This is a guest post from Diana Kristinne. Those of you who follow her on Twitter already know. For those who don’t, here’s a brief intro:
Hi, guys, Diana Uzum here. You might know me as @DianaKristinne on Twitter. Been a Barça fan for about 17 years and a BFB reader for many of those years. After being away from Twitter for a month, I felt like I needed to express my thoughts on Barça in a more extended form and Kevin was generous enough to publish them for me here. Hope you enjoy it.
What a month.
Barça ended the season by winning the Copa del Rey while watching its arch-rivals win the league and make European history by being the first team to retain the Champions League trophy. Over the course of last season it became clear that regardless of the quality of the players in our squad, not all of them were performing to standard. Further, there were some important profiles missing not only from the squad but from the first eleven.
The club needed a right back, a midfielder that could control and organize play and a versatile winger to cover for when Messi plays centrally so that the right side of our attack doesn’t become a dead zone. Last season it was either Messi or Neymar who were moving the ball up the pitch, often starting from positions inside their own half, a role that in a functional team system that would be the job of the midfield. The presence of an “organizing midfielder” would help the team play higher up the field, keep the lines closer and help Messi get the ball in more advantageous positions. This would also allow us to see the best Busquets return.
You can count the “proven to be good enough to run Barça’s midfield” players on the fingers of one hand. Those are also the players that you can’t buy because they play for your main rival, another European powerhouse or for teams who have a shit ton of money and no desire to sell their best assets. What you can do is have good scouting and find the next generation of such players (PSG bought Verratti after he won the Italian second division…) or even try to grow them in your academy.
Currently Barça seems unable to do any of these things, so it tilted at windmills to give the impression that it tried and failed to bring in such a midfielder. The closest they came was Jean Michel Seri of Nice, but pulled out of that deal for reasons that are still unclear.
The squad already has approximately 2342748736 midfielders, but none of them can do this job. Yet the midfielder that was bought was Paulinho. He’s a decent player and a starter for Brazil, but if you’re going to spend 40 million on a midfielder shouldn’t he fit a profile that you need? Maybe Valverde has other ideas about how he wants the team to play and he needed Paulinho to fulfill that plan. But on the face of it, making a huge investment in a 29-year-old player who has been playing in the Chinese SuperLeague isn’t the smartest decision.
The other 2 needs that existed were kind of solved by bringing in Nelson Semedo and buying back Gerard Deulofeu. Semedo is a good buy in my book primarily because he’s a young and promising right back who is not Hector Bellerin.
These problems had to be solved at the start of the summer, but midway through the summer something huge happened that changed the whole context: Neymar decided to leave.
As expected, they spent the whole month of August running around with their heads on fire trying to throw money at other clubs in order to get them to help put out said fire. But we have to understand what Neymar was for the team in order to get how difficult replacing him is.
In the last 3 seasons the team has played for MSN. This was the main attribute we had and over time everything else fell apart because of the overreliance on their brilliance. This wasn’t inevitable — with more care and better planning the team could have maintained its balance even with that front three. But now you have to completely rethink how the team functions.
No other player in the world can give you what Neymar did, so it’s not just about buying another winger and setting him loose. Neymar was a main engine of play and productivity, helped bring the ball out from the back and was an important outlet when everything else seemed blocked. Not having the Brazilian and the “best forward line in the history of football”™ gives you the chance to rethink the whole approach, to put more emphasis on the midfield and the team functionality of as a whole. To return to a more orthodox Barça system. Or at least it should have… But apparently the board and the sporting structure decided that they weren’t interested in such philosophical issues. They wanted big shiny signings. They needed big shiny signings.
They had two targets to replace Neymar: Coutinho and Dembele. They got one of them and pretty much embarrassed themselves by not understanding that no means no in regards to the other. His coach said he’s not for sale, Liverpool put out an official statement saying they won’t sell him this summer under any circumstances. And yet they persisted. Probably because they wanted to show the members that they tried but that it’s not their fault that the other part was unreasonable. Another possible reason is that they just had no other idea of what to do. The fact that I am also a Liverpool fan meant that from the start I never believed that they would sell Coutinho. By the end of the summer this had become of way for the owners to say that they’re not a selling club and they won’t be bullied into these things no matter how much a players stomps his feet and cries.
The player that did come is a very good and promising young winger, who has pace and dribbling ability and can create chances. How he will adapt to Barça and work within the system remains to be seen.
Besides the incoming transfers the club also needed to let go of a number of players because the squad was too big. Tello got back from his loan and was dispatched to Betis. Mathieu was let go. Masip’s contract ran out. These are the only 3 players (in addition to Neymar) who the club has let go of permanently. Douglas, Samper and Munir returned from their loan and were loaned out again. Unfortunately for the two youngsters this seems like the scenario that will keep happening for the rest of their Barça contracts. After the summer of 2016 and the amazing preseason he had I believed that Munir was what Barça needed to be a backup for the attack and he was growing wonderfully and confidently into the role. The decision makers obviously didn’t agree and brought in Alcacer (who is good and has adapted and played better as the season progressed) and loaned Munir out to Valencia, effectively ending his Barça career.
As for Samper… For the better part of the last 2 years my opinion was that he was never going to make it at Barça. He’s very good, skillful, he knows the system and he’s never going to improve if he plays elsewhere just as Busquets wouldn’t have when he was his age. These are Barça-bred players that can only thrive in the Barça system. Besides, there has always been something missing for Samper: a certain bravery, a desire to take responsibility and not look like a kid playing with the senior players. It’s not something I can explain properly, but it’s something that Aleñá has.
And then we have the curious case of the center backs. Vermaelen came back after a season of not really playing at Roma because of his injuries and was kept in the squad as a fourth center back instead of Marlon, who after being promoted from the B team and given a new permanent contract was loaned out. Marlon was one of the few bright lights of last season and his performances for the first team always looked promising and hinted at the fact that maybe with him and Umtiti we had solved a crucial problem at the back.
That’s the squad Ernesto Valverde has to work with in order to try and win everything, because that’s what the club’s name demands. The midfield problem not being fixed is huge. Unless Valverde can come up with a fix that makes the midfield function and makes the players that failed last year perform this year, the team will have the same problems it had last season but with even less individual magic and star power to cover up the systemic dysfunction.
This whole season depends on what Valverde can build for Messi. If he can build him a solid and stable foundation that gives him the ability to play high up the pitch and work his magic without having to also be a midfielder then everything is possible, because with Messi you can always dream. I think that Valverde is a good coach who walked into a mess of a situation that got even dirtier by the end of the window instead of being fixed. What he can do with what he has remains to be seen. I have faith in him, but I’m not sure he’s a miracle worker and that’s what we might need.
The inability to solve any of the significant problems brings us to the biggest problem that Barça has right now (and for the last 7 years): the board. They are the people responsible for getting the team in this situation, so the buck always stops with them. For the good and the bad things. When they arrived the club was in the middle of a success cycle that only needed to be taken care of and nurtured for it to continue indefinitely (at least for the length of Messi’s career). They’ve managed things so badly that right now, with 4-5 years of Leo’s football life still to come we can’t even be sure that he’ll stay at the club (I still think he will, but the fact that doubt exists is already a problem).
The sporting aspect is what keeps them in power. As long as the ball goes into the net every other nefarious aspect of their leadership can be ignored by the members that vote for them. Suing the former board on a bogus revenge mission while altering the club’s financial books? Who cares as long as the team wins. Getting a shirt sponsorship from a less than reputable state? We need money for the team to keep winning. Getting the club banned from making transfers by FIFA because you didn’t handle the paperwork for underage transfers correctly? FIFA hates us. Getting the club convicted of tax fraud? Madrid hates us. Academy players aren’t getting into the first team squad anymore? Shit happens. Everything can be explained and done away with as long as the team keeps winning.
For all these reasons and more they should go. For all these reasons and more everyone should stand behind Agusti Benedito’s vote of no confidence proposal. The club is already trying to screw with him by changing the timing of the steps. The club’s statutes state the following: “The promoters of the vote of no confidence will have a limit of 14 days, counted from the day after the one on which the slips were received, to present their formal request to the Board of Directors, which will declare the motive and the names of the members of the Board that are to be subjected to the vote of no confidence, attaching the support slips to this.” The club’s statement about this from last Friday says this: “The parties applying for the no-confidence vote have 14 working days, staring from the following day the forms are made available, i.e. tomorrow, to provide evidence of the support necessary. This time limit follows the interpretation and application as have been used in recent electoral processes, and importantly, discounting the application of administrative regulations with FC Barcelona not being publically administered.”
The club is counting Saturdays as working days and is starting the count from the day the slips are “made available”, not from the moment the slips are “received”. This means that right now the club says that he has to present the signed slips by September 19th and he says that he has until October 2nd because he still hasn’t gone to “receive” the slips and will do so at the last moment the club’s statutes allow him to. The difference between September 19th and October 2nd are home games against Eibar and Las Palmas and away games against Girona and Sporting, which would give him more chances to get the signatures he needs.
I wish I believed that he could get the signatures he needs. But I lost my faith in the club’s members years ago. Then again Laporta got 15615 votes in 2015 after the team had just won a treble so maybe there is hope for Benedito getting the 16570 signatures he needs. This would be the first step towards the club healing itself. The next step would be the actual vote of no confidence in which 2/3 of the voters have to want the board out, which again seems impossible right now.
For now, there is the season, trust in a flawed team and hope that a new coach is a miracle worker. As for the rest, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.