Picture this: Summer 2015, FC Barcelona has just accomplished a historic double treble, winning the UEFA Champions League by beating league champions from England, France, Germany and Italy. Dominating at all three fronts. Expectations grew, ambitions rise and the questions appeared. The fans, the coach and the players wanted more. How does one keep this squad fighting on all levels? To maintain this level of success? What was next?
Due to their own transgressions, the Barcelona board was faced with a transfer ban that season. Any players signed could not play for the team until January 2016. This immediately tied the coach’s hands. Regardless, a few days after the CL final win, the club announced the signing of Aleix Vidal. On paper, it made sense, a possible replacement for Dani Alves whose future with the club was uncertain, due to how he felt treated by the board. A right winger, converted to RB by Unai Emery, Vidal was a solution in case Alves decided to leave. At the very least, some measure of thought was placed into this signing.
A few weeks later, a curveball by the name of Arda Turan was signed. At that point, an interim board oversaw the affairs of the club as the election process had begun, with the Bartomeu administration supposedly having no control over any decisions made by the club. Yeah right. Bartomeu used the Turan signing as an election ploy. Another shiny trinket to show the socis, who followed suit and voted them back in. If any signing (besides the Neymar fiasco) defines this board, Arda Turan would be at the top of the list.
Now this isn’t a slight on Turan, a quality player in his own right. But his signing showed exactly what was wrong with the current administration. Firstly, no signings were supposed to be made without a voted-in board of directors and more importantly, why? That was the question on the lips of most Barca fans, why Turan? What role was he supposed to play? What hole in the squad did he fill? The most decorated and one of the best central midfielders of all time, Xavi Hernandez decides to go to Qatari pastures and our answer to that is paying 35 million euros for a 28-year-old player who made his name on the left wing?
When Lucho took over in 2014, he identified the issues in the squad and signings were made to correct those. We needed a keeper? We bought two. Needed a left sided centre back? Mathieu was signed (and Vermaelen but that’s for another show). Needed a midfielder? Rakitic was signed, albeit of a different profile than Xavi, he was necessary for how Lucho wanted to play. Understandable. Barcelona needed a number 9? Go figure, we bought the best out in Luis Suarez. All these signings addressed immediate needs in the first XI of the squad while ensuring the team’s quality was preserved. Zubizaretta’s final legacy.
At the end of the 2015/2016 season, Barca almost collapsed out of the La Liga race and dropped out of CL with a whimper. A lack of quality depth was the chief reason. Throughout that season, Barca played some magnificent football but football that required the XI to play. With Xavi and Pedro having left, there were limited proven options on the bench, the Gala XI was forced to play more often than the coach would have liked. By crunch time, the players were quite frankly, drained. Therefore, last summer was key to address this issue. 6 players were signed, a centre back, a backup to Alba, a Suarez back up, two midfield backups (allegedly for Rakitic and Iniesta) and a backup goal-keeper
You may have noticed a trend there. Every player signed, barring Umtiti were signed as backups. Understandable, not many great players would agree to a bench role, knowing they would have to fight for their place in a star-studded eleven. Besides the French CB however, not a single player has shown enough quality to be a starter. To make matters worse, when push comes to shove, these players still barely get the minutes necessary to show their worth.
Yesterday, chasing an away goal in Turin, only one sub was made, Andre Gomes to play defensive midfield, a position he wasn’t signed for but seems to excel in. That reeks of poor planning. At this moment, Barca has depth in numbers, depth that was lacking last year but not quality depth. Only one player has excelled and walked into the starting XI. the others were meant to create competition in the squad, to rotate in easier games while maintaining our level. In theory. Inconsistency has riddled this season, mostly because the XI can’t play every game. Whenever a member of the starting XI is missing, the style of play, the quality of football drops drastically. Teams now relish the idea of playing a rotated Barca, especially after a big game.
The coach must be able to trust his entire squad but the players recruited inspire no confidence in him or the fans. The most capable squad players are Rafinha, Vidal and Turan, all players who are currently injured and none of which were signed in this current window. In comparison, in the 2014/2015 treble season, Barca didn’t have depth in numbers, we essentially had Xavi, Pedro, Bartra/Mathieu off the bench when needed. 4 players but quality enough that when played, the team still buzzed.
Whoever is responsible, and we can’t ever know for sure, has got this wrong so far. Whether it’s the coach asking for certain players or the sporting director Robert Fernandez for purchasing poor fits or overspending on players who can’t even get a minute when we’re chasing a goal- looking at you Paco.
As it stands, Barca has not addressed the issues that plagued the squad in 2014, a RB to fill the hole left by Dani Alves, a controlling midfielder to orchestrate ala Xavi Hernandez and a right winger when Messi drifts centrally. 8 players later and the squad is saturated with players that the coach either does not trust or aren’t up to task. A dirt-poor recruitment strategy and poor planning has hindered FC Barcelona. Since losing to Barcelona in 2015, Juve has implemented an aggressive yet intelligent recruitment approach, balancing their squad with experienced winners while grooming their starlets. Their squad has improved since that final, with Alves himself (go figure) and a controlling midfielder in Pjanic that Barca would have done well to sign themselves. Meanwhile, the blaugrana continue to sink. As it stands, Barcelona is not only losing on the pitch, but from the board room down to the team itself. Robert has a daunting task ahead of him.