The Autumn of Our Discontent

Before the news had really landed, before there was time to even form thoughts about replacement players or to get concerned about squad depth, I tweet out a fairly innocuous little joke about Pedro, Chelsea, and exes. Ugh, I told myself, why them? I’ve been resigned to losing Pedro for the last couple of months and I’m genuinely happy to see him go somewhere where you can imagine he’ll get a lot more game time that at Barcelona. I’m also assuming that he’s getting paid beaucoup dolares for his services, so that cannot be a bad thing either. It’s not like the team came out all that badly either, with a backup earning a €30 million transfer and bringing the net expenditure for the summer to €15 million.

From a sort of macro perspective, that’s not so bad, but leaving aside questions about Pedro’s sanity the obvious problem worth discussing is squad depth. One mode of thinking would be to say that the 1st string lineup is so outlandishly good that it has suffocated the opportunities for backups and caused an slow trickle out the door to greener pastures. Another view would be to say that the youth structure has not produced adequately talented players to step up to the highest level. A third perspective is to point out that the squad has a bloated quality about it right now, like someone stocked it with all the random bits and bobs they could get their hands on only to discover that they had a pantry full of junk. All of that is not actually such a big deal for a team with the financial horsepower of Barcelona, but there’s the tricky detail of the transfer ban.

Despite having forked over €45 million for Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan, neither of those two players will be able to appear in the squad until the next transfer window opens on January 4,* which not only leaves the squad without substantive reinforcement in the wake of Xavi’s exit, but also presents a very obvious reason for backups like Pedro to leave. While neither are necessarily automatic starters—Vidal less so than Arda—they should both be reliable pieces of the puzzle for Lucho throughout the second half of the season. Assuming that Barça does make it out of the group stage of the Champions League, their existence will be vital for a deep run in that competition, but that should also be obvious to other rotation players whose minutes will all but dry up once January comes along. Adriano, for instance, should be the most worried player left, but Sergi Roberto and Rafinha can’t be thrilled by Arda’s arrival either. Rakitic can weather this storm simply because he is likely to retain his place and Mathieu and Bartra should have fairly decent amounts of game time, but Thomas Vermaelen should also be worried. Douglas needn’t be worried because he’ll get no playing time anyway.

Obviously that means that the following players should depart: Vermaelen, Sergi Roberto, Adriano, Douglas, and Pedro. The last of those has, in fact, done so and that’s also the biggest blow to the squad. Pedro is a well oiled substitution machine and his off-the-bench contributions will likely be missed. His 11 goals in 50 matches was not particularly amazing, but his last 4 years saw him score 13, 10, 19, and the aforementioned 11. His match winner against Sevilla was a fitting send off and it’s a shame that he had to endure a 4-0 shellacking coupled with missing a potential tying goal. Kevin has already written a fitting tribute to him that is well worth a read if you’ve missed it, so I won’t dwell further on Pedro other than to say I hope he doesn’t win any titles at Chelsea.

The problem with having such a list of “dead weight” is that these players are useful because they cannot be replaced. There are some talented players waiting in the wings, but it is clear that Lucho does not rate them and does not believe they can or will contribute to the first team in the coming campaign. Adama took the hint and roared off to Aston Villa (see what I did there?), leaving a few Twitter personalities fuming. Within the context of a club, a single missed opportunity does not spell doom, but a rather regular decline in the contributions of youth products does spell future problems, especially for a club incapable of signing outside talent.

Therein lies the crux of the problem: you can take a wide variety of views on this and none are necessarily wrong, but the for my money—which is money backed not by the gold standard but by a few empty Snickers bar wrappers and a box of half used crayons—the biggest of these problems was the transfer ban. Forgetting to cross your T’s and dot your I’s is not so bad if you’re a 4th grader, but for a club to do so—willfully or otherwise—is fairly unforgivable. That Lucho proved himself a better coach than expected is the only reason the transfer ban didn’t bring down the entire administration. Admittedly, Bartomeu proved himself a better politician that expected, but even with many of the conservative bloc of voters in his pocket, he would have lost had the team not suddenly gelled and brought in 3 trophies (for the record I think 2 would have been enough, but 3 was icing). For other instances of institutional bungling, look no further than the rumors that the club rushing to Gerard Pique’s defense after the Super Copa second leg was derailed by utter stupidity. Assuming that Barcelona employs a veritable army of lawyers, that seems particularly inept, but possibly highlights why the transfer ban occurred in the first place.

Despite the seeming volume of players, there are only 22 squad players left. With Neymar out (with the mumps!), both Pique and Mathieu suspended for the first week of the season, and with Douglas and Adriano injured, the team feels horribly thin, especially at the back. Where Munir and Sandro can fill in up front despite their relative lack of experience, there is no such trust in Thomas Vermaelen and a larger and larger number are voicing their doubts about Marc Bartra, last year’s “future Pique”. A starting lineup including Bartra and Mascherano at center back is solid enough, but Mathieu’s suspension coupled with Jordi Alba’s continued absence will mean either a radical shift in tactics or Grimaldo being called up from the youth team. Some will say that is the least worst option and others will say it is about time he got a shot. He can’t be worse than pushing Vermaelen wide, can he? Only he’s possibly injured as well, so Doomsday just got a little doomier if you subscribe to that worldview.

Regardless, the truth is that the transfer ban is causing the problems it was predicted to cause and the team will need to rally around its remaining parts to get through the first few weeks of the season. Let’s hope that our forward line can produce the magic it has failed to produce in the last 250 minutes of game time—but then again, Lionel Messi sees no barrier he cannot break. Hopefully he can break the institutional anarchy that appears to be rearing its head throughout Barcelona’s mighty empire.

*Spain and Italy’s window opens on January 4th, while Germany, England, and France get to do business starting on the 2nd. Further, because of today’s schedule rearrangement, the Real Betis game on Jan 2/3 has been moved to December 30/31 and the rest of the schedule has been shifted up a week, so Arda and Aleix will now miss the match at Espanyol originally scheduled for January 9/10 and now slotted into the Jan 2/3 weekend. The Round of 16 of the CDR is scheduled for January 6, but it’s Spain so who knows if they’ll take place then, but for now that is their first eligible match day.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

11 Comments

  1. Davour
    August 20, 2015

    Thanks for the article! If we assume no other major injuries occur, it seems to me a key to this fall is Rafinha stepping up – not to replace Xavi (because that is not possible), but to play the part of solid back-up who can inject needed energy or help see a match out with swift passing and running and hard work. Or, gods forbid, Ini or Raki would be injured. Roberto, I agree, should be let go whenever possible; until then he might make a cameo or two to rest others’ legs for a spell. As we have seen, the midfield must be functioning, or our attackers will be left in limbo and Messi will drop to LB and try to take on entire teams where he should be supplying the end product.

    I still think, however, that bar serious injuries, this team can survive this autumn in one piece – hopefully adding valuable experience to the likes of Rafinha and Sandro (and Munir?) – and then welcome Arda and Vidal to join the ranks and make the team all the more substantial in terms of depth. And the retuning Neymar, I believe, will make a world of difference. There are, after all, a few silver linings amongst the discontent!

  2. Gekko64
    August 20, 2015

    I think it’s way too soon to suggest Vermaelen out, if he can regain his form he’s going to be our best CB.

  3. TITO
    August 20, 2015

    Yup, Verm when fit can be our best CB.

    • Jim
      August 20, 2015

      Well, we’ll soon find out. I certainly used to rate him but with all the injuries ? Hope he gets a chance, though, and with Pique out it’ll be ( yet another) untried partnership which won’t be cut any slack.

  4. deerwithwings
    August 20, 2015

    Lot’s of great articles recently. Thank you Levon, Isaiah & Kevin.

    A few thoughts:

    The league was always going to be hard with Xavi’s departure. This is further exacerbated by the transfer ban. It’s really a shame as we could certainly use reinforcements now. As hard as retaining the Champion’s league, it’s never happened, but it seems more realistic to me then the endurance trophy, especially with the resurgence of Sevilla, Valencia, Bilbao, and, of course, A. Madrid. I won’t be too disappointed if we don’t retain the League.

    It’s obvious that we need a few more players, but I don’t think it’s too drastic. Turan is going to be a great asset. I don’t actually think loosing Pedro is that important. I’d rather give younger players the shot, especially Sandro. I don’t care that he isn’t a winger, he provides an interesting element to our game and has proved he can score important goals.

    The real issue is Iniesta’s fitness. He is going to have to play a lot and if he is injured we are in serious trouble. We need an orchestrator. I suppose Messi could do it, he could probably play CB if he had too, but would he?

    I do hope fans can be patient with LE. He just won a treble and retainment is pretty much impossible. I’d like at least one trophy this year. With MSN you can demand such things, but not widespread panic if we don’t get two or start sluggishly.

  5. August 20, 2015

    It hanks, deerwithwings. I love Sandro’s attitude, when he comes on he looks as if he wants to eat the world.

  6. dl
    August 20, 2015

    This might be a touch heretical, but I’d kind of like to see a Valencia/Sevilla type win the league. Another triple would be great, of course, but I think its nice to spread around the joy, too.
    A Champions’ League repeat is non-negotiable, though. Visca Barca.

  7. agar2515
    August 20, 2015

    Are people STILL not rating pique??? Unreal reading that Verm would be our best CB. That is an absurd notion. When’s the last time Verm put together any type of a sustained tub of form? Come on now.

    • TITO
      August 21, 2015

      Thats why you have an IF.
      Verm on his day was one the best CB around. So, i dont see how this opinion has to do with the fact whether we rate Pique or we dont.
      If this season we get the best out of Verm, it will be our finest purchase.

  8. luisthebeast
    August 20, 2015

    People forget easy.When Lucho was in Barca B,in Segunda,he used a lot players like Armando Carmona Nolito Soriano EDu Oriol.Players with no future at the club.We lost Icardi and Rochina,because Lucho always played Soriano.So why the suprise now,that he dont give chances to Samper and Grimaldo??People laughed with Eusebio but he did had the guts to have the younger squad ever of Barca B.Lucho is a pragmatist.And the truth is here for all of us.When a player like Montoya make people at Inter to want another RB,when Tello is the same player he was,when Sanabria and other who left La Masia dissapoint the teams.La Masia cant produce again Messi Xavi Iniesta.Thats the reality.Sad but we must buy to survive.

  9. luisthebeast
    August 20, 2015

    And Pedro was never La Masia.He came at 17.So only Busquets and Thiago the last 6 years are the players who made the big jump in the real world.So now we must hope that Sandro and Munir can be first team material.Maybe.We must stop always blame the coaches the board e.t.cThe talent is there.But it s up to the young player to be a real man.

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