Do you remember Pep’s incredible era? Do you remember the success? Do you remember the importance of youth players? It was incredible, really.
We all know the details of that. Books have been written about it. Countless articles were written to describe it. Some described it as the perfection of football. However, no one talked about the aftermath. No one talked about the ideas this great era left. No one talked about the expectations this great era left. Suddenly, an era that lasted only 4 seasons became the era that represents a club of a 100 year history. Suddenly, the basic concepts of football were changed based on only 4 seasons. Suddenly, new concepts were born to decide what is right and what is wrong in a sport as unpredictable as football.
Let us fast forward until the 2014/2015 season. Luis Enrique was appointed as the new Barcelona coach. It all went downhill from there. Yes, downhill is the word. Well, it is for some people. Personally, I believe that Luis Enrique arrived as the savior of this club. He was the savior of this fan base. He was also the person who guided the team towards success after a very tough season.
But, forget about me. Let us stick to that “downhill” part.
Suddenly, the team’s midfield stopped dominating matches as it used to throughout its history. Our midfield was constantly leaking and we were dominated by any top team. The only factor that made us survive is that we had great talents to make up for such a hideous structure.
Once again, the club’s 100 year history is described using only 4 seasons. If that’s not disrespectful to the club’s history I do not know what is.
Concept 1: No midfield.
As described previously, this is a concept that emerged when Luis Enrique’s team was built. The fans did not see a similar style of play to Pep’s style of play. Thus, they suggested that this is not football. The fans created their own image of what football is all about based on only 4 seasons. If that’s not disrespectful to football I do not know what is. The fans bet on the team losing because, according to them, the team had no midfield to maintain a tough opponent. The team went on to defeat every single top opponent. Once again, the fans created their own image of what maintaining a midfield and winning a match is about. Did they create it based on void? No. In fact, it all goes back to only 4 seasons of this great club’s history.
When the fans ran out of excuses to describe the failure of a midfield we have, they chose to pick on certain players. Suddenly, players like Rakitic showed no signs of intelligence. He only worked hard. This is all he did. Once again, this happened because the fans decided to compare him to the player who was in charge and in complete command of one of history’s best midfields, Xavi Hernandez. When was Xavi at his best? It was in the same era that lasted only 4 seasons.
The fans suddenly had an image of what makes a footballer great and what makes him a failure or only a workhorse. The fans suddenly decided what is wrong and what is right in a sport which is as debatable as art. Why? It happened simply because of 4 seasons of euphoria and every single detail going right.
Concept 2: This is Barcelona football.
With Luis Enrique, Barcelona started playing “more direct”. Many people actually complained that the team is too direct. As in, the team doesn’t build up and tries to go for goal quicker and more often.
During last year’s second El Clasico, one detail put a smile on my face more than other things. Instead of using normal build up, which Luis Enrique’s team does pretty well, Dani Alves sent a perfect long ball towards Luis Suarez who scored our winner. That specific pass was one of our more unpredictable ones. It was so unpredictable that the entire attack looked kind of odd with Real Madrid players actually covering the offside and Suarez only having to take one touch before finally scoring. That was it. We won the match.
I am confident that Barcelona’s current midfield is much weaker in build-up than the one Pep had. Lucho is aware of that. Therefore, Lucho used what makes him more powerful and effective when needed. But to many, this is not our football anymore. This is not Barcelona anymore. This is not football anymore. While in reality, this is what football is all about. This is what makes a manager great. Lucho utilized what he has. He did not live in an illusion that forces him to ask the players for a thousand passes in midfield before going straight to goal. It was not the optimum solution.
Once again, Barcelona’s football and football in general were defined by only 4 seasons. By doing that, fans denied every single thing that happened before Pep. Maybe it’s true. Maybe this club is a “2009 club”.
Concept 3: A treble expectation.
I remember reading that Luis Enrique was “expected” to win the treble with SUCH a squad. Of course, this was said while taking into consideration the fact that any coach with a group of top players eventually wins the treble. This perfectly explains Real Madrid’s success the past decade. This perfectly explains Manchester City’s dominance. After all, I guess all you need to do is gather a bunch of very talented players, watch it all play out, and hope to get lucky.
Concept 4: Show me a plan and leave a legacy.
“Luis Enrique does not have a clear plan for the club” is one of the phrases that have been passed around the most since Lucho arrived. This suggestion exists because every coach in Barcelona’s history had a clear plan for the club that lasted for years. More importantly, every good coach in football history had a clear plan as well. Lucho is the only one who seems off-track.
It was much easier when Pep, Rijkaard, and others sent out Powerpoint presentations to inform the fans & the media of their plans and strategies for the club and made it all so clear. If only Lucho wasn’t so stubborn and started editing those slides.
Another phrase that is more intriguing is “Lucho can win all the trophies in the world but he still won’t leave a legacy”. Once again, this is because every single coach left a lifelong sport altering legacy. Lucho tends to be the exact opposite of what the perfect coach is.
Concept 5: I know better.
This doesn’t even have anything to do with football. It has to do with the domain of management itself. Suddenly, every fan became an established coach that is fully capable of managing a football team. Suddenly, every fan believed he/she knew every detail that happens backstage. Suddenly, every fan believed that he/she is more aware of the players’ needs and capabilities than the coach who sees them almost every day and keeps track of their tiniest issues. The idea of authority is shattered in the minds of Barcelona fans simply because many of them choose to believe that the only authority that applies was one that relates to a period of 4 seasons at this club.
This, of course, does not mean that the coach is always right. In fact, Luis Enrique has been wrong several times. But, this is the most crucial and delicate part of management. Making decisions has always been difficult. From great coaches like Sir Alex, Pep Guardiola & Mourinho to the less relevant ones, each and every one of them made terrible decisions.
Note: You can choose to disregard Pep’s mistakes whether at Barcelona or Bayern because I guess the loved one does no wrong, but you would be only proving my point.
But thankfully for these guys mentioned above, people around them kept their faith, trust, and patience. And there is absolutely no doubt that Luis Enrique has always deserved the same.
The loss of faith and patience in a manager, in football or beyond football, so quickly and so often is such a compulsive act that makes no sense.
Concept 6: Rescue the youth.
Always keep the best for last. This is not exactly the best, however. This is better described as the worst.
Among the admirable excitement towards the youth teams comes a bit of radicalism. The basic ideas that surround youth players are no longer respected. The hype surrounding each player tends to sound ridiculous. Every single one of these players is labeled as “a prospect” and the “next X”. Do I need to mention the reason behind this phenomenon?
It is almost as if people have been drilling holes in the wall between the youth teams and the first team since around 2009 until no wall even remained to represent the major difference between the two.
People no longer differentiate between youth football and top flight football. When they fall in love with an exciting youth player they immediately imagine him in the first team(and rightfully so). However the mistake here is that they never took into consideration that there is a huge wall to climb between the two and MANY fall off simply because they can’t make it. The wall is too high. Those who fall off are disregarded and/or given numerous excuses and others will continue to climb. The players who reach the top are required to focus on maintaining a strong character in order to reach the ground safely. Some fail to do that. Can you blame them? Not really. After all, this is Barcelona, the greatest club in the world. If the gap between the two teams was smaller, youth players would always have a better chance. Could the team reach a squad filled with excellent youth players like in 2011? This is possible but it was never the rule nor will it ever be.
The gap exists because the youth academy, regardless of how excellent it is, cannot easily match the first team & brand that is FC Barcelona. The club has ALWAYS signed the next big player on the market. The club has always paid enormous fees to enhance the first team. Signing players like Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Deco, Eto’o, Alves, Ibrahimovic, Suarez, Neymar and countless others does not indicate a loss of faith in La Masia but it indicates that the club is maintaining its marketing strategies and basically enhancing its brand while also STRONGLY supporting the first team by signing very intelligent and talented players.
The youth players who make it to the first team will always be honored as pure La Masia players and honestly nothing is more wonderful. But we should never disregard the size of the FC Barcelona brand and its strength in the football world.
The other detail regarding youth that has truly changed throughout the years is the hype involving these kids.
Sometimes I even came across articles analyzing 14-15 year old players. We’re talking about boys who haven’t even completed half of their physical growth and knowing us men they haven’t even completed 20% of their mental growth. I can comfortably say that 90% of these players change in many ways and countless times before they reach the age of 21.
We suddenly have the spotlight on a kid we know nothing about because he might turn out to be the next Xavi. Let us be very honest, the next midfielder in history won’t be that easy to find. For all you know, he could be absolutely average right now.
Many of this also applies to players at the age of 19. When they play with players their own age they might outshine every single player in that league. You might put them in the first team and realize they simply don’t have the mentality to succeed there. We all know many examples of this unless you also choose to disregard them because La Masia produced a once in a lifetime generation that led the team to tremendous success in only 4 seasons.
Rant over. Forever.