New season, same stuff, but we can try to be different, at least

FC Barcelona is not a finished club.

Repeat. FC Barcelona is not a finished club. It isn’t fiscally finished, looking to haul in between 700-800m in gross revenues. It’s still one of the biggest clubs in world football. Irrespective of the abject shitshow that was necessitated to make it happen and the attendant sadness, it still has the greatest player ever on its team.

Hell, there isn’t even that much of a crisis, unless you look at it in context. No silver. Oh, lord. A presidency in turmoil. Don’t forget that Sant Joan Laporta narrowly survived a vote of no confidence, so there’s history and tenure there. You want a crisis? Talk to Valencia supporters. Or hell, talk to their coach, who very publicly lambasted the people running that club. You want a crisis? Malaga had team layoffs. LAYOFFS.

Big club supporters are quite adept at creating crises that make supporters of clubs with real troubles just think we’re a bunch of assholes. There are things that we would all love, such as for our reprehensible board to resign but you know what? Ain’t gonna happen. So we have a season where crappy admisistrators, poor at everything except snuffling out money, will have control of the reins for another season. They’ve had control for the five years previous, so the urgency and horror escapes me. As others have pointed out, the damage is already done. Can they do more? It’s difficult to see how.

But the club itself is strong. It doesn’t have any money because of COVID and a massive wage bill, but only the first part is new about that. And here’s something else: the team doesn’t suck. Far from it. And it wouldn’t suck even if the club did nothing else in the transfer market except for a few key departures to loosen up the salary load. From the way people are talking, you would think the club was going to be a relegation candidate for next season. Nothing is as dramatic as culers facing “adversity.” Second in league, and Champions League quarters. Think of the teams that would kill to be in that situation, even as we’re looking for ledges to leap from in the wake of an 8-2 battering. Pfft. Not to minimiza any of it, but pfft. There are clubs with real problems.

That isn’t to say this season isn’t going to be a right shitshow, but it will be all because of the acidic cauldron that is the Barça entorno. Messi wanting out, playing out the string. A president who whenever he dares show his face out in the world, is hissed at and insulted. A new manager, probably just keeping the seat warm unless he pulls off something incredible, and a lame-duck board with almost no power over the team except to invoke a legal Sword of Damocles to make its best player stay, unwillingly. Boy, is this gonna be fun. But let’s look at what is likely to be the team for the coming season.

Forwards: Messi, Fati, Dembele, Griezmann, Trincao, Braithwaite
Midfielders: De Jong, Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Pjanic, Puig, Alenya, Coutinho
Keepers: Ter Stegen, Neto
Fullbacks: Semedo, Firpo, Alba
Centrebacks: Pique, Umtiti, Lenglet, Todibo, Araujo

This presumes that Rafinha, Vidal and Suarez will all be finding new forever homes.

It’s difficult in all of this to see a definite XI, even as we can presume that Ter Stegen, Messi and De Jong will be fixtures. But Koeman has talked about a “youth movement,” and we will see if that materializes. He’s also talked about three players being key for him, Messi, De Jong and Griezmann. If De Jong does what he does for Holland under Koeman, it will be interesting to see how that interacts with what Busquets has been doing for Barcelona. But there are all sorts of interesting lineup options and permutations for a manager to mess with. We would all like for the team to be stronger at fullback and centreback, but as a recent ex-manager famously said, “It is what it is.”

Koeman is in a dangerous spot. Valverde and Setien before him had limited rosters and resources, hindrances that dogged them and made them advertisements for online job search boards rather than managers with glittering tales of success at FC Barcelona. Principles are one thing, reality is another. When Koeman has to get results, tries out a young, capering XI and they don’t get it done, what does he do, with his ass on the line? Some of the reason for the stated desire of many to overhaul the roster is to remove those security blankets. In trouble, managers tend to default to the veteran players who have “been there,” as the saying goes. Why? Why not let the kids play it out and see what develops. Where does Coutinho fit? What will make Griezmann’s season different, aside from Suarez being gone? Can Dembele keep fit, aside from the usual knocks and clunks attendant to a normal season?

So many questions.

We love the drama. We’re less enamored of reality, and reality is that there are a great many managers who would love to have a front line of Messi/Griezmann/Dembele, or a midfield of De Jong/Pjanic/Busquets. The biggest problem that Koeman is going to have to solve is how to get eleven players on the pitch who can run and press, thus relieving the load on the defense. Last season in GeezerLand, every attack or counter was a danger because the forwards didn’t press and the midfield was like a revolving door. Recall the goals Ter Stegen gave up where he didn’t have a chance. That can’t happen again, and it has to start with having people on the pitch who are willing to put in the work. And not just willing, but capable of putting in the work. Koeman has those players on the roster. His challenge is going to be how to maximize their efforts as a temp.

That is where pride and captains come in. The last action that the team the captains are leading resulted in an epic, comprehensive European beatdown. Memories of that should be all the motivation that they need. What can we do? Well, we can resolve to stop making a living off of misery, but that would mean not being culer, right? But that’s the challenge. Because everything isn’t the worst. Or it’s the worst in the context of a rich person having the Ferrari they would like to drive being in service.

None of this means to minimize the suck, just to add a bit of perspective. Barça isn’t going to be relegated. Barça almost certainly isn’t going to lose 8-2 to any European rival next season. Koeman isn’t the manager many … well, ANY would have selected, but here he is, so let’s see what he does. Everything might indeed turn out to be the worst, but we won’t know that until it happens.

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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.