Valverde and the kids — where the kids at?

“Valverde doesn’t trust youth.”

This has become culer lore as it relates to the Barça coach, who must be wondering what he can do, not that he seems to care all that much.

Youth players are, in this case, the coterie of almosts who dot the first-team bench like the scrubs at pickup games, raising their hands to say “Put me in, coach,” as the coach looks at the bigger, stronger main players, and wonders.

Here is the FC Barcelona XI:

Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, Arthur, Coutinho, Messi, Suarez

Here is the FC Barcelona bench:

Rafinha, Malcom, Lenglet, Vermaelen, Vidal, Samper, Semedo, Cillessen, Dembele, Denis Suarez, Munir

This season, it has been easier to watch Barça B matches than last, when you needed hope, a VPN and a ritual sacrifice. This year, official streams are more abundant, and watching the Segunda B battlers is illustrative, if you’re paying attention. If you watch and are, it’s worth asking yourself an important question:

Who from that group would you entrust the season to, over current first-team members? Is “trust the season” dramatic? Maybe. Maybe not. Play a B teamer, they make a key error and a goal results. Given the tightness of the table, it isn’t inconceivable to foresee a super-tight Liga points battle all season long. Again: Who from that group would you trust the season to?

To honestly answer that query, you have to remove narrative and bias from the picture and look at that group with clear eyes. The most talented among them are Riqui Puig, who you already saw giving Milan players fits in pre-season, Carles Alena, who will be returning to his first-team spot to stay once Copa resumes, Miranda, who himself said he wasn’t ready yet, and Chumi, the CB who made the Sevilla squad for the last Liga matchday.

If you were the Barça coach, what would you do?

Both questions are relevant because sitting at a keyboard, or banging away on a touchscreen with nothing at stake makes it easy. Roll out that Masia XI, play juego de posicion and let’s do that Treble thang. Real life isn’t that easy.

Never forget that a coach’s first job is to win. That is true whether the coach is Valverde, Klopp, Setien, Guardiola or any of the other managers working in the game. Win. All the rest is supporter dogma and theory. The only thing missing from the current first team is a backup left back. Some recent quotes are also interesting. Despite what various media outlets have said, club president Josep Bartomeu and technical secretary Eric Abidal have both said that nothing is going to happen in January.

Starting first-team keeper and resident deity Marc-Andre Ter Stegen said that the best way to find out whether youth players are ready is to play them, a sentiment being embraced by the “Valverde hates the youth” crowd. But ask Ter Stegen if he really wants his nets defended by Chumi and Miranda instead of the first-team incumbents. Ah, but surely he must mean those matches in which Cillessen plays. So no worries there.

“Well, Guardiola gave chances to youth products.” He did when he coached Barça. And it’s true. Folks such as Tello, Jeffren, Krkic and Cuenca got their runouts. And where are they now? Where were they then, aside from farther along than the current batch of untrusted youth? They scored goals here and there, but that’s about it. Now that Guardiola is at Manchester City, without having done any digging (and would be happy to have been proven wrong), how many City EDS or academy players have gotten runouts? Phil Foden got looks in the Carabao Cup last year and made the leap but he is ready, like Puig and Alena, with first-team quality.

For the Manchester City pre-season tour, Guardiola used academy players in the same way that Valverde did, as things to look at for the future with unavailable first-teamers vacationing or at the World Cup. That’s just how it goes. Foden, the biggest star of that City group and probably the equivalent to Puig, had this to say about Guardiola and his future with the club, in a September article in the Manchester Evening News:

“I’ll just keep getting these cup games and run-outs whenever I can and hopefully I can start a lot more games one day.

“There’s no need to rush. Pep knows what he’s doing and I’ll play at the right time. He’s good at bringing youth players through, he’s done it in his career before so just be patient, I’m still young and I’m still learning.

“Training with the likes of David [Silva] and Kevin [De Bruyne] and seeing what they do every day has brought me on as a player and working with Pep as well has been a really big part of my game. Both him and Mikel have been a massive help.

“I just have to keep impressing and keep working hard and see where it gets me.”

If those quotes sound familiar, they’re because every academy talent says the same at working and training with the first team. It’s part of the process. This includes at Barça. They train with the first team, learn that pace and quality of play and the coaching staff evaluates them with the future in mind. And they grow.

This club and its relationship to La Masia in the here and now is an odd one, forged by dogma, idealism and history. A legendary group came from the club academy, a feat likely to never be repeated again. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Puyol, Valdes and others formed the core of a legendary batch of players. But there have been a lot more Jeffrens than Xavis. That’s academy reality. In the here and now of the Internet generation, it’s never been easier to get information about youth players, follow their exploits and declare them the Next Big Thing. A person no less skilled and veteran than Graham Hunter declared Dongou an amazing, can’t-miss talent. No idea where he is now.

Xavi wasn’t Xavi until he became Xavi, and he was able to do that in relative calm. Today, Xavi would be getting profiles when he was 14 years old, like Xavi Simons. He would have an agent, and hype, and people would be screaming for him to get a first-team look from age 15, before his testicles have barely dropped. It’s a different world now, one that should be aware of history, triumphs and pitfalls.

There is tremendous talent in the academy, and a coach such as Valverde, or any coach, would be foolish to ignore that talent. Just as foolish would be to inflate the quality of that talent into something that it isn’t. Just because a player is in the Barça academy and might be doing well doesn’t mean he is ready for the Barça first team. It means he is good enough for the club’s second division. When you watch Puig playing with B, he looks like an alien dropped in to play with humans, levels above the folks around him. Alena is also there. No other names come to mind when you watch B matches, players who you watch and say to yourself, “Wow. Look at that.”

If unskilled observers such as us make those kinds of assessments, what must Valverde think as we watches Barça B? For him, here is the question: “Which of these players are good enough to help my team win?”

Valverde has the same job as Guardiola or any other Barça coach: win. B is for developing talent and a way of playing, for indoctrination and settling, and evaluation. The first team is for championships. If a B player is good enough to fit into that group AND grow with that group, rock on. If not, and that “if” is important, perspective matters. Never forget that coach’s first job, and the necessity of patience.

By Kxevin

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.


  1. Great article!!! Double thumbs up.. I feel this write-up brings the calm on the issue of youth players… Really if they’re that good they would be on the team.. I read an article one time on how first team players begged rijkaard to include messi in the first team, that shows he was ready at that time and it was evident even to the first team players…

  2. Excellent piece!

    Alas, folks who are adamant that Valverde does not trust youth are enamored with their personal truthiness, to use Colbert’s jargon, and can not be bothered with facts. It feels right to them to have a go at Valverde on this, regardless of what the reality suggests.

    On a related note, here’s how much faith Valverde has shown to Dembele thus far:
    Started vs. Alaves
    Started vs. Huesca
    Started vs. Real Sociedad
    Started vs. PSV
    Started vs. Girona
    Started vs. Leganes
    Started vs. Athletic Bilbao
    — vs. Spurs
    Came on 83’ vs. Valencia
    Came on 26’ vs. Sevilla (we can’t know whether he may or may not have been used later on in the game with an uninjured Messi).

    Only at Wembley he did not play. So, any claim that Valverde has not given the young man enough chances and/or supported his development is simply bullcrap.

  3. Barca Blaugranes says now there is video evidence to prove that – it took Valverde 2 minutes and 15 seconds to give the order to start warming up, but the rest of those 7 minutes and 45 seconds appear to be Dembélé’s fault. We now have video of Valverde becoming more and more annoyed with Dembélé’s lack of urgency as Barça played with 10 men.

    So I was wrong. Rakitic’s comment might have been aimed at Dembele rather than coach. With such an attitude, I would be worried for Dembele. If he doesn’t have the patience and motivation to fight for his place among a group of world class players, then it is worrisome. Hope some one talks some sense into him or he moves on.

  4. Just popping in to wish the guys luck tonight. An important match for signposting how well we’ll do in Messi’s absence. Can’t watch the match as I’m off to see “Bohemian Rhapsody” tonight ( Freddy still the best front man ever, and looking forward to it. Just hope they have left his voice on it ! )

    Big night for Dembele. I’ve a feeling, despite EV’s lack of forgiveness, that he might still get the nod. Hope he takes it if so. Leading on from that, a big night for EV. If we can’t get Dembele working somehow we carry a lot less threat overall.

    Not sure that putting forward Puig and Alena is clearing away narrative. I’ve not seen either perform to a high level in a real match yet ( friendlies don’t count for me ) but I’m looking forward to it at some point. That point may be further off due to Messi’s injury though and that’s only natural on Valverde’s part.

    What is true is that they are due a look whereas others have had their chance in the first team, not performed and need to go. I just hope that he does it one youngster at a time rather than put four or five in and dismiss them because the overall performance drops. Done that too often. Youngsters need to play with great players so we can judge them accurately.

    Anyway, very late viewing of the match for me tonight on return from the Thai restaurant, Freddy and the pub. Retirement, eh ?

  5. Really? This line-up?
    Semedo back to bench?
    Malcolm not getting a start?

    Maybe someone smarter can ellaborate how can we be dangerous with this “attack”?

    1. It’s another conservative approach from EV, it’s hard to tell how attacks would be pieced together, what pricks me the most is the lack of trust in Malcom, Just feel he would have that fighting mentality that Dembele lacks. Fingers crossed that this doesn’t turn into a horror show fast

  6. Really Tito? Really?

    We’ve been having fun at BB today, predicting exactly this line up.

    Rafinha has never worked as RW.
    Valverde has set Inters LW on Fire

    It baffles me u guys are surprised by this.

    1. Well, it’s a good thing that Rafinha is now playing on the center where he is doing good stuff.

      So far, the 1st half was good… Barcelona looking slow at times and, granted, predictable… but at least danger has been created and I think Barça deserved to have at least 2 goals scored… but either way, so far… looking good.

  7. So, a 2-0 win… right now Barcelona leading the group with 9 points…

    Overall a good game, there were moments where Inter created troubles for the team, but Barcelona responded well… ohh, and maybe people should stop saying that Valverde doesn’t know how to win without Messi… yes, with the line-up he sacrificed pace and creativity, but it worked… Inter created danger at moments, but overall Barcelona did manage it… the team deserved to score more than 2 goals, Suarez needs to be clinical… but good result either way…

  8. Good overall game, but Inter did give everything for this outcome with their approach.
    Control wise we did great, but as i thought we were very slow in attack and mostly predicted. We need to play faster, which will be essential the next game against RM.
    Dembele needed punishment and it was a good call not to engage him tonight. On the other hand, dont know what’s the deal with Malcom. From few minutes i’ve seen him play there is a lot of potential, but who knows. EV maybe?

  9. Yes, it was a good overall game and I’m not sure where you guys saw the danger from Inter. I’ve seldom seen a top side subdued so much by not being able to get a hold of the ball. We looked comfortable all night. So no brickbats from me. A sensible lineup who all seemed to be up for pressing so well done to EV. Happy to discuss when he gets it wrong but tonight wasn’t one of them.

    Suarez was everywhere, again. Unbelievable ball for our first goal, a couple of rasping shots on target , a beautiful first time curler which just missed the post, a great FK which only failed as they threw a player along the ground and a daft but enjoyable attempt at a flying volley. Not to mention the super back heel to give Rafinha a clear shot at goal. Just great stuff all night.

    However MOTM for me was Jordi Alba. Hardly put a foot wrong, saved our bacon several times, passed immaculately and scored a terrific goal with a super first touch and his pace. Pique hardly broke sweat and Arthur must have stood on Valverde’s puppy to be taken off after a game like that.

    No, this could have been a nightmare. We did lose a bit from the lack of Messi’s pace but made up for it through quick ball movement. Did I mention Busi? How good is he ? Even when Inter pushed right up he looked untroubled.

    It’s now 1.30 am , I’m sitting having a glass of wine savouring a good victory having had a great Thai meal of ginger duck, seen a young guy, Remi Malek, make a great attempt at the impossible task of playing Freddy and listening to Queen music blasting out in the IMAX. So, sorry if I’m not in an appropriately negative mood. ( I’ll be better tomorrow! )

    1. I don’t think it’s just the wine, Queen music and ginger duck ; ) I also enjoyed the game a lot.

      Rafinha in the starting lineup had me confused (though it may well be a disciplinary measure from Valverde). But it worked. And throughout the game, the team conceded very little chances while getting plenty of their own (Suarez, Lenglet…). How many difficult saves did Ter Stegen have to make? I’m not sure what else you can ask for from a game against a very good opponent. If we compare Valverde’s team to the great Guardiola team, we should also remember the games that Guardiola team drew or narrowly lost in the Champions League because they couldn’t do what Barca did yesterday.

      The scrappiest part yesterday came after the referee repeatedly turned a blind eye to their players beating up on ours, with some really nasty tackles in there. Valverde brought in Vidal, exactly the right guy for this kind of game, and the situation calmed down.

      Hard to praise any of the players because most of them were great, but some of those Arthur – Busquets interactions had me laugh with joy. And the greatest surprise came with the second goal – I love Jordi Alba, but he is not exactly a good goalscorer. Look at his goal, and tell me how any world-class striker could have taken that goal better. Pace, first touch, holding off a defender a head bigger than himself, then the strike – astonishing.

  10. Rakitic was best player alongside Alba.What a player.Our best MF and one of top performers this season.
    Arthur is great and all this nonsense that Valverde cant develop a young player or he dont trust them must stop,is nonsense.
    He explained that he subbed him off because there is a big game on Sunday.
    I was sure about win vs Inter because we have a great coach and great players.If they are at top.of their game they can beat anyone even without Leo.

  11. People can say whatever they want about Valverde but the man working hard.
    Different systems,many rotations,missing key players,some players still to fix their flaws but the team especially in big games looks really good.

  12. I really enjoyed the match. I thought Suarez was unlucky to score. I really hope he gets off the mark against Inter away. It’s been something like 3 years since he scored away in the CL. Rafinha was good. Did his job well, kept the ball rolling, dropped in to pick it up like Messi but there’s only one Messi.

    What was most important to me besides the win and winning without Leo was not conceding. I thought Lenglet played his best game in the colors today and should have scored but Handanovic denied him and a bad bounce robbed him. He will score and hopefully becomes a threat from corners. We haven’t been able to do much on corners since Puyol used to run with all his heart and head into them along, Yaya Toure, and Pique. Everyone talks about Guardiola’s team being all about little guys, but there were some big dudes in that team. The Guardiola team had both tiki-taka and height and pace.

    I’m glad Dembele didn’t play. I’ve been hearing rumors that he’s showing disdain for fellow FC Barcelona players. He took 7 minutes in coming to the game once Leo came off against Sevilla. He’s kind of an idiot honestly. He’s blowing the chance of his life by being unprofessional and immature.

  13. @JIM
    Arthur didn’t disturb Valverde’s puppy. He was taken off because there is a Clasico to be played in three days.

    “I am the person who knows the players best. Arthur had a small muscle overload and with the week ahead we preferred not to risk him. But only I know that.” (Valverde, post match comment)

    Naturally, the fans whistled his decision.

    1. Also, Arthur was being roughed up by some of the opposing players all over the pitch, with the referee not being interested in handing out cards for it. Good call to take him off at that point.

  14. We looked quite good and am very happy with the victory.
    Alba – did he do anything wrong in this match. Forget his wonderful passing run and the goal, but I have lost count of how many times he makes an exciting sprint for a clearance or intervention in the defence. In that alone he has over grown Alves and Abidal
    Arthur – the guy is a pleasure to watch. He may not have that easy subtle grace of Xavi, but he is pure pure Barca mf. Going to be a legend.
    Busi – like Messi, nothing to say.
    Lenglet, really good and I loved how he came into goal scoring positions 4 times! Hopefully he scores against Real.
    Vidal – It will be very unfair if he doesnt play more. He is surprising me with his speed of thought and execution. Coming in to secure defence and making a pre assist.
    Suarez is really putting an extra 100% for his friend.

    I wish Semedo had started though.

    1. More than any other defender, Jordi Alba for me channels the spirit (if not the body) of Puyol. It’s very rare that he loses focus at any point in the game, he doesn’t give up on chasing a ball of closing down an attacker even in the dying minutes of a game, and he always puts everything he has into the game.

      Pique has also done very well defensively this season, but I’m less impressed with his leisurely take on playing out the back or going after a loose ball at times. Maybe he needs some correction from our left-back there…?

  15. I will never understand how or why so many Barca fans doubt this team. Time and time again they step up when they need too. Year after year, after winning so much. It is truly remarkable. It is not normal either. Instead of complaining about the rare occasion when the team doesn’t perform everyone should just try and enjoy this team. This won’t last forever.

    I am not a Valverde fan, but I am not a hater either. He got the lineup spot on yesterday and people hating on him should really pause and think that maybe, just maybe he knows what he is doing. The vitriol online when Rafinha was selected ahead of Dembele was shocking, really. Not only was it the correct decision tactically but also physiologically, if Dembele wants to play he has to earn it. His last few performances have been seriously below par, more worrying is his attitude. I wouldn’t mind if he was giving 100% on the pitch but things just weren’t coming off for him, but being crap AND lazy. Just not on. Valverde should sit him till he gets his head right.

    Arthur is incredible. I was attempted to hold back my excitement but he has made it impossible. At his age, at this level and on this stage to perform like he is doing in a new team. It is astonishing really. Just imagine how he is going to evolve over the next few years once he really gains confidence and the understanding with his team mates. A Barca legend in the making.

    Lenglet also looks like a class signing. Strong on the ball, composed, can pass, good in the air and young too.

    Bring on el clasico!!!

  16. I guess nobody else was awe struck by Suarez’s performance, he’s my MOTM, he pressed, ran his heart off and barked orders, he was the leader on the pitch.

    1. True, Suarez was amazing. Kept the pressure on (both for opposing defenders and for his own teammates). Did everything but score, and not for lack of trying. And what an assist for the first goal!

  17. Check above. I’d agree he was one of the real leaders on the pitch although it seemed to me that the senior players ( Pique, Alba, Busi, Rakitic and Suarez) had got together and decided that needed to step up and lead in Messi’s absence. He is one of the most intelligent forwards I’ve ever seen. I could watch his pass for the goal over and over. Only he or Messi could have made that pass. It literally landed on Rafinha’s foot ( although to be fair to Rafinha he made the right run and there aren’t many in the team who do that. ).

    My only worry with him is first of all, fatigue. He can’t keep putting that much in every game while playing the full 90 and no way EV will play Munir there for anything other than Copa ( and rightly so). Secondly, he’s our CF. He needs to be scoring. If he doesn’t score his usual amount of goals who will make it up ? However, at the moment he’s sacrificing himself to becoming the assister because only Messi can really find the tiny gaps he works in between the CBs. Neither wing is providing the sort of service a CF thrives on ( although that was a gorgeous ball last night from Alba. Good to hear him getting the long overdue recognition. Well hit shot to the near corner as well which the keeper dealt with.) More quick balls like that from both sides, please.

    With regard to Arthur coming off, I hadn’t heard Valverde’s comment but without knowing the ins and outs, I’ve praised him for last night but I’m not completely buying this. A small muscle overburdening is basically nothing when you consider the chronic injuries carried by the likes of Pique, Suarez etc. who are both in much greater need of rest than Arthur. Arthur, despite other great performances has been the midfield go to for subbing and I’m not sure it wasn’t the same last night. There was no obvious injury, he was playing great and I have to say there’s a bit of me thinking he was just reluctant to take Rakitic off. He was the obvious one in the last game and in this ( I thought he played okay but not even close to MOTM for me).

    Now, that’s okay. If he’d said that Arthur was tired, young and needs to be treated carefully etc that would have been fine by me but he’s only putting off the day when he has to pull Rakitic because he’s now the obvious weakest link in the midfield. What I would say is that Rakitic may well have to raise his game to stay on the field and there were signs last night that he realises this as he was miles better than at the weekend so its all good. We’ve all been moaning about the need for competition for places. Having said that, Arthur has also shown very little going forward and it’ll be interesting to see if he has that side to it.

    So, on to the Clasico but there’ll be some decent self belief in the side now. The only issue might be the energy levels.

    1. I agree with Jim, that Rakitic up’d his game yesterday and even started making a few turns to lose defenders. Uncharacteristic. I wonder if some of the midfielder, upon seeing how much praise Arthur is getting from the fans, are now thinking, “Oh! THAT’S how I’m suppose to be playing!”

      Suarez hustles. There’s no other way to put it. And I love him for it.

      I’m also pretty sure there were some Hollywood special effects added to my game-feed when I (thought) I saw BUSI zip back to contain a fast break—outracing Roberto by yards. It was some good CG—looked so life-like.

      We are still missing Dani Alvez’s crosses from the right-wing. Hell cut a sprint to the touchline and a decent cut-back/ground cross. Neither Roberto or Semedo are willing to attempt the foot-race that is the staple of almost every other winger. I wonder is there are instructions not to do it. (or do they know we won’t have anyone in the box)

      I do love the quick-passing, high-risk, possession football. Yeah Arthur! (Busi, Alba, Pique, Roberto, and Coutinho too).

      Also MATS. Could you ask for a better keeper? Compare him to V. Valdez. Who would you rather in your net?

    2. Well, we can debate why Arthur was taken off till the cows come home. At the end of the day, it’s still speculation. What I was really pointing at was that, I have come to learn that there’s usually a solid rationale behind his decisions. How fully Valverde deconstructs his decision making to the press is hard to tell. But, he generally lets the results speak for themselves.

    3. The one decision that doesn’t look plausible so far is his continued omission of Malcom. While yesterday’s victory was relatively negotiated with ease, it was apparent the attack lacked pace, penetration and threat from the wings. We might not be so lucky against Madrid with such approach. It’s understandable why he chose not to play Dembele, but certainly no logical reason why Malcom still gets disregarded, and not just for yesterday’s game. I can’t help but think some of his decisions are personal than tactical.

    4. Each time we second-guess at the coaches decisions, it seems we later find he has acted very rationally (but possibly not in an inspired fashion). Why then assume the worst with regard to Malcolm?

      I just watched an old french TV interview with Eto talking about his issues with Guardiola. Honestly, even with Eto telling the story, I’d be looking to unload him off of my squad too—just to keep things under control. What an arrogant ass!

  18. If his omission is attributable to attitudinal misdemeanor, I’d be the first to offer my support to his decision, but it doesn’t look like it from what we know so far. Same scenario played out with Mina and the kid was badly out of form by the time he summoned him the realm of the forgotten. If he isn’t playing Malcom because it was the Club’s signing, then we have a bigger problem than we might realize. The reason why Malcolm’s case perplexes me isn’t because I’m a fan of his, but seeing a player that could add quality to our attack being ignored for reasons no one can fathom.

    1. I take your point. He is a bad coach if, like Mourinho, if he operates exclusively from a point of view driven by ego — but I do think every coach will have players he feels “work” with his vision of the side, and those that do not. A coach is human and will have biases—some of which are unfair. I agree it would be petty of him to take revenge on a player just because the club scouts picked him up against the coach’s desire. I don’t know what is true here. I’m just saying that in the absence of information, why choose the most negative possibility?

      For the little I saw, I think Mina ended up looking like a poor fit for Barca, and I’m sure the coach saw more of him than we did. Valverde is so cautious and risk-averse, I can’t believe he’d dump a player that could help his side just out of spite. But again, who knows? We’ll all know better in a few years, as the little back-stories leak out.

      All that aside, I’d also like to get a peek at Malcolm on the field too, just to see for myself what he brings. But you know what they say about curiosity!

    2. Another point about the “kids”. Dembele: If the bad press he’s getting is true, his behavior at Dortmund just before the transfer to Barca (refusing to go to practice, etc.) starts to ring true to character.

      When he was misbehaving at another club, it seemed endearing (“Oh look! He really wants to come to Barca. Well who wouldn’t do anything to get there?”), but when that same unprofessional behavior continues after he arrived—it’s not so acceptable anymore.

      Demebele: (?) The puppy you splurged on after your girlfriend left and you were in the dumps, that’s not as cute as it was at the store now that its tearing up your rug at home.

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