Samper, Traore and keeping ’em down on the farm

Think, just for a second, of all the stuff that had to happen to put you in the place that you are now.

I was thinking about that the other day, and the things that had to happen to place the woman who is now my wife and I in the exact chronological spots for our paths to cross. A movie, “Sliding Doors,” deals with that very phenomenon of timing. Timing is everything in life, as with youth players.

The current hysteria is about La Masia and its products, how some are leaving, others are rumored to be leaving and still others being coveted by Bundesliga coaches/part-time Catalan politicians. The board is being blamed, coaches are being blamed and as with any and all things in our lives, it’s worth taking a step back from the hysteria and having a look at things. Let’s start with the first team roster:

GKs: Masip, Bravo, Ter Stegen
CBs: Pique, Vermaelen, Bartra, Mathieu, Mascherano
FBs: Alves, Alba, Vidal, Douglas, Adriano (for now)
DMs: Busquets, Mascherano
Mids: Iniesta, Rafinha, Turan, Sergi Roberto, Rakitic
Attackers: Neymar, Messi, Suarez, Pedro (for now), either Sandro or Munir

We’re talking about some pretty astonishing quality, talent good enough to win a treble last season. The youth players in question, that is the ones on most lips, are Adama Traore, of whom a rumor popped up that Guadiola was interested in activating his clause and taking him to Bayern, and Sergi Samper, whose stardust-flecked performance against a below-strength MLS team has tongues wagging.

Toss in folks such as Halilovic and Grimaldo, and you have the makings of a full-blown meltdown at whose roots is nothing more than timing. That is, players who aren’t ready, coupled with players who are not only ready, but among the best in the world at their position. It’s the Thiago quandary, really. His move to Bayern was as simple as can be, if you really think about it. Timing. Walk into their XI, or wait for two of the best midfielders in history to move aside. Duh. And he was ready. Fabregas wasn’t his impediment, really. That was always going to be short-term. But Xavi and Iniesta … now there’s a problem. Easy decision for him.

What of the one current talent who is farthest along, Samper? Sergio Busquets is 27 years old and actually improved this season, it seems. That is, frankly, absurd. So Samper has a number of options, all of them involving patience. He has an opportunity to show his stuff to Enrique, and at the end of pre-season some decisions will need be made. Complicating matters is that a fan base wants everything: all the trophies, all the goals for Messi, and all of the youth players being kept on a team that is competitive for all the trophies, again. So what of Samper? Can he take Sergi Roberto’s spot on the bench? Assuredly. Whereupon culers will be screaming for Enrique’s head and bringing up the memories of an employee who left for a better job because Samper isn’t displacing some of the best midfielders in the world.

Playing time is earned. A youth player can be patient and understand this, or move on. It’s as simple as that. Same with Adama Traore, who isn’t good enough to get into this Barça team. He isn’t polished, he doesn’t make sound decisions with the ball, he is intermittent about tracking back and only has one move, which works against many Segunda defenders, but doesn’t against Liga defenders. He’s a work in progress.

So let’s leave aside the same pressures being applied to Guardiola that are bring applied to Enrique as regards the first team, and ask a more basic question: If Traore isn’t good enough for the Barça first team, why would he be good enough for Bayern’s first team? Guardiola is no less demanding a taskmaster than Enrique, and the latter called out the B teamers as mostly not good enough to promote. He didn’t blame the coaches, or the board or anything else. He called out the players, which is an important thing to note. And he’s right. Samper is the closest, but he will need lots of playing time, preferably in a team’s XI.

Over at TotalBarça, Eric Coffin-Gould wrote about Samper and why it would be best for him to go on loan. Send him to Rayo or Villarreal for a season, where he can play against top Liga sides such as us, RM, Sevilla and Atleti, rather than scrabbling for garbage time scraps or Copa matches. Development is a luxury for a team that isn’t as stacked as Barça.

It’s easy to blame people, but it’s a simple question of timing. There is a golden generation playing for Barça right now, that has been buttressed by eminently logical transfers, not Galacticos as some like to say, but everyday players such as Vidal, Rakitic and Turan, who make the team better. No fully honest culer would rather have Samper in their XI than Turan or Rakitic.

If you’re Traore, you look at Pedro, who will be leaving the club because he can’t get playing time. That transfer is actually good for him and the team, because it allows either Sandro or Munir to slide into a spot that is too good for a player like Pedro who wants to start, and perfect for a just-promoted youth player. Both Sandro and Munir are farther along than Traore. Even Deulofeu, who is now at Everton, is farther along than Traore and Enrique shipped him out FedEx last summer.

Hard to fault timing.

So what’s next? Well, aside from trusting a coach who knows and understands the B team and the progression from that level into the first team, patience, both on the part of supporters (who don’t really matter in this equation) and the player. It also means separating reality from hype and rumor.

Recall the “Bartra is leaving for 12m!!!!” brushfire that flared up. Everyone worried because the player didn’t say anything. Then someone actually asked him, and he said “Barça is my team, I am not listening to any offers.” Then his agent said “We aren’t listening to any offers.” And suddenly, a player who was all but out the door, a failure of the board, Enrique who didn’t play him enough, etc, became what he always was: a patient Masia product who understands the best club for his ambitions.

Jonathan Dos Santos had to be dragged from the club. That is dedication and self-belief. He is doing a great job at Villarreal. Ajax supporters, a youth system that produces gobs more professionals than Barça’s, are proud when their players become pros somewhere else. The recent atmosphere at Barça that makes everything a crisis, is less tolerant of that.

Even 5 years ago there weren’t any Masia or B team crises. Why? In part because people didn’t give much of a crap, in general. La Masia hadn’t yet become the cause celebre that it is now. But it was also because very few of those players were good enough. Just because there is more information about youth players, just because we now know how many dribbles Traore completed doesn’t make him any better or more ready for the first team than say, Nolito or Jonathan Soriano. If anything, there is more information to seal the judgment that he isn’t ready.

He won’t be ready at Bayern, either, if the rumor is truth and not hysteria.

When a youth player leaves the club, it doesn’t bother me a whit, because it is their decision. Nobody is making them leave. As an employee of an organization, they and their management team get together and make what they believe to be the best decision for that player’s future. And it is the first team coach’s job to win matches and trophies. If he can integrate youth players into the first team who are good enough, so much the better. But when a youth player leaves the club, he isn’t doing anything any differently than any of us are doing or have done.

If a talented young political writer looks at his newspaper and sees that the incumbent is well-respected, well-paid and not going anywhere, what are his choices if he wants to write about politics? Leave. If you are Adama Traore, looking at Neymar, Vidal, Messi (who plays on the wing), etc, what must you be thinking, particularly if you don’t want to play in Segunda B? I need to get to somewhere that I can play.

Bojan Krkic is an object lesson for any impatient youth player whose entourage is making him think that he has hung the moon. The “Boy of a Thousand Goals” is at Stoke, having bounced around until his price got low enough for someone to take a chance on him. He didn’t succeed at Barça because of patience. He was promoted too soon because he forced the team’s hand. That happens, too.

It doesn’t matter whether the rumors are true or false. Culers would, in general, benefit from a bit less passion, even as passion is good. Should the team sell Sergi Roberto and give Samper that spot? Sure, if they want his development to stagnate. A loan isn’t a death sentence for players who are good enough. Samper is one of those players. It is not yet certain whether Traore is. Both questions will be resolved by patience, and timing, both good and bad.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

20 Comments

  1. Calvin
    July 24, 2015

    I’ll be straight up honest and probably get some flak for it, but I don’t really like Adama as a player that much. That said, to whittle down the anger that has been spouted about the Adama to Bayern rumor is to completely miss the point of why people are angry, and why they have a reason to be. It has very little to do with Adama himself.

    The big problem that Barcelona is facing and will continue to face is that since Rosell was appointed the board has not appropriately valued La Masia and the production of homegrown talents. This can be seen in a variety of ways – the refusal to replace the coach of the B-team when it was quite clear he was doing a poor job for years, allowing the B team to play with tactics that betray the training in the club, not personally speaking with youth players who just didn’t make the cut (Muniesa), etc. etc. There are just loads of stories about the board making bad decisions where the youth team is concerned.

    I read a very interesting article several years ago that discussed how the board viewed the B team. One of the problems with having so many homegrown players in the first team is these players have no market value attached to them. It is therefore very hard to define their value in the accounting books, and this means the club doesn’t have as much money in assets on the book as it should. The board understands this and has actively tried to use the B team to increase revenue and asset value – one of the reason we’ve seen many players bought for the B-team in the last couple of years is these purchases go on the books as assets, and allow the club to get better loans.

    The whole idea is, the current board (in my opinion) has the wrong philosophy regarding the youth teams. When you’re more interested in the value you’re producing then you’re more likely to make mistakes – the way Thiago was treated by the board is a shining example. People are upset when rumors like Adama pop up because they are very worried (and for good reason) that the board will make another mistake like that.

    It’s not a question of quality. It’s a question of philosophy. Lots of youth players who weren’t of sufficient quality were given debuts under Pep and most of them didn’t make it. But he did mold Busquets who is now the best DM in the world. Not every youth player has the quality, but there are currently 5-6 B teamers who are good enough to get minutes in lowly Liga games – I want to see them get chances.

    And on a final note, Samper is the type of player who you under no circumstances allow to go on loan. He has the potential to be an absolute gem – a midfielder who defines how the team plays around him – similar to Guardiola, Xavi and now Busquets. He needs to be kept close and play with the best players and incubated in the Barcelona culture. There is no better place for him to learn his trade than in Barcelona. If he doesn’t work out, that sucks, but shit happens. He is however special enough right now that the club needs to take that chance. He needs to play with the first team this year. If there isn’t room, then Sergi Roberto should be sacrificed to make room. Roberto improved last year but has nowhere near the possible ceiling that Samper has.

    • olbucky
      July 31, 2015

      Calvin I could not agree with you more on Samper. He is a special player.
      Kevin not that I always agree with you but you make this blog great! Don’t let anyone chase you off.
      I went to the Barca v Chelsea match the other night and had 7th row seats and I have to say it was just awesome so witness the speed at which they moved the ball around the field. Up until the latter part of this year I would have said there is no way we should keep Sergi Roberto but he has given me some doubt. Certainly after seeing his movement live I was impressed. Although if it was a choice between Roberto and Samper I would ship Roberto out in a heartbeat.

  2. MSN
    July 24, 2015

    Glad to see you didn’t retire!

    Well, I haven’t seen this meltdown. Maybe because I’m not on twitter. But could it be some are panicking because of Thiago’s story? Afraid it might happen with Samper/Adama.
    I’d like to see Samper go on loan to a team like Rayo. Paco would be a very good coach for him.

  3. luisthebeast
    July 24, 2015

    I wish we had in La Masia more players like Sergi Roberto.The people who say that they love La Masia,they dont have problem to say that Pedro must go or that Sergi must go.Players who sacrifices themselves for the team.If samper or adama want to have patience ok.If they dont then go and good luck.Lucho make the decisions not me or any fan.And thank god that he is the coach and not barca internet fans.

  4. Lord Eddard Stark, a.k.a. BrichimbrodvÖken, the Vulnerable One!
    July 24, 2015

    Pedro must not be allowed to leave.
    He is a vital member of the team and in Lucho’s heavy rotation policy, I am sure that he can be afforded decent minutes, atleast 1600 + which was what Iniesta got last season. Extremely doable.

    PLUS if any one of MSN get injured, then Pedro will be crucial as he knows our system inside out and will perform perfectly well even if he will not dazzle. I have a sneaky suspicion that Neymar will get injured. Hope it doesn’t happen though *knocks on wood*

    Stay P!

    Also what is the probability that, in the upcoming Fifa B D’or Rankings, the top 3 podium places go to M,S,N respectively? Just wondering. It may not be such an inaccurate assessment of the top 3 after all..

  5. mr.undercover
    July 25, 2015

    Well, I think the youth players should exercise more patiance especially samper, he is the future of this team. Am seeing him more in an advance role than a DM (xavi’s role) his tempo control is amazing just needs some minutes to be the complete article, lucho must act quickly and loan S.roberto despite noticing some improvements in his game last season but samper remains a head and shoulder above him. taraore’s case is a far cry from samper’s despite the fact that he has a promising talents but he is not up to the mark in this current team or in the next 2 years if u don’t mind my saying, I would rather give sandro a chance than him at the moment, a loan should be the best option for him. Spot on Pedro’s case I think he realised that his chances of getting more playing time has faded when the club bought arda (considering that he can play on the wing too) I don’t blame him for that and putting in mind his spot in the national team, after the emergence of the like of paco alcacer , he devoted his life for this club worked his butt off but age and circumstances cought him. truly a warrior
    Adriano’s case is quite different. in my mind I feel like selling adriano now would be a mistake considering the transfer ban is still exists, he could be effective in lucho’s rotation untill January, what if Dani alves picked up an injury before January when the classico is looming? Our replacement would only be Douglass(am pretty sure you don’t wanna watch that scene) we must keep him untill January atleast,

  6. Jim
    July 25, 2015

    So, I’m reduced to watching one of them thar streamie thingies as no decent channel is showing the match.

    Losing 1-0 at half time but playing reasonably well if little penetration. Could have been two up before United’s goal. Great FK from Suarez and a 1 on 1 with the keeper fluffed by Sergio Roberto. Been impressed by Rafinha’s energy levels and attempts to create something but looks at times a bit manic. Adriano a huge disappointment at RB and needs off now. He’s not staying and he’s not great, even leaving aside his awful attempt to mark Rooney for the goal. Give Bartra a run there if Douglas has a niggle.

    Just realising all the injuries I’m likely to have trying to hold an iPad in the same position for 45 minutes. My thumb has already gone to sleep. Still, better than the tele at the moment .

    • Jim
      July 25, 2015

      Hmm, massive changes on both sides and I’ve had enough at 3-1 to them. Great goal from Rafinha, Sergio Roberto at RB and I thought he played rather well but maybe lacks the pace to play there permanently. Some nice cameos from Rakitic, largely but not exclusively from set pieces. Sandro and Munir it’s probably not fair to judge as we kinda lost control of the game as it wore on but they certainly didn’t influence it much. I think I saw Rafinha getting hacked off at Munir at one point for something.

      Overall, it left me with the impression that we are one Messi injury away from a very long season. Still, early days.

    • Jim
      July 25, 2015

      Meant to say I’m completely befuddled as to why Samper wasn’t playing. Is he injured ? Game second half was calling out for him.

  7. mr.undercover
    July 25, 2015

    I think lucho didn’t include him in the match knowing what samper can offer, and gave a chance to the other young stars (gumbau) to prove their worth, I think he will start the next game vs chealse nothing to fear about

  8. lovell
    July 26, 2015

    I feel an undue bias here against halilovic from ‘camp Jim ‘ (no offence meant.lol) . Whoever said he’s not ready. He looks 10 times (at least) more threatening on the ball than say Munir and a few B teamers whose names I chose to withhold. He has this air of confidence like, he’s out to prove something. I would rather have halilovic in a match against, say celta or any bottom lying team than munir or sandro in the absence of Messi. Mind you we needed Munir or Sandro more when we didn’t have an all out striker, now there is Suarez.

    • Jim
      July 26, 2015

      I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned Halilovic, have I ?

  9. lovell
    July 26, 2015

    Yh. That’s what I mean. It seems he’s being ‘ignored ‘ . There seems to be a general consensus here that he’s off on loan (not directed at Jim) . In my opinion we should keep Halilovic with the first team over Munir because he offers more width to our game. Taking into consideration our new style of play Halilovic would be loads more useful to the team.

    • Jim
      July 26, 2015

      No more than the other eight or nine players I didn’t mention.

      However, the point is a relevant one and I’m with Kxevin 100% on his point in the article. He had a chance yesterday and didn’t grab it. If he’d done anything worthy of merit it would have caught my eye. I can see what he could offer ( and it is potentially mouth watering) but there are too many little unsettling things for me at the moment. He didn’t shine at all last year for the Bs, I didn’t like Rakitic’s possibly coded comment on growing up as a player and person, he’s been given a place in his NT before he’s done anything really with us (not great for most youngsters) and physically he still looks too weak for me. None of that is a reliable guide to his future with us but it should be enough to temper any delusions of his grandeur.

      I’m possibly with you that he should be kept at the club this season but for me it’s with the B team rather than a loan as I suspect he needs pretty close guidance and may well sink on loan as Deulofeu and Suarez have.

  10. mr.undercover
    July 26, 2015

    Yes am with you Jim , we shouldn’t rush him, he is still young and everything is going with him, keeping him in barca b would be ideal! If we play him against liga sides he would be muscled out easily,

    • Jim
      July 26, 2015

      My worry – and a test of his mettle – will be whether he is prepared to accept that. When kids get a lot early they tend not to want to wait. I hope so as he could be a game changer. He has the skills.

  11. Jafri
    July 27, 2015

    Woah, what happened to the layout?

    • July 27, 2015

      You’ll note some sudden differences…I hope you like them.

    • Tardigrater
      July 28, 2015

      Don’t know if its just for mobile, as I don’t have a chance to access on a computer yet, but this is waaaay better for mobile. Nice job to whoever did this.

  12. Jim
    July 27, 2015

    Help mah boab ! What’s goin’ on ? Have I died and gone to Twitter ?

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