Sometimes I wonder why we so often proclaim our cantera to be the world’s best and as being one of the main reasons our club is so much better than all the other clubs in the world. I mean, it is fantastic and it has given us the majority of the squad we currently field, but if it’s so great and wonderful, why don’t we trust it?
I wrote a piece over at Soccernet (shameless self-plug, of course; get used to it) in which I voted in favor of Thiago and JDS over Cesc, Ozil, or Gourcuff. It’s not that the latter trio is bad by any stretch of the imagination, but rather that the former are ours and have remained with the club in an effort to break through. It’s fun to talk about how some of the world’s great players would fit in our system, but when it comes down to it, are we prepared to remove the direct connection between the first team and the cantera? Do we want to send the message that canteranos must be fully developed by the age of 17 or we’ll replace them with a superstar brought in for tens of millions of euros?
It’s one thing to suggest that we need to fill gaps in our squad with transfers and another to suggest that we do so while talking about various B-teamers having massive potential. Some may disagree with this assertion, but I think that JDS and Thiago have the capability to become world class players. If that is indeed the case, bringing in a transfer to take their spot, even for another year, is irresponsible and would promote desertions like that of Fran Merida and Cesc Fabregas (who left for pretty good reasons, truth be told).
If we demand loyalty–that is, if we’re to suggest that Cesc, Merida, or any of the other youth teamers that have left should have stayed and are traitors for having left (cough Gerard Piqué cough)–then how can we not demand the club return that loyalty? The argument that this is a business goes both ways, after all. If they’re showing us loyalty by staying despite the rumors and the possibility of a big payday in a different country, then bringing in a star player to fill their position and effectively lock them out of the first team is treason on our part (or the club’s, if you prefer to think of it that way).
Naturally you can do away with this whole argument by thinking of it in purely business terms, but I find it impossible to entirely separate the human element. If a player can be “ruined” by a set of circumstances, then it is precisely this sort of situation that can ruin one. Were I JDS or Thiago and I saw any big name star come into the squad, I would leave the club immediately. If you believe there are enough games to go around, you are mistaken: there are two positions and Iniesta, Xavi, Keita, [transfer], JDS, Thiago cannot take them up in a consistent rotation.
That is why Hleb and Víctor Sánchez are probably the keys to the coming year. Feel free to reread that sentence and gasp again. I did just write it. And what’s more, I mean it. They do not command significant minutes, but are able professionals capable of filling in when needed (Hleb more so than VicSan, who I have even less faith in; okay, I’ll stop blowing your mind) and will provide the proper competition and compliments for JDS and Thiago throughout the year as both of them step up more and more.
If neither JDS nor Thiago can make the cut in the first team by next summer, then it is time to offload them and move on. And for the record I accept the argument that we should offload them now and move on. Though I disagree, that is at least a consistent argument. Ignoring your youth teams and looking only at transferring in the superstars of the world is something others do. You know, that team. And we are not them precisely in that we have a squad full of canteranos. So let’s keep it that way.