masia | 2016-02-15
Explaining Barcelona B situation after a hectic January transfer window
The B team renewal started after the transfer embargo, we reveal the club's strategy
After a couple of years of turbulence, Barça B needed to be refreshed, following the end of Barcelona’s FIFA transfer embargo from registering players. Through December, the whiff of change was in the air at Barça’s second team, following an abysmal half season, just edging the relegation zone.
In January that change happened: Eight left and nine arrived, with the departures being players from the club’s academy and the arrivals coming from “the outside”.
This has led to many agitated reactions from the Barça fan base, with many wondering if this was just the beginning of the end of La Masía. But if we look closer at each departure and the new squad structure, we will find that despite some drastic changes sure to leave some scratching their heads in disbelief, thought has been put into the majority of decisions, which have been inspired by the most successful Barça B model, that of Pep Guardiola’s.
But first, let’s go back in time: Barcelona B, 2006/07. A catastrophic season ended with relegation to the Spanish 4th division – Tercera Division – finishing second to the last at the table. The following season, a young, inexperienced coach named Pep Guardiola was able to turn things around and clinch promotion to Segunda B. But how exactly did he do it?
Apart from implementing methods that would lead the first team to global glory, Pep revamped the entire squad. Eight new players from “the outside” were brought in along with the natural arrivals from the U19 team, Juvenil A. A total of 19 players left the club, 18 of them on a free transfer. Fourteen of those had been schooled at La Masía.
Pep didn’t actually increase the squad’s average age, but he made sure to get players who were in their third to fourth, or even sixth year, as senior players – like Córcoles, Espasandín and Abraham Guerra. For him, it was important that the team had a spine made up of experienced players.
The spine would be composed of players who wouldn’t necessarily ever come close to the first team, but who knew their role in the squad and what needed to be done in a division known for its brutality and toughness.
With a new spine assembled, the young, homegrown players like Sergio Busquets, Pedro, and Jeffren could flourish and complement the team, while also showcasing their abilities for an eventual future on the first team.
Busquets described it best himself amidst the transfer chaos, when he was asked at what moment he thought he had a chance at becoming a professional and he said: “When I passed from Juvenil A to Barça B, I stopped playing with and against people of my age and faced people who could be 10 years older. It’s the leap forward that lets you know whether you can [make it] or not.”
In the following years, Luis Enrique and Eusebio continued this trend, with good results coming in. Last season, however, then Director of Sports at the club, Andoni Zubizarreta, decided, together with Eusebio, to let the veterans go, and instead of replacing them with other veterans, took a risk by adding even more younger players, making the squad one of the youngest Barça B teams ever. Despite some incredibly talented players, they ended the season by being relegated and two head coaches were fired in the process.
With the recent controversial appointment of former Barcelona player and Catalonia national team coach Gerard Lopez and a newly shaped Barça B technical secretary led by Pep Segura, it is definitely possible to draw parallels between how they changed the team this winter and how Pep Guardiola did it.
As Gerard himself explained after the recent win against Espanyol B: “Experience tells us that in Pep and Lucho’s Barça B, they had some experienced players that complemented the youth players promoted from Juvenil A. In any B-team we see that these two aspects come together to have a competitive team and to achieve balance. We were missing these two pieces.”
Like Pep and Lucho before them, Lopez and Segura injected the team with an experienced backbone, bringing in players who were familiar with the environment of the Segunda B. The average age of the players was bumped up by two years compared to the start of last season. But how did this affect the team and its homegrown talents? Well, as mentioned, as a result of the veteran signings, eight La Masía players have had to leave the club, with seven leaving on free transfer after their contracts had been rescinded. But let’s have an individual look at the cases.
-Álex Grimaldo was already a part of the experienced spine, but with his seemingly bad relationship with Luis Enrique, that left him with no sight at the first team, and with a contract that was ending in the summer, he left for Benfica.
-Fabrice Ondoa was behind superior goalkeepers Adrian Ortola and José Suarez, and at the same time he is the first choice on the Cameroonian national team, so it was only logical for him to leave for the sake of his own career.
-Lionel Enguene didn’t manage to get a spot on the team before January, when he was competing against players around his age, so his chances of doing so after January were extremely slim.
-Pol Calvet played even less than Enguene before January, after having trouble getting a regular spot on the team for years.
-Jean Marie Dongou also had to leave for the sake of his own career, having looked hopeless this season, after a generally disappointing time at Barça B, managing to score only a goal every six matches in just over four seasons.
-Macky Bagnack had been underperforming for the past two seasons, and didn’t get a game this season, and was reportedly fired due to unprofessional behavior, showing up days late after the Christmas break.
-Maxi Rolon spent the entire last season on the bench, but due to the massive exodus in attack last Summer, he became a starter this season. However, apart from two goals that earned the team six points, he hasn't really shown why he should be counted on. He most likely chose to leave on his own, since Barça B didn't need to release him to make space for a signing on the list of registered players.
Aitor Cantalapiedra and David Babunski are the only two cases that leave you wondering: why? Aitor Cantalapiedra was the top scorer of a team that barely scored a goal per game, while David Babunski was arguably the best performing midfielder besides Sergi Samper in the first months of the season.
Both Aitor and Babunski could still have contributed to this team, with Babunski having three seasons of Barça B experience already. Either way, Aitor has been doing well at Villarreal B, while Babunski has found a good club in Red Star Belgrade.
But all these canterano releases don’t change the model of Lopez and Segura. The infusion of veterans is being implemented right from the start, with most of them being regulars in the lineups. And it has instantly turned out to be effective, with Barça B now having won five games in a row after beating Hercules, which sat at fourth place in playoff spots, 2-0 away.
Despite losing the possession game and being the worst team on the pitch in the first few games, the new players are slowly adapting to Barça’s style, and won comfortably in the last two games.
As captain Sergi Samper described it after the win against Espanyol B, “We have obviously changed a lot. We probably needed a change and we’ve strung two wins in a row, which is very important. Maybe the games have not been very good, but we are happy. The newcomers are making us a more intense and physically strong team.” He added, “They give us the consistency we needed.”
Looking forward, next summer will also be very crucial for the B team, seeing as Juvenil A have some great players coming through such as Dani Morer, Carles Aleñá, Seung-Ho Paik, Seung-Woo Lee, and Carles Pérez, among others.
Despite some initial flashes of concern, there seems to be a plan. And so far, it’s working. The team is winning, the newcomers are doing well, and the young, homegrown talents are thriving. Time will tell how things pan out in the future.
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