analysis | 2017-07-14
How did Barcelona's sporting planning failed to properly renew the squad?
The short term approach led to many La Masia talents wasted or sold, and a lacking midfield that was once the heart and soul of the club
Now to talk a bit about the sporting planning transfers wise over the past few years, there have been some good buys and a lot of very average/bad buys. Mathieu has been a decent centre back at times during his time here, but he and Vermaelen cost near enough €40m which made absolutely no sense given at the time Vermaelen was injured and there were much better alternatives on the market. Laporte for example at the time (summer of 2014) had a 35M release clause. Why did we not go for him and bring quality instead of quantity. He is a left sided centre back that had some years of Liga experience. Laporte would’ve been a more worthwhile investment. Mathieu has had good games for us and Vermaelen has barely got on the field for us and most likely this summer they will be sold for no more than €5m. Whereas, Laporte if sold this summer because he is young could easily bring 25M at the very least which would be a €10m loss compared to almost total loss.
The Douglas signing made no sense either. It was so out of the blue and then the board came out and said he isn’t a signing for the 2014/15 season but a few years down the line. He played half a dozen matches before getting loaned to Sporting Gijon and now will return this summer but still isn’t good enough for us. We wasted €5m on a 3rd/4th choice RB. We chose to buy him over Asensio who would’ve been so much more useful even if he played the odd game here and there or loaned off to a La Liga club. Douglas fought relegation whereas, Asensio outplayed teams like Bayern and Atletico the season just gone. There was literally no reason to buy Douglas, at the time we had Dani Alves, Montoya and Mascherano/Bartra who could play RB. Whereas, up top we had Pedro as backup with Munir filling in occasionally. In 2015/16 Asensio would’ve so useful, the lack of depth killed us around April time, he could’ve been a big asset unlike Douglas.
The Arda transfer was disaster no questions about it. It didn’t make sense at the time and still doesn’t make any sense. He was bought for 34M + 7M add ons. Ludicrous amounts of money. His signing was just a stunt from Bartomeu to win the elections. Iniesta needed a backup sure, but Arda wasn’t the right guy at all and this isn’t speaking in hindsight, at the time Kovacic was on the market and looked to be a far better fit in midfield and also cheaper. He ended up going to Real Madrid. He is now doing really well there though would’ve gotten far more game time here. Neymar also needed a back up at the time after Pedro’s departure so a winger was needed. Arda still wasn’t the guy, he’s too slow to play as a winger. Yet he was still bought. Atleti spent 16M of that 34M from Arda Turan on Carrasco who I mentioned earlier. He would’ve been a far better fit for us also he covers both wing positions. Sure spending €42m on Kovacic and Carrasco would’ve been rather costly to say the least but it would’ve covered those positions in the long term as well as short term. Arda’s signing was only a short term signing and truth be told, he is done at the club whereas, Carrasco and Kovacic are both young and improving at their respective clubs. Arda has hit his peak and will only decline from here. Even right now we are lacking a winger and a controlling type midfielder player. Kovacic and Carrasco could’ve been that for only €1m more in total (assuming Arda’s add ons are mostly trophy related). In that same summer we got Arda Turan, Gundogan was offered to us for around €20-25m. Looking at it now how I wished we would’ve taken him. He could’ve solved so many problems for us. He can play as a #6 and #8. Such a talented player though he has a bad injury record he could’ve been of so much use to us. Arda has been good for very small periods (at LW only) but for the large part his signing has been nothing but poor. His inability to play in midfielder for us makes me wonder why we even bought him when at the time so many better alternatives were available to offer Iniesta backup and fill the spot Xavi left. He’s barely shown much in the 2 years here and now on the decline since he is getting old. The 41M spent on Arda Turan could’ve been used so much better and it saddens me how erratic the club can be. Even worse than the transfer was rejecting €50m bid from China. We would’ve been lucky to even get €20m for him but we decided to reject way more for no logical reason. It would’ve been the best sale Barcelona have ever done and the money could be used to target areas for improvement in the squad.
We had another chance to get a controller but this was the summer previous to Gundogan getting offered to us. It was Toni Kroos who like Kovacic ended up at Real Madrid. He had a falling out with Bayern’s board in relation to wage demands. They weren’t budging so he was sold. He only went for €25m, an absolute steal. At the time he was easily in the top 5 best central midfielders in the world. Out of goodwill, Pep offered Kroos to Barcelona twice yet they rejected both times. Not once but twice. Catalunya Radio reported at the time that the reason Kroos was rejected because Luis Enrique thought it would hinder chances for Barca B players playing for the first team. Yet that season, and in his entire tenure, he barely gave any Barca B midfielders game time. Rakitic signing was fine and made sense but if everyone knew that Xavi wouldn’t last too much longer so why not plan ahead and bring a replacement in with a very similar skillset. Rakitic wasn’t a replacement for Xavi, their skillsets are not similar in the slightest. Samper was the main Barca B player used in midfield but he only played few matches in 65 therefore, he wouldn’t have blocked any time Kroos would’ve got on the pitch even though Kroos is able to play as a DM. That season especially we rotated heavily so everyone would’ve got sufficient game time. Kroos is everything we needed in a CM. Thiago got away the summer before for very cheap yet we passed on one of the best central midfielders in the world at the time for nothing. It is easy to say things in hindsight but even at the time it was clear what decision should have been made and still we made the wrong one. It annoys me that we’ve had so many opportunities to get a controller for when Xavi left and after he left yet we passed on them opportunities then looked at the wrong players to fill the spot Xavi left, leaving us in the same position that we were in 2015 with barely any players of that profile on the market.
You would’ve thought that there isn’t a way that people running an elite club could be any more incompetent. Well you’re wrong, there is more. I’m sure everyone knows the Grimaldo situation and how badly it was handled. There were stories of him having attitude problems which I personally don’t think were true. The club sold him for €1.5m with only 6 months on his contract left. Before selling him, they tried to loan him off to Levante which didn’t go down well with Grimaldo who played a few years in Valencia’s academy, it didn’t make sense why he was offered to a rival of Valencia. There were better ways of dealing with his situation than what we did. First, if he wasn’t to be kept then what should’ve been done is that his contract should’ve been renewed then sold with a buyback option to a decent Liga team such as Las Palmas, Celta and so on. So we would be able to keep track of him and bring him back if he progressed really well. Not sell to Benfica who wouldn't compromise. They are smart enough to know that inserting a buyback clause is not helpful for them in any way. The other way would’ve been to actually keep him and use him occasionally to give Alba some competition and some rest. Adriano was injured near enough all season and Mathieu was a disaster at LB so why not use him considering how thin our squad was at the time? Surely he couldn’t have been worse than playing Mathieu at LB. We later sold Adriano for €517k to Besiktas though both Roma and AC Milan offered 4M but we rejected and demanded €8m, and Grimaldo for €1.5m. Then spending €16-20m on Digne rather than promoting for free then using the money elsewhere on the squad. There is no harm in trying La Masia players since they are free and they will always be sold for a profit. The board looks to make a lot of profit, this is known so why not renew and then sell for more if you don’t want to use him. People can question Grimaldo all they want, it is their right but how can you comment on whether he is good enough to play for the first team when he wasn’t even given a chance to show what he can do. If he isn’t good enough then sure sell him and buy a replacement.
Sergi Samper has been mishandled pretty badly. 2 years of his development have gone to waste. The loan to Granada at the time wasn’t a bad option because of Paco Jemez but he was sacked months later, turning it into a disaster. It would’ve been a lot more smarter to keep him in the team as a backup to Busquets as they are somewhat alike in their skillsets. Even if he didn’t play much he’d be getting experience training with the best and he could learn a lot, rather than a loan where the club who loans the player has no obligation to use him and even worse for us. Let’s hope that he isn’t loaned next season and the club actually have a plan for him. The best bet would for him to learn from Busquets and also be his backup. Mascherano is a poor backup to Busquets, André Gomes isn’t bad but Samper is the most suited player for this role.
Now onto more smaller sporting failures in regards to the squad. Munir was promoted from Juvenil A straight to the first team in 2014. This was the first mistake, Barcelona B at this time were in the second division, so it would’ve made sense to promote him to there so that his transition to the first team could be smoother, but this wasn’t the case. He went straight to the first team and expectations were relatively high after that wonder goal against Benfica. The season he was promoted, he played a lot at Barcelona B which was odd as he was promoted straight to the first team. It was good to give him as much minutes as possible but the jump for him was massive so there were large periods where he didn’t play well.
Munir still did however, manage to play 16 games for the first team and scored on the first Liga matchday. The following season was better. His most notable contributions were in the Copa del Rey where he was tied top scorer and against Leverkusen in the Champions League where he bagged 2 assists. He started showing what he could actually do when he played centrally as Espanyol saw. He and Sandro were used in 2015/16 to rest wide players though they both are a lot better playing down the middle. Munir showed he could be a decent squad player who could fill in for Suárez when needed. During preseason, he showed even more promise to the point it could’ve been his breakthrough season. He was absolutely wonderful in preseason, better than he has ever been in his 2 years with the first team. He was then sent for no reason to Valencia in a deal with Paco Alcacer coming to us. This made absolutely no sense as Munir was happy with his role in the team, wouldn’t cost anything and also more versatile than Paco. Yet, we spent €30m to fill a squad role we could’ve done for free with either Munir or Sandro. It made no sense at the time and even though Munir has got a decent amount of playtime at Valencia, this has been a rather waste of a season for him. Now he's likely to leave again when he returns. A useful asset to the squad thrown away. Just like Sandro, who has had a great season at Malaga, leading him to be linked with the likes of Everton, Spurs, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid.
There have been cases where the planning has been good such as the buys of ter Stegen, Umtiti, Marlon and perhaps Denis Suarez. The first two are among our best buys this century. Ter Stegen has the ability to be the undisputed #1 for the next 10 years and even reach the level of becoming one of the best in the word. The same can be said for Umtiti. Both of these players have such high ceilings and the scouting done and prices paid for these players must be lauded. Marlon who was signed for €5m is a bargain as well. He should be promoted straight to the first team to replace Mathieu. We’ve seen during some of the games this season what he’s capable of. There is no doubt that he should be in the first team and carry on his development as a backup centre back.
The signing of Denis was a smart one too, he is a good wide player and can play as a CM. For only €3.25m it is a bargain, until you remember that counting add-ons he'll end up costing €10m due to payments to Manchester City. Perhaps he doesn’t have a high of a ceiling as ter Stegen and Umtiti, but he’s one of the few midfield players that we have that doesn’t need 5 seconds to turn on the ball or play whilst being pressured. It is puzzling how so many of our midfielder players can’t do this.
The upcoming season
ITrophies is not the main concern for me, the football played is paramount. If we can start controlling games a lot better and make the midfield functional again under Valverde then that will make me happy. The system is also key, this allows players to express themselves properly. Luis Enrique managed this for a short period during 2016/17 but then reverted back to the 4-3-3. Getting the right players/profiles will allow us to be more tactically versatile which seems unlikely given the players we have been heavily linked with. Valverde has a bigger range of profiles than he had at Athletic so let’s see what he can do. I feel it will take at least six months to decently judge how Valverde is doing. I’m not confident that he’ll succeed however and bringing him for 2 years when Tuchel and Setien were available baffles me, but this board has a high reputation with making bad decisions and this could be another one. I’ll be interested in how Valverde handles the egos of the team as they are no doubt more difficult than at any team he’s managed.
Tuchel was who I would’ve preferred to the next manager ahead of the likes of Setien, Sampaoli and Oscar Garcia. I still think if he ever becomes available again, we should go for him. Though he can be a difficult character, he’s a wonderful coach. One of the most promising coaches in the business. Most BVB fans will sing praises of the work he’s done in the past two seasons. After watching most of BVB’s games this season I can say that we wouldn’t regret signing him and that the football would be very enjoyable to watch.
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WRITTEN BY: Sulaiman
Sulaiman is a Barcelona fan since 2005. He loves discussing anything related to the club. Sulaiman is currently studying Accounting and Finance and has a keen interest in Statistics.