Ibrahimovic racing his Lamborghini to Barcelona. As the season progressed it became clear that our coach had received more than he’d bargained for. After a brilliant start, the big Swede became disenchanted both with how he was used on the pitch as how he was asked to behave off of it. A dip in form saw him subbed out at around the 60 minute mark in both CL semis and he eventually lost his starting spot to Bojan Krkic.
If culers hoped Guardiola and Ibrahimovic could restore their relationship, they were badly mistaken. The Gamper Trophy exhibition match gave us a glimpse of what a Messi-Ibra-Villa frontline looked like, but it was presumably during the same 90 minutes that Sandro Rosell agreed to sell him to AC Milan. The final terms were to be a one-year loan which would be turned into a permanent deal for 24M to be paid in three yearly 8M installments. All in all, within one year the club lost its most expensive signing ever for less than a third of the paid transfer fee.
VERDICT: Zubi got Zlatanned.
His spell at our club was as short as it was unfortunate. Brought in for 25 million euros and given a five-year contract, the lanky defender went on to play 14 matches in his first season during which he impressed Guardiola and pretty much nobody else. In a decision that was largely attributed to Sandro Rosell, Chyggy Pop was sent back where he came from for 15M. The sale was against the express wishes of the Barça coach, but color copies were hard to come by in those days. Time seems to have proven the former president right, though, as over the last four seasons Dmitro has only played 34 matches. Rest assured that his season at our club has not been in vain. Crackovia watchers will forever cherish his Chewbacca-like appearances thanks to the Ukranian’s difficulty with learning the local language.
VERDICT: Pep got Sandroed.
Had you told me a not often used substitute called Pedro would relegate one of the modern game’s greats to the position of being a not often used substitute, I would not have believed you. Rarely has a player’s performance declined so sharply from one season to the next. The Frenchman went from 26 goals out of 42 matches to 4 goals out of 32. By the end of the 2009-10 season, Laporta declared he would not hold him to the last year of his contract and less than two weeks after Zubizarreta took to office, he was on a free to the New York Red Bulls.
VERDICT: Zubi got nothing to do with this one.
Signed in 2003, Rafael Marquez played a total of 242 matches for F.C. Barcelona. Although he was under contract for another two years, the club decided to release him. Chalk that up to letting you go wherever you want for services rendered. Rafa joined Thierry Henry Stateside.
VERDICT: Zubi got free season tickets to New York Red Bulls games for the next ten years.
Previously loaned out to VFB Stuttgart, it was painstakingly obvious Hleb was not going to come back to his Catalan paymasters. Although once widely coveted due to his stellar play at Arsenal before moving to Barcelona, it turned out impossible for our new technical director to find the Belarussian a permanent home and so, another loan deal was found, this time back in the EPL, at Birmingham City.
VERDICT: Zubi got Hlebbed.
Martin Cáceres was sent to to Sevilla on a brand new loan deal with an option to buy after having spent the previous year with an old lady in Italy. On May 1 he was attacked by a Danish dog and rushed into the hospital with a lacerated kidney.** Nevertheless, a month later Sevilla took the player from our hands for three million euros. It didn’t pan out the way the club had hoped, however, and at the end of the next transfer window Cáceres was again loaned to Juventus, where he would eventually sign a four-year contract. To make a long story short, a player that Barça had bought for 16.5M at the age of 21 was sold for 3M three seasons later and is currently worth 9M at the age of 27.
VERDICT: Zubi gots to take an Economics 101, and soon.
in July, 2009, Palmeiras sold 20 year old striker Keirrison de Souza Carneiro move to Barcelona for a 14M transfer fee plus an additional 2M in variables. A teenage prodigy in his native Brazil, he was to be loaned out and gain experience before trying to break into a Barcelona squad that would go on to make history. Zubi’s predecessor, Txiki Beguiristain, had high expectations. Benfica was the chosen among many suitors, but after only a couple of games their coach decided he’d play better from the bench. A park bench, to be exact. High expectations made way for a bit less high expectations. In January of 2010 another loan deal was struck with Fiorentina, worth two years with an option to buy (for 14M). Twelve games and two goals later, La Viola had enough and sent him back to Barça, exactly one week into Zubizarreta’s reign. What were once a bit less high expectations were slowly turning into moderate expectations. It took the Basque two days to find Keirrison a club in Brazil, where he would join Santos on, you guessed it, a loan. Culers were starting to have low expectations about this one.
VERDICT: Zubi got Txikied.
Homegrown Victor Sánchez Mata appeared in seven games during the treble season. For 2009-10, the defender slash defensive mid was loaned out to Xerez, where he played 25 games and scored twice. Upon his return home, Zubizarreta loaned him out to Getafe. He played 29 games and helped the Madrid club avoid relegation.
VERDICT: Zubi got this loan thing down pat.
Brought into the Masía at the age of thirteen, striker Rubén Rochina hung on for three seasons at Barça B, playing 26 games in which he scored 4 goals. In a deal that almost surely caused a tsunami-wave of excitement in the FCB front office, Zubizarreta managed to sell the Valencian to Blackburn Rovers for an actual transfer fee, netting the club a nifty 450,000 euros. He would score a further seven goals in forty-six appearances for the British club, where his stay would be interrupted with short loan spells to Zaragoza and Rayo Vallecano. In the summer of 2014 he would come back to la Liga for good, signing with the Andalusian club Granada. His current worth is estimated at 1.5M.
VERDICT: Zubi sold a player for money. I repeat, for money!
Already a loanee at Sporting Gijón during the previous season, all parties agreed to turn the loan-deal into a free transfer that included a buy-back clause. He played impressively, as his team drew with Barça and beat M*drid during the end of the season. Although his buy-back clause was relatively low and more than a few culers wanted the club to give him a chance, Zubi wasn’t buying it. He went on to represent Sporting Gijón for a further two seasons before the club sold him to Sevilla for a cool profit of three million euros. Sevilla decided to loan him out to Elche during his second year and finally sold him to Olympiakos for two million. He is currently valued at 4M.
VERDICT: Zubi got nothing instead of something.
Also out for the grand total of zero euros: Jaume Sobregau, Polaco, Iván Benitez, José Manuel Rueda, Víctor Espasandín, Sergio Urbano, Miguel Ángel Luque and Elvis (left the building). Most make a living in one of the lower Spanish leagues with the notable exception of Benitez who is presumably tackling strikers and looking for sponsorship deals in Azerbadjan. Their current combined worth is estimated around the 1M mark.
Newly promoted Barça B members Isaac Cuenca and Martí Riverola were loaned out to CE Sabadell (Segunda) and Vitesse Arnhem (Eredivisie) respectively
VERDICT: Zubi gots to know these players better than we do, right?
The real McCoy of utility players, Adriano Correia Claro played both full-back positions and filled holes in the midfield for back-to-back UEFA Cup winning Sevilla. At Barça he would occasionally be used as a winger and a center back, as well. He had kept his love for muscle sprains and tears hidden by playing a respectable 214 games in the last six seasons. Ambidextrous, speedy, possessor of a killer long distance shot, a lively intelligence and a bright disposition, for 9.5 million Adriano was a no-brainer who could back up Dani Alves and then some.
By and by he has done well at Barça so far. While never managing to dethrone either of Alves or Abidal and Jordi Alba, both the team and fans are comfortable when he plays. He has no big weaknesses and an absolute howitzer of a long distance shot. After a couple of repeated injuries, they call him mister glass, but since the club never depended on him to start week in week out, the positives have far outweighed the negatives.
VERDICT: Zubi got a sore hamstring, but it was worth it.
In what turned out to be the technical director’s best deal in his first year at Barça, Javier ‘El Jefecito’ Mascherano left Merseyside for Catalonia after playing hardball with his former club Liverpool, where he was under contract for two more seasons. With Barcelona unwilling to meet the £25,000,000 asking price, Masche refused to suit up in red, claiming that his family was unhappy in England and his wife’s legs were getting milky. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked and Zubizarreta got the club to accept a ‘mere’ 20M euros and the player to take a pay cut.
Initially underused by Guardiola, who was hesitant to employ him in a midfield where only the tikiest of the takiest survived, the coach eventually converted him to a central defender, a position at which he ended up starting the Champion’s League final at the end of his first season at the club. Many thought we had found our new Puyol. A dominant force that snatches up all balls that are played over the ground, those first 12 months as a CB were possibly his best, before opponents figured out his weaknesses for high balls, whether played from deep or from the flanks. Be that as it may, his intelligence, dedication and leadership qualities have made him a beloved figure among all culers, who are sure to lose his mind when (if ever) he scores his first goal in our colors.
VERDICT: Zubi got his man.
It’s easy to forget how excited we all were about this January signing. A young and talented international from the Dutch school who could play anywhere in midfield and on both wings. Ibi was fast, could dribble, pass and shoot with flair and, with only six months left on his contract with PSV Einhoven, he wanted above all things to play for Barça and no-one else, which led to Zubi snatching him up for such a ridiculously low price BFB’ers immediately nicknamed him “3M.”
While nobody expected him to displace any of the established starters in the second half of the season, we can say he came along nicely, appearing in 26 games in all competitions and earning everlasting culer fondness for blasting past Marcelo and assisting Leo Messi for a crucial semi-final Champions League goal against arch rivals Real M*drid. Pep rewarded him with a couple of minutes in the CL final, an act that broke Bojan Krkic’s heart.
The real heartbreak came a couple of months later, when Ibi’s second season practically ended before it started with a ligament injury that required surgery and a 7-month rehabiliation period.
VERDICT: Zubi got a great talent for a low price.
Saul Berjón and Carlos Ramona were bought for 300k each from UD Palmeiros and Recreativo Huelva. Abrahám Mineiro was picked up for free from neighboring Sant Andreu. Of the three players, attacking midfielder Carlos fared best, playing 55 games for Barça B and scoring 6 goals. He eventually left the club for free to pursue his career at Sporting Gijón, where has played 83 games and scored 13. Winger Saul Berjón was loaned out after his first season in the B-team after which he was let go to Real Murcia. Abrahám only lasted one year and currently represents SD Eibar. The real gem that year was former youth player Cristian Tello, who Txiki brought back from Espanyol the month before he left the club. None of Zubi’s B-team signings went on to impress. However, if you don’t shoot, you don’t miss. With that in mind…
VERDICT: Wherever you are, don’t move! Zubi got the bow, three arrows and his eye caps on.
So, after the ins and outs, the arrivals and the departures, the honeymoon sweethearts and the bitterly divorced, the freshmen and the drop-outs, the newly born and the dearly departed and the fish and the rabbits, Pep Guardiola had the following squad at his disposal. Keep in mind that Afellay arrived after the January transfer window. One could even go as far as saying that Mascherano was a “winter” signing also, because it wasn’t until after a couple of months had passed that Pep decided to convert him into a central defender.
As you can see, Zubizarreta made sure every starter had a quality backup***. Guardiola could also call upon the B-team and used no less than fourteen players. Fontàs, Nolito, Sergi Roberto, Víctor Vázquez, Rubén Miño, Marc Bartra, Sergi Gómez, J. Dos Santos, Muniesa, Romeu, Olazabál, Montoya and Thiago Alcântara all got to play with the first team. Thiago featured most, playing a whopping 730 minutes. This was in part due to the fact that he was the jewel of the cantera, but also out of necessity: Iniesta, Xavi and Keita had to be rotated and Pep liked Afellay more on the wings than in the midfield.
So what about the deals Zubizarreta didn’t make?
Hindsight makes culers wish Zubizarreta had had the foresight to not wait until 2014 to sign a central defender and Diego Godín would have been a smart pick up. Sold to Atletico Madrid by Villareal at the age of 24 for only 8 million euro, Godín has proven quite the deal for the mattress makers. A Uruguayan international since he was 19 years old, the 1,86 meters tall hard man is one of the best center backs in the business today. The need for this position might not have been so obvious in the summer of 2010 as modern day legend would have us believe, but the club could have done worse than spend eight million on Diego Roberto Godín Leal.
Begging to be bought by Barça after a stellar World Cup, Mesut Özil was one of the summer’s golden boys on the market. An associative player with quick feet and an even quicker mind, the 22-year old Turkish German was in the last year of his Werder Bremen contract and on every fan’s wish list. Possessed with a perfect technique and a 360 degree vision (no, literally), Mesut would have been a perfect fit for our midfield and a possible option at the right forward slot as well. A professed fan of Barça, when our technical director denied all overtures he wasn’t culer enough to resist Real M*drid and Flor snatched him up for a cool 12M. Incomprehensibly, Zubi blew it.
Last but not least, Ángel Di Maria. We probably never had a chance to get the wiry Argentinian winger, due to the Jorge Mendes – Mourinho connection, but imagine we would have let Villa go to M*drid and gotten Di Maria for 15 million euros less. Heck, and I don’t mean any disrespect, but Di Maria would have been worth every 40 million we paid for el Guaje. Anyway, the money was spent before Zubi even got here, so there’s no use crying over it. One can only imagine what could have been.
The final conclusion is yours to draw. This is the first installment of a four-piece series. Coming up will be the 2011-12 season.
EDIT: I see how the last segment in which I dealt with Godín, Özil and Di Maria can be read as a conclusion of Zubizarreta’s first year at the club, but that is not my attention. If anything, it’s more of an appendix. The final conclusion is yours to draw, to which the above summary of Zubi’s dealings in the 2010-2011 season is simply an assist.
* Thank God David Villa was Txiki’s doing. It means I don’t have to analyze and make unnecessary waves by explaining it was not nearly as good a signing as many like to believe… Oops.
** The Danish dog’s name was Michael Jakobsen and he was shown a straight red. For aficionados of the hard foul.
*** People will laugh now, but Bojan was a genuine talent at the time. He was only an iffy referee call from putting Barça in the CL final with a disallowed goal in the dying minutes of the second leg against Internazionale. By the end of the 2009-10 season, he had replaced Ibrahimovic in the starting lineup. He also did this.