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.