It seems appropriate to take a moment to give a shout-out to the man who made so much of this Treble season possible, a forgotten man by many culers in their Triplete zeal but who was essential, a man who got shout-outs from the likes of Xavi, Rakitic and Puyol for his work.
No, not Luis Enrique, but Andoni Zubizarreta.
It was, during the summer and early season, difficult to find a man more reviled than the fired Barça sporting director who now has a tattoo of bus tire tracks on his back. Back in December, when he was still the most hated man at the Camp Nou, Levon did a breakdown of his transfers:
But now, in the reality of a Triplete, it’s time to give credit where credit is due: ZubiZa kicked ass.
This will, of course, be the moment when people say “Oh, it wasn’t just him,” or “His other sins are why he deserves to be pilloried more than his work for the first team,” “What about that CB we needed,” etc, etc. Or the tried-and-true one, “Douglas.” ZubiZa even recommended the hiring of Luis Enrique as the first-team coach.
Here are the transfers that happened during his tenure:
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen
It’s worth looking at that list in the context of the inexact science of transfers and risk. The only clunkers on that list are Alex Song and Douglas, and even these two are incomplete. Song played excellently when used in his favored position, which happened rarely. It was a poor transfer because his favored position was occupied by better players. Douglas has the burden of pre-made minds but as a project, hasn’t played enough to warrant a full assessment. Thomas Vermaelen, after a surgery and long recovery that ended right on schedule, played against Deportivo, a side battling relegation in the last match of a Liga season that was already decided for Barça. That he was excellent in that match is a nice harbinger, but his grade too is still incomplete.
The rest of that list includes players who were essential to the first team winning trophies, up to and including Fabregas, despite the scorn attendant to the mere mention of his name.
When Rakitic was purchased, ZubiZa was stupid for not buying Kroos instead. At the mention of Bravo, again he was stupid for not picking up Ochoa on a free, or Keylor Navas, a keeper who can’t even sit a past-his-prime Iker Casillas at Real Madrid. Neymar was a YouTube sensation, Sanchez overpriced, Jordi Alba another midget when there were so many better full-sized LBs out there.
In general, people don’t like transfers that a sporting director makes, but it’s difficult to find one more reviled than ZubiZa. And yet, his signings panned out. Bravo was exactly what the club said he would be. Ter Stegen was good enough to be the Champions League keeper, rather than being supplanted for the big matches as Pinto was. Rakitic proved crucial to the team’s midfield play, in addition to helping Alves lock down his side of the pitch. Suarez goes without saying. Mathieu scored two massive goals this season, and was a back line stalwart. It’s not at all a stretch to say that without the transfers of this season, Barça doesn’t win the Triplete.
Yes, ZubiZa has sins in his past. What we don’t know is how many of those sins were fully his fault, just as the transfers weren’t fully to his credit. He was for years hamstrung by a board preaching austerity, and propping up boondoggles such as “Thiago Silva or nothing,” to use as a sop for its penny-pinching ambition. The B team had a significant upheaval that resulted in the loss of coaching talent that has resulted, in part, in the team falling to Segunda B. Those are part and parcel of the reign of ZubiZa, but only the most hipster culer would suggest that the first team wasn’t his principal mission.
And that first team made history this season.
Barça Twitter and this space have been notably silent in mentions of ZubiZa, but I am one of those who believe in giving credit where credit is due, like our Capita, Carles Puyol. So wherever he is, I hope that ZubiZa is smiling instead of looking back in anger, remembering the parades and celebrations rather than the boos that cascaded down from the rafters of the Camp Nou when his face was shown on the screen during a video presentation. Because satisfaction sometimes comes later, in the wake of a job well done.