Here is what a new manager at FC Barcelona will have to look forward to:
–A brilliant collection of young talent, all nurtured in a hothouse that pretty much ignores modern football
–A nucleus in the person of four captains, all of who are past it and psychologically about as strong as a house of cards
–Placing hope in not just one, but TWO surgically repaired forwards
–No fullbacks that are ready to start for a top-class European side
–Only one CB that is, kinda
–A midfield peopled with talents, but still uncertain if they can manage the pace of modern football
–A club with no money, so none of the problems are easily repaired (hence Luuk De Jong’s arrival)
–Players who need to move on but who won’t, occupying roster slots and salary money
–A club environment populated by a board that runs a massive football club like a local butcher shop (unless you think hiring your sister to be the club’s head of diversity is hunky-dory), amid a relentlessly negative supporter and media environment
–The expectation that the team needs to play a certain way, rooted in dogma and the burden of past successes
It’s easy to understand why there isn’t a conga line of managers waiting to take the Barça managerial job. It should be by now fully clear the state of things at FC Barcelona after the Bayern match, where an utterly inferior team tried to pass the ball around, hoping that possession would keep the final score from being shameful. They faced a team that was better in every way, including technically, putting the lie to the idea that big, strong, fast players can’t also be technically fluent, a notion that seems to persist in the hothouse in Catalunya. Let’s break down the current roster, starting with the XI:
Dest: Should be an apprentice. Defensively weak, usually punked in attack. Might be a starter in a season or so, but not up to the job now. (Possible replacement: doesn’t exist at the club)
Pique: Past it. Should already be fitted for a gold watch, but mismanagement and no succession plan means he’s still about the best CB on the roster (Possible replacement: um … )
Araujo: Will be ready in a season. Has all the tools, just has to stop making the sorts of errors that young CBs make.
Alba: Defensively poor, limited in attack, psychologically suspect, has also lost at least a step so can’t track back any longer. (Possible replacement: Balde, a young player with skills who will need time and patience.)
Busquets: Genius on the ball, pylon off it. Another gold watch candidate left to languish due to poor squad planning. (Possible replacement: Nico Gonzalez, who should already be being worked into the rotation by Koeman)
De Jong: An artist in search of a canvas, suited to play the modern game but needs playmates.
Pedri: An artist who already has a canvas. But like De Jong, he has to spend as much time cleaning up messes made by his Gramps as he does painting.
Depay: A modern footballer surrounded by bargains and castoffs not up to the task. Braithwaite broke and his replacement was an immobile tower named Luuk de Jong.
De Jong: Speaking of, shouldn’t be starting for any club, but circumstance means that he is starting for FC Barcelona. (Possible replacement: somebody, anybody)
In looking at the rest of roster, there are some remarkable young talents there, such as Gavi, who needs more time and attention but clearly looks like he has some magic in his boots. Same with Demir, who also needs time. The pace of top-level football leaves him wide-eyed at times, but a major talent without question. Nico Gonzalez and Balde have already been mentioned. My jury is out on Eric Garcia, but his lack of physical capabilities is something ignored by many when it shouldn’t be. At some point the game has physical demands. We watch other teams chase down breaks, stop the ball in midfield and do other things that exist only in our fevered imaginations. The team we love isn’t capable of that.
Wild cards are Fati and Dembele, who have both been quite recently surgically repaired. Fati underwent three(!) knee operations, so we’ll see how he comes back from that. Dembele underwent a fourth(?) major operation, but this time on a different part of his body, which for the black-hearted could be counted as progress.
If the two talents return from recovery in anything like good physical form, the attack will be in great shape, but the other problems will still exist, and those problems will always limit the potential of the team. And those problems are more than one or two players. They require an overhaul that will require a degree of heartlessness that doesn’t at present exist at the club, or that overhaul would have already happened.
And heartlessness by the by, means making sure a manager understands that there are expectations. Having a talent like Todibo fall astray is just one example. Young, talented, arrogant, but also a baller. Just putting him in the stands until he gets his mind right isn’t workable, particularly when you watch him play, and see the capabilities the team could use right now. Alenya is at Getafe instead of being the midfield linchpin the team could use right now.
And then you have people like Coutinho and Umtiti kicking around, the “I really like it here,” types of players that exist at every big club, but their existence at FC Barcelona rankle because of size of salary and supporters being whipped into a frenzy in the latter case, thanks to the notion that somehow if Umtiti left, Messi would stil be at the club, which brings us to another shitty part of the FCB Experience, the entorno. This ugly world of supporters and media outlets seem to like nothing more than failure, so that they can scream about doom and say “I told you so.” Any weakness is pounced on, magnified and before you know it, the Twitter world is doing its part with the #…out campaigns.
New managers usually take over clubs that are struggling, but rarely broken to the degree that Barça is. When Guardiola took over the team, the core was magnificent. All he had to do was jettison Deco and Ronaldinho, add Dani Alves and a couple of other parts, fix the mindset and it was off to the races. Same with Tuchel at Chelsea. The team and its talent was ready to go. He just needed to reshape it into a juggernaut that won Europe last season and is looking like clearly the strongest team in the Premiership.
Having documented what Barça has, who would possibly want to take it over, and who is available? The bigger question is why? Relevant to that is a smart question posed by Sid Lowe of the state Barça is in now, being between ready to go and not quite bad enough where the rehab looks good on a resume, which potentially makes that job even LESS desirable.
Barça can be fixed, but it is going to take time, which the entorno isn’t willing to grant, and money, which the club doesn’t have. It’s also going to take a level of management ruthlessness and skill which so far isn’t being evinced by the current board to a confidence-inspiring degree.
In other words the club is a mess and looks built to stay that way. Even if some sort of miracle were to happen and club found the bags of cash necessary to lure a talent such as Haaland to the club, why would they come? Hell, Dortmund is a better project than Barça right now, a club fast losing the luster of its past glories and big entity glitter. And don’t forget there’s no, “You can come and play with the best player in history” any longer.
Koeman will be sacked at some point, maybe even before the winter window, and a sacrificial lamb will take his place in the cauldron. And when that name comes forth, the sniping will start. But right now, there isn’t a single manager in football, including Pep Guardiola, who could get much from this group of players. The club will need a “bridge manager,” who will do some of the work to set up the next one. Koeman is doing some of that in prepping and blooding young talents, a job that will need to be contined by his successor.
But nobody should be under any illusions that firing Koeman is a solution. Should he go? Yes, if there is someone better in the frame. Look what happened when the club sacked Valverde without being prepared as just one example. Barça is a mess right now, that will take a lot more than a new face in the manager’s seat. So strap in for a long, adequate ride.