Arda Turan and Learning to Play for Barça

Arda Turan reminds me of Thierry Henry. It’s not that I think Turan will one day pull of some majestic flick, turn, and smash a la Henry against United, though Arda can absolutely do great things with the ball, and it’s not that I think they’re remotely similar in terms of style. Arda reminds me of Thierry because, early in his Barcelona career, the great French player and I had somewhat of a strange relationship. I remember standing in the old Nevada Smith’s in Manhattan, watching a game with the NYC Penya, all of us jammed in the back watching on the projection screen. I don’t remember who it was next to me that I was talking to and I don’t remember what game it was, but the play was basically a short ball to Henry, a flicked return to sender, and then another one-time pass back to Henry, except there was no one there. Henry hadn’t made the run into that tiny space and the move came to nothing. The person talking with me shook his head along with everyone else and said that Henry simply wasn’t thinking quickly enough. We’d had high expectations for him, we’d thought he was the best there could be at his position, but then he showed up at Barcelona and here he was, most of the way through his first season in blaugrana and he hadn’t even managed to get the one-two passing down that seemed like a basic requirement of stepping onto the field with the fiesta known as Xaviniesta.

A couple of years later and such sentiments about Henry, whose self-sacrifice on the left wing was evident more and more throughout his time at the club, seem a bit absurd. He scored 49 goals in 121 official appearances. To put that in perspective, Alexis Sanchez scored 47 goals in 141 appearances while the widely lauded David Villa scored 48 in 119. Obviously, Neymar has been outrageously good and has skewed some of the statistics on the left wing (he has 81 goals in 132 matches), but Thierry Henry’s return was more than good. It seemed to take a little while to take off, even as he did score a few goals in the league that first year, but that it did take off is sometimes forgotten given his 3rd season’s much lower return (4 in 32) or his first season struggles. I’m not, of course, arguing that Arda Turan will suddenly start scoring buckets of goals, but I am arguing that comparing him directly to Andres Iniesta is probably a poor way to judge whether or not he is playing his part.

What I mean isn’t that you can’t take 2 players and compare them, but there must be some context. Andres Iniesta has been part of the Barcelona system since, I think, 1945 so the moves involved, the nuances, are in his muscle memory. There’s no learning, there’s only slight tweaks. Repetition makes perfect, they say, and Andres Iniesta has clearly been repeating since before he was born. It would be absurd to think that Turan, a Turkish football product who most recently played under the very different tutelage of Diego Simeone, could simply change his game that quickly. If it were so simple, there wouldn’t be discussions about fitting it, it would be FIFA2016 out there where you buy a player and they integrate by the time the Super Cup is upon you.

The obvious counterpoint is Ivan Rakitic. He stepped into the side and immediately shone. He made 51 appearances last season. Only Messi had more (57). He scored in the CL final, if you recall. If Arda was expected to do that, it was never realistic. Rakitic had no one to replace—he was the one that needed to be replaced. He filled a role that Lucho basically created for him while Arda is attempting to adapt to roles that are not only already there, but have been proven by a Triplete to work. Still, Rakitic is certainly a standard you’d love Turan to live up to, it’s just a bit unrealistic to expect immediate impacts like that.

Much more worrisome is Lucho’s refusal to use Turan as a direct replacement for Iniesta, whose role is most suited to Arda’s abilities. Until, of course, this past Wednesday at home against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. Turan was much better slotting into the left side with Neymar than he has been on the right side with either Messi or Suarez. Turan was able to play the isolation game much better with Neymar than he has been. It might be generous to suggest that this was a turning point for him, but Turan displayed more pluck and guile than he has even as he’s been fairly good throughout his few minutes. He’s made 19 appearances so far, all of them, of course, since his January debut. He’s getting eased in, as he needs to be, because this is a complex and intense system.

That we’re in the most important run of the season and he’s trying to find his feet certainly makes him seem more lumbering ox than sprightly gazelle, but if it took Thierry Henry, one of the greatest strikers of all time, nearly a full season to adapt, then it should be no surprise that Turan—who, while talented, is no Thierry Henry—will take at least as long. There are rumblings that he’s going to age out before he’s made up for his transfer—will his adaptation period take up the bulk of his prime?—but that seems somewhat absurd if given any sort of context: he’s 6 days younger than Luis Suarez and just 3 days older than that young whipper snapper Gerard Pique. By the time he’s Andres Iniesta’s current age it will be January 2018, so there’s plenty of time left to decide if he’s been a bust.

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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.

18 Comments

  1. Jim
    April 7, 2016

    Can’t believe there are folks questioning his ability already.

    Usual rules apply. He gets a season to adapt so we should be expecting the best from him next Christmas. I’m not sure what LE has in mind for him and that may be the problem. I can only guess at how hard it must be to fit into Barca’s midfield and an extra problem as you point out is that the roles are so different. Could he sub for Iniesta ? Maybe, eventually. Could he do what Rakitic does ? Absolutely and, for me, would probably carry more threat. Could he replace Busi ? Nope. Could he give Messi a rest by playing RW ? That’s the interesting one for me. I’ve watched him but have still little idea of his pace, dribbling ability or goal scoring ability. I think the important thing for him is that he acquires to confidence required to play in our side. At the moment it looks to me like he’s being a bit deferential so we’re not seeing his strengths. I’m sure he will come good. More worried about Vidal. I can’t see so far what his strengths are going to be. Still entitled to the settling in time though.

    • April 7, 2016

      Right now, Turan is still in his early stages, wherein he has (seem to) a kind of self doubt in trying to do his kind of thing, be it a dribble or incisive pass or even a tackle a la Simeoni. He might be having lot of doubts about should he take the full freedom to do these 3, especially the first two, and if he would be blocking the flow of the Barca movement and or preventing the attacking flow which he still hasnt got used to or anything like that. Am not sure if I made myselves clear.
      Anyways, we should judge him only the next season. He has lots of qualities and we should give him time. Right now, he looks like someone who has lots of doubts. It will pass.

  2. PPos
    April 7, 2016

    Apparently the club has received an outstanding offer from China for Arda. I’ve been very critical of him recently because he hasn’t done anything to endear himself to me as a Barcelona player. I think he has no excuse. He has been training with the club since the summer. I hope he changes my mind in future games. I will give him the benefit of the doubt. If Luis Enrique thinks he can add something special to the squad, I’ll leave it to the mister’s judgement. Now, we go to Anoeta. If we win this game, the league will be in the bag. April has been a brutal month for Barcelona and it’s only getting started. This the time when Rafinha, Arda, and Sergi Roberto need to step up to relieve some pressure from the Gala XI. This team is focused, driven, and killer. I know they will get it done.

  3. kosby
    April 8, 2016

    Hopefully its just that Arda hasn’t yet settled in. My first impression is that he seems to want to run less, but his positioning and passing isn’t quite at a level where he can avoid running as much. Looking at where he is coming from (Athletico Madrid) and Rakitic’s performance when he first joined has somehow set the bar of expectations at a certain level. I certainly expected him to be more intense at chasing opponents and hunting down the ball. Maybe we just need to recalibrate our expectations at this point.

    Anoeta is going to be tough. We haven’t won there in a long long time now. Suarez is suspended, which means we’ll see Munir bring some freshness in the side. It isn’t going to be easy.

  4. mr.undercover
    April 9, 2016

    Welcome back kosby, we didn’t hear from you for ages, hope you are ok.

    “The Anoeta curse” as many cules states it, real sociedad were always a pain in the ass. Don’t literally fathom why our players plays with different mentality when it comes to Anoeta. In many occasions we always seems to lead by a goal or two then split it away within few minutes. I hope this would change this time around.

  5. Davour
    April 9, 2016

    Good point that Arda is expected to add flexibility within a system he does not know too well. Winger seems to be the best position as of now, but he must find his way in CM, too, to really be useful. Hopefully he can do that as Iniesta slowly fades, enabling uLE to reserve Ini for the big stage and shorter games overall. And say what you will – Rakitic has adapted to a role designed for him, but he took his time finding his way into the passing/creative part of things, and is still not there (and might never really be). Arda has greater expectations to be a creative force.

    One thing he should not learn from Ivan the vain us social media exposure. Jesus… Rakitic must be somewhat of an exhibitionist, lacking in self-dstance and taste. Well, as long as he covers the right side…

    Today’s game will be very interesting; quite important, really. and difficult.

  6. Huckleberry
    April 9, 2016

    when was the last convincing display if the team? Must be weeks ago…

  7. PPos
    April 9, 2016

    Lets face it. Turan was awful today. He needs to be sold. He doesn’t deserve the number 7. Pedro is sorely missed

    • georgjorge
      April 10, 2016

      Sold after not even getting to play half a season? Half our starting XI wouldn’t be at Barca right now with such a standard…

  8. Davour
    April 9, 2016

    There we go with all the bullshit about the liga being over; the clasico was a bit important it seems, after all. But nothing is lost yet, of course. Can still manage another loss and still have the title, assuming AM & RM win all their remaining games.

    But the worry for me is that neither Messi nor Neymar look anything like their best selves. It seems Messi blew all his steam with Argentina, has been way below par since. And Neymar has looked shaky for some time, in comparison to what he can do. Tired? Sure. And with fatigue goes creativity, that split second where we now see Neymar make a wrong turn, and Messi waiting too long, first touches off, etc. They seem run down, and they are not the only ones – Busquets also looks a bit sloppy, for instance.

    Starting today with Arda and Rafinha was a real gamble, but these are the players available assuming Iniesta and Raki needing rest (but perhaps one should have started). Some questionable decisions on LE’s part lately, but it is tough, no doubt. The margins are not with us for now, as they were last year, when there was a different drive to the team. Then they went for it, now they are trying to avoid losing it – a much worse motivation.

    Let’s just hope we manage AM and go through; a win in the liga on top of that and things might be back on track.

    For all the talk of Turan – he might become better, surely will if his confidence does not plummet. But he should really be better than this already; he knows the league. Still, it’s not his fault, this, but a collective decline.

    Hopefully the team can lift their heads and feel everything is still in play!

    • Davour
      April 9, 2016

      And what’s the deal with adding only 3 minutes after all that time wasting. Not that I think it would have mattered, but the principle… all these “cramps” that would never have appeared had they trailed, the slow-motion sub, etc. etc. Learning from AM; no doubt. I would begin yellow-carding this more heavily, ruins big part of the game (30 mins vs AM, for instance…).

    • georgjorge
      April 10, 2016

      You are right about Neymar and Messi, especially Messi was shockingly bad yesterday. The first half he tried but couldn’t control the ball on a number of occasions, the second half nothing at all got created at the right-hand side. The problem is, there are slumps in form where you need rest, and there are slumps where you just need to play it through and find your skills again. I don’t know which it is with Messi right now. But a strong case could be made that he should have been rested yesterday.

      I’m not disappointed in the team, they went 40 games unbeaten and now have lost two (while still winning against Atleti in the CL) – many teams would take that record any day. I also prefer losing in La Liga and then advancing in the Champions League to winning 4-0 in La Liga and not advancing against Wolfsburg.

    • Davour
      April 10, 2016

      Sure. I am not disappointed in that sense, either. They have been solid. Rather just worried they have run out of steam. Iniesta claims they are not physically tired; well, mentally, then. It might just be a slump, bad form setting in after an awesome run. And since Messi will not be rested, let is hope he will snap out of it, and stop playing as if Barca were Argentina where he must be everywhere.

  9. lala10
    April 9, 2016

    Enter Your Comment… it was to be expected. The lethargy is worrying though with Atletico coming. Its been sometime coming.

    The physical issues the team has been able to hide for some time have now come to the fore.

    The noise will crank up some more and its justfiable. Hlebruary has come late at a crucial juncture this season

  10. mr.undercover
    April 10, 2016

    Well. This lose was expected, but the manner in which we have lost the game is the main thing which we must address .Iniesta assured that its not a physical break down, then what is it for god sake??
    The team is worrying me, I don’t want us to end the season trophyless like tata’s team, where we split away the league and the CL + the coppa within 18 days, when I look at this team a sudden deja vu of that bad experience keeps lingering,

  11. Jim
    April 10, 2016

    Made for hard watching didn’t it ? Not used to seeing us struggle as much as we have , for a while now. I suppose it all needs to be put into perspective in that the time we should really save our moans for is the day when teams don’t feel they need to stick. ten behind the ball. However, I have to say the highlight for me was the short interview with Xavi before the game. He looks good, happy but bursting for the time when he can return to Barcelona ! Anyway, it speaks volumes that at half time I decided to switch over to watching the Masters and left watching the second half till ( very) late last night.

    I don’t buy into the jinxed ground idea at all. It’s a fact we haven’t won there much , with very different teams but this is the best team in the world and we should be able able to win anywhere and it’s not like it’s a tight pitch which stops us playing our game. Likewise, I would defy anyone to point at any lack of effort. No, for me it’s down to two things. The first was that we again allowed a poorer side to go ahead giving the packed defence something to fight for and the inevitability of coming back, which I do tend to feel with a full side, wasn’t there because two of the indispensable a were missing ; Suarez and. Iniesta. Not criticising LE’s team choice here,btw. He must know Iniesta’s physical state well and if he judged he needed to be kept for midweek that’s okay by me. You saw the difference he made once he came onto the pitch in terms of controlling the game and creating chances. So much so that they took one out of their defence specifically to stop that happening. Just as importantly there was no Suarez pushing, turning, hassling and running to create gaps in the defence and be a presence in the centre.

    I’ve watched the goal over and over again and I still can’t figure out why it happened – which is unusual for me, I know ! There was literally no danger then the ball was in our net. Now the first thing to say is that was some goal. That guy will never rise to meet a ball in quite that way with that accuracy ever again in his career. However, from our side there were a few factors. First, Busi and Turan contrived together not to win a ball which should have been ours. Masche correctly shepherds the guy rather than jumping in. In the centre all is good. Pique is watching in case of a front post ball, Rafinha is watching his man and Alves is, for once, in position as spare cover.

    The problem comes with the cross. SR is far too slow going out to close down the cross and hampers himself with this stupid hands behind the back routine which continental teams started and has now spread to some teams in Briatain. What is that all about? Your out on the sideline for goodness’ sake ! What’s the worst that can happen if you dash in and close down? It’s unlikely to hit your hand anyway. Having played for. Thirty years the number of times that happened to me could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Next, if you’re close enough the ref. May not give it anyway if he deems it ball to hand. Finally, even if he does you have given a FK away on the touch line which your defence can handle. Not good. However, he wasn’t doing anything most of our team don’t do so only mild rebuke coming his way. I’m gonna say, for me, most of the trouble comes from Rafinha making a sudden decision to let his man run into the box uncovered. He makes no attempt to go with him assume somehow mysteriously it’s someone else’s problem. I could understand if he then followed the next runner into the box but he doesn’t do that either.

    The big problem for Rafinha is that Pique has just had a look, seen that Rafinha is covering the guy and after that it all happens behind him. He quite rightly backpeddles seeing a cross coming in but doesn’t have time to readjust and attack the ball. The quick run, the precision ball and the great finish and we’re one down with a mountain to climb. Still, great goal and we shouldn’t forget teams are allowed to score them against us.

    After that it was all so predictable. LE correctly saw that the midfield he’d put out wasn’t hacking it so on came Iniesta and we could easily have equalised but if we were going to the only one going to do it was Messi. And that’s a bad state to be in. He again played very deep but from his POV what do you do? You can stay up front and never see a decent ball or you drop and try to make things happen.

    You wonder if that rotation was in the end worth it. Are Messi or Neymar. ( he is badly needing to rest and watch a game btw to think about the way he is using the ball. He’s making life hard for himself at times) not the ones who really need the rest after travelling across the world ? Having just done that myself I’m starting to appreciate how long that can stay in your legs and mind. Iniesta did get a half, Rakitic more and I suppose the main element would be Suarez resting so maybe all will be well. However, you get the feeling that a lot will depend on Messi again and he is either saving himself on the pitch or knackered. Have we lost a little of that priceless word, momentum ? That can turn the simplest task into a Herculean one.

    Midweek may tell.

    • Rami
      April 10, 2016

      This whole match seemed like a lose-lose situation for LE, Cause let’s face it, Getting knocked atleti is a genuine and real possibility, and i even prepared my self for it, I can easily imagine the best defense in Europe maintain a 1-0 result in their home, If this occurs and LE had decided to play the gala Xl at full throttle against RS, (regardless of weather we actually managed to get full points) the fans will go berserk, They’ll blame him for the loss because he fatigued the players when there was still a good gap between us and the runner up, And didn’t trust in subs…etc, etc.
      .And as soon as he rested key players, It was a guaranteed points lost, Just as we saw yesterday, Anoeta isn’t the kind of place you survive in without giving it your all.

      So yeah, seems like a loss-loss situation, And his decision was perhaps the least damaging one, In my opinion, I think the real beast will awaken on Wednesday.

  12. Jim
    April 10, 2016

    Just spotted Pique has a problem for midweek. Oh, well . . .

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