There is some interesting speculation and commentary at the bottom of the Valencia post in the comments, all related to the spectre of Pep Guardiola raiding FC Barcelona of talent as he builds his next unstoppable footballing juggernaut at Manchester City.
To be sure, it’s an attractive proposition. The best coach in the game, at a club that is set up for success, with a nigh-bottomless pocketbook, the token restraints of FFP notwithstanding.
The timing of the move was made even more interesting by a Sergi Busquets interview, which got a great translation over at Grup 14. Pulled out of context by many outlets was a telling quote:
“Guardiola can get me to leave Barça. Working with him again would be an honor for me.”
In context, however, the Busquets quote said nothing at all. It isn’t a negotiation ploy, as the player has said that he wants nothing more than to stay at Barça. It isn’t anything except a player responding honestly to a question. If you read the entirety of the Busquets comments, it is clear that he isn’t going anywhere, and that money isn’t the issue for him. When his contract is renewed, he will slot into the third salary tier on the club, just below the one that includes Pique and Iniesta. (This is even as I would argue that he should be in that second tier.) All the rest is press nonsense and speculation. The two most pertinent comments, related to not only his departure but the potential departure of any other player, are excerpted here from the translation at Grup14.com:
“Hopefully when I finish my career here at Barça I can go down in history not only as a good player who won titles and helped the team, but also as one of the players who have the most games played for this club.
I’ve always said that there are only two people who can get me to change my club: my girlfriend, who is from here and a Barça fan so it’s not a problem from a personal point of view, and from a professional point of view, the other person would be Guardiola. It’s obvious that I owe him a lot and working with him again would be an honor for me. But he knows that this is my club, this is also his club and he knows that the best thing for me and for the club is that I stay here so I doubt he’d ask me to leave.”
His meaning is clear. “When I finish my career here at Barça” is most telling. He isn’t going anywhere, and doesn’t plan to go anywhere. It’s also clear that he is discussing the Guardiola situation as something theoretical, that would never happen. It’s like when you see press reports that X or Y team is willing to pay Neymar’s buyout. Well, I’m willing to buy P.J. Harvey dinner, as long as we’re speculating about stuff that won’t be happening anytime soon. There is another Busquets quote that is particularly interesting, as well:
“It’s clear that there’s the example of Thiago some years ago, but if a player wants to leave it doesn’t matter if it’s to this team or that team, if it’s with Pep or not, a player plays where he wants.”
Again, this is very clear. If a player wants to go, he will leave. Thiago left because he wanted to leave. It just so happened that Guardiola wanted him, so that made his situation perfect, and a no-brainer. The Valencia post commenters were also concerned about Sergi Samper, who is an interesting case. There is precisely zero reason for anyone to think that he would leave Barça, culer paranoia notwithstanding. The only reason he would leave would be if he wasn’t good enough to take his spot in the first team. In that case, good luck at your new forever home. But what if Guardiola came calling? Thiago was a player who was first-team quality, and ready to play at any club in the world. The only reason he wasn’t playing more at Barça was because he had two giants of the game and club legends in front of him. Fabregas was easy. Had it been even Fabregas and Iniesta, Thiago would probably have stayed.
Samper, on the other hand, is the captain of the B team. He hasn’t been promoted yet, even though he will be for next season. His situation couldn’t be more different than that of Thiago. It still isn’t clear that he will be able to crack the XI at Barça, let alone any team in the world. Samper has a spot waiting for him in the Barça first team, and the progression is clear. There is a reason that he has been silent about his future, and not agitating for this or that. Samper is the player I am least worried about leaving, not that I worry at all about any player leaving the club. The only question is whether Samper is good enough, after the necessary grooming and playing time-based improvement. If he is, he has a spot. If he isn’t, that’s another story. This is true even as his most logical position is presently occupied by the best player in the game at that role, who has at least another 5 years.
Busquets, however, can’t and shouldn’t play all the time. Samper is a perfect choice for to sub for him if his game reaches a level sufficient for that to occur. He would get plenty of playing time, and present Luis Enrique with a more fluent, fluid option than Mascherano at DM. Samper just has to get there. There is nothing Guardiola could offer him that would induce him to leave. A starting slot? That isn’t going to happen. Money? Nope. Then his agent would be calling China.
FC Barcelona is, right now, the most desirable destination in the world for a player. Arda Turan, one of the best midfielders in the world, sat for six months to wait for the opportunity to play there. It’s the most desirable destination because it’s also best team in the world. A player would leave if he wasn’t getting playing time in keeping with his view of his place in the world. Pedro is an example, and look how that turned out for him. A player might also leave because for whatever reason he isn’t happy. In that case, good riddance. Players can also leave because their position is too crowded, a la Thiago, or Samper if he gets tossed into the general midfield mix. Sergi Roberto will be doing some math experiments once Rafinha returns to the lineup, as one example. But all that Samper has to be to take his spot in the first team is good enough at the Busquets job to be a reliable slot-in against lower-tier Liga sides and in Cup competitions. He will also have to be willing to learn, and capable of improvement. This last is the only issue in question.
Pep Guardiola isn’t a lure sufficient to take players away from the best club in the world, unless they already want to go. Then they should leave. But at present the team is stronger, every player has improved under Luis Enrique and there are many more titles to be won. Guardiola’s actions and processes at City will be interesting to watch from this chair, but not from a context of what players he might take from Barça. Luis Enrique, as is often the case, says it best. When asked if he was worried about Guardiola taking Barça players, he said, simply enough, “No.”