Communication, youth players and Barça

What do we do when we don’t know anything?

Barça is in transition. In the days of Laporta and Guardiola, there was the perception of this big, open-hearted thing. Cava baths, trophies and hearts on sleeves.

In 2016 Josep Bartomeu has locked things down even as the club is presenting an open, smiling face. Sponsors are coming, money is flowing, but the perception is different, even if the access to information isn’t, all that much.

Perception is the difference between not asking a lot of questions and presuming the worst, even as reality in the face of a lack of information is the same: there ain’t a whole lot to do except speculate, with conclusions that depend almost wholly upon your worldview.

Communication affects perception, something brought to mind by a recent discussion had on Twitter, as well as the general reaction to an interview with former Barça player Adama Traore, who said that nobody at the club talked to him. Whoa. Does Barça have a problem with communication as regards youth players?

When the talented young winger was at Barça, he, like Gerard Deulofeu, was tapped for first-team success. And there was much surprise when, like Deulofeu, Traore left the club. Here are some quotes from the interview:

“I left Barça because I haven’t been given a chance. If I had got a chance, I could say what I lacked.

“The club made me stay at Barça B, where I had been playing for two years. My mentality was to keep on growing.

“I just asked Barça to let me show whether I have the required level [to play for the first team]. I didn’t demand anything.

No one from Barça spoke to me. I would’ve liked someone to give me an explanation. I left the club with bittersweet feelings.

“However, I respect the club’s decision. They had the three best strikers in the world, and they chose two of my teammates.

“After all, Barça is my home, they gave me everything. I will always be grateful for everything I learned there.”

There is quite a lot to unpack there, particularly in light of the Alejandro Grimaldo situation. When the left back, now at Benfica, was asked about Luis Enrique and his first-team opportunities toward the end of his time at the club, he let fly with both barrels:

He has never said anything to me, I have not had any contact with him. …”I don’t have anything to speak to him about, either.

“I work with my manager [Gerard Lopez]. I got on well with him, he helps me with everything and he helps me be better.

“Let him higher up [in the first team] be with his players and let me be with my team.”

How should we react to the Traore quotes, particularly in light of the history of the Grimaldo ones? “The club is wrong.” “Lucho out, he’s killing La Masia,” etc. But what do we know, aside from the fact that we have two players dissatisfied with their opportunities at the club?

What if the comments are merely the reaction of a disappointed player? What if the club screwed up? No answers, but let’s get mad anyhow. A lot of the perception of a “crisis” at Barça is based on a lack of information. The club is locked down at all levels. Players mouth banalities. The head coach will even sing at a presser to keep from answering a question directly. Nothing comes from the board except official communiques. But here’s a few things to think about in the case of Traore and indirectly, Grimaldo.

Youth players and commnication are a crucial part of development, that a player get the feedback and guidance to be able to improve and achieve the goal of making the first team. What should Luis Enrique’s role have been with those players?

Is he a guiding hand, helping the players understand what they need to do to improve, or is that the job of the B team coach, while the first-team coach just calls up players when they are ready then evaluates them when they are with the first team?

In an ideal world, each coach at each level of the system communicates with the coach at the next level, assuring that the most talented players have the best opportunity to move up. Here’s Denis Suarez on his time at Barça B:

“The year I spent at Barça B helps me a lot now, when it comes to adapting to the first team and its playing style. … At Barça B, Eusebio explained to me what I had to know about positional play. I learned a lot from him.”

Many have suggested that the ladder system at Barça has broken down, that the clear series of steps needed is murky. Are the allegations of a lack of communication part of that breakdown? If the communication issues are true, something serious is going on at the club. Traore says that nobody from the club spoke to him. Grimaldo says that Luis Enrique didn’t deal with him. For a cranky journalist, both come with a bit of sideeye.

There is the tendency from some sections of the culerverse to view the club as always being wrong. There are others who support the club as long as the success keeps coming. Others want to look at each situation and make a judgement based on that situation alone, with as much information as can be gathered.

It strains belief to consider that nobody at the club spoke to Traore, even as we don’t know for a fact that he isn’t right. He could be. FC Barcelona is a club with a vaunted youth system that works to ensure that the best make the grade. We are supposed to believe that this club said nothing to one of its finest talents. But why would the player say that if it wasn’t true?

Overstatement? Clearly, since someone from the club had to talk to Traore in order to send him along to the Prem. Does he mean that a clear path was never communicated to him by the first team coach. Should it have been, or is that the job of the B team coach?

Supporters aren’t the only ones who struggle with a lack of information. Is the idea to play and be patient, and opportunity will come when it is supposed to? Here’s Rafinha on making the first team at Barça:

Rafinha — “It was the dream, to always give the maximum. … It was very difficult, to be with the best in the world. … It was very difficult to get there.”

How much communication did Rafinha get? No idea. Suarez? No idea, but we know that he got some from his B team coaches, because he laid that out. If we take Suarez at face value, why don’t we take Traore at face value? More worrisome, what if both are correct, and the real difficulty is in ways of communication?

If someone doesn’t say “I love you” but builds you a house, what next? One person will say, “Hell, he must love me. He built me a house.” Another person would say, “Yeah, he built me a house, but he never told me what I needed to hear.”

Communication is also related to expectation. A superstar youth player has different expectations than a merely talented one. Could Traore have gotten communication from other folks, but not the ones he expected to hear from? It’s as likely as his having received none at all. Grimaldo spoke of a close relationship with his B team coach, so clearly the system is working at some level, which brings us back to the club, infomation and lack thereof.

It’s hard to do nothing, physically and intellectually. But if you have no information or only half of the story, that’s the option until more comes our way. In the Chicago Tribune newsroom, most often heard from the news folks is “Where’s the other side?” If the club says nothing of the Traore comments, is that guilt or not needing to bother because he’s an ex-player?

“Fair” is is often misused. It’s big in the newsroom, and in my world. It’s fair to treat Traore’s comments with inquiry, just as it’s fair not to assume they are entirely correct. If you are someone like me who doesn’t like or trust the board, what then? The club will most likely not say anything about the Traore quotes. Should it? Well … no. Why? What’s the value? So that people don’t natter on social media? So what. So that players already in the system don’t get the wrong impression? They already know if there is truth in the Traore comments. So what then?

Supporters, frustration, a lack of information and bias. And that’s exactly where we started.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

6 Comments

  1. feeya7
    December 30, 2016

    Hey, thanks for this great article. Had a conversation about this topic at barcablaugranes and the emotions are extreme. I’m definitely side on the idea that B-team players should be vetted first and properly before money is splashed in the transfer market. So hearing these words from Adama, especially after the Thiago disaster and Grimaldo’s exit (among so many more) makes my blood boil as I watch Barca throw hundreds of millions at Arda, Vidal, Gomes, Paco, etc.

  2. dl
    December 30, 2016

    Like most things, there is probably an element of truth in all the statements (even though Adama’s don’t admit of any grey area). I should say at the outset that Enrique gets the benefit of the doubt, in my view. Also, I have the sense that he is a pretty austere fellow, not very touchy-feely and likely not too effusive in his feedback. The kids (and they really are kids) are growing up as people at the same time as they are improving as players, and those things don’t necessarily happen at the same pace. It is understandable that to Grimaldo, it SEEMED as if nobody ever spoke to him, but maybe he got all that he was going to get. The players that have been successful, so far, in making it into the first squad seem to have both the maturity and the skills. It’s a cut-throat business and there are no guarantees from one year to the next — one of the very first lessons all the Traores and Grimaldos of the world have to learn is how to shut and get to work. In this regard I always held JDS in high regard — his work ethic and dedication were exemplary. In the end it didn’t work for him at barca, but the character (and skills) he built there is serving him very very well now at Villareal, and it will likely be a strong support after his career ends.

    • Mishti
      December 31, 2016

      I have been thinking about exactly the thing you point out: the emotional maturity of players, and the fact that different people process emotional stimulai very differently. One coach, with one particular personality and one particular communication style would rarely ever fit everyone’s idea of what ‘communicative’ means. Somebody who is considered as a great motivator by many, could be considered ‘on your face’ by others. I agree with Kevin in that all I know when I hear Traore speak is how he feels about things, but little else to go by. And how anyone feels about something is as much a function of that person’s own personality as anything that actually takes place.

  3. Jim
    December 31, 2016

    No it won’t be good football, it certainly won’t be pretty and it may turn nasty but for sheer compulsive viewing I know where my attention will be for the next ninety minutes. Ibrox is rocking ! First clash with Celtic there for five years and they’re up for it! Ready to avert eyes . . .

    • January 1, 2017

      Was a fun match until Celtic woke up and Rangers regressed to norm.

  4. Jim
    January 1, 2017

    Yeah, I enjoyed it too. I’m ashamed to admit that at least part of it is the sheer enmity between the two sets of supporters which can’t help but transmit to the players. I remember the days when Rangers had money to bring top names like Laudrop and Gascoigne to Glasgow. They were stunned by the way all arrivals get caught up in the rivalry ( or if I’m honest, hate).

    You’re right. At present Celtic are a level ahead of Rangers and with one or two astute signings next summer should go through to the CL group stages again and do better than this time. It was a pretty tasty group. However, Rangers have some decent young talent. You’ll have seen Barry McKay’s performance which for a youngster was pretty impressive . Celtic didn’t have an answer to him until they managed to starve him of the ball. A great prospect. However, maybe an even more relevant one for us is Billy Gilmour , a 15 yr old with their youth team. Apparently, even we have cast an eye over him.

    http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/rangers-kid-billy-gilmour-being-9191738

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