Robbie Dunne reports from La Liga as concerns grow for the Catalan giants
Barcelona’s problems at the club are like a poorly-constructed house of cards with each relying on the other and none offering the kind of support it needs to.
Poor recruitment in the summer. A manager who appears out of touch with his squad, the fanbase and the media, an ageing squad and a shift away from Barcelona’s dogmatic but effective style have resulted in a slump at Barcelona that has no end in sight.
The question before the Leganes game was, how and if Barcelona’s midfield would connect with the front three. At times this season, the lack of link play between the two areas of the field has proven frustrating for the attackers and soul-destroying for the midfielders. Andres Iniesta, now 33, has been tasked with holding the whole thing together. As he struggles through injuries of varying degrees this season, much has been left up to Sergio Busquets, who himself has seen his play take a rather serious dip.
Meanwhile, Valencia are due to receive "incentives worth up to €15m should he [Andre Gomes] win multiple Ballon d'Or awards” it says on Barcelona’s website in the article announcing the arrival of the former Valencia midfielder.
As the Portuguese midfielder drove to training after the PSG defeat, insults were hailed towards his car. “Moron”, they shouted, at a player who looks as far away from a Ballon d’Or as he is from the midfielder who controlled the centre of the field, driving forward at every chance, for Valencia and the future star who had Real Madrid and Manchester United inquiring about his availability.
Luis Enrique has been accused of riding Lionel Messi’s coattails to success in the past, but the same can be said for any manager who has managed the Argentine. Inspiration, however, is a finite resource and on the nights when Messi can’t muster up a moment of magic, the foundation that allows Messi to prosper is shabby at the very best. Luis Suarez is being asked to play too many minutes and Neymar is going through a dry spell in front of goal as he has turned supplier in recent months. As an increasing number of eyes turn towards Gomes, he is left staring back without any answers, just more questions.
In the article announcing Paco Alcacer, they opted for a sub-headline of “Goals guaranteed” and proudly stated he has a €100 million buyout clause. The player who was supposed to replace Suarez in games against the likes of Leganes has struggled horribly during his six months at the club. As Barcelona gave up their lead against the relegation candidates late on, Luis Enrique turned to Jordi Alba as a replacement for Lucas Digne as Paco Alcacer sat on the bench wondering where it all went wrong. To his credit, he has guaranteed goals. Two, to be more precise. One in a league game against Athletic Bilbao in a game that Barcelona won 3-0 and another in a Copa del Rey game that Barcelona won 7-0 against Herculés.
The other summer signings included Lucas Digne, Denis Suarez and Samuel Umtiti. Suarez, a player you get the sense they brought back, like Alvaro Morata at Real Madrid, in order to flog at the end of the season once they added €20 million to his price tag having been seen wearing the Barcelona shirt. Lucas Digne has been mediocre at best and Umtiti, to his credit, looks the real deal. Barcelona’s recruitment has been poor in recent transfer windows when you add Arda Turan into the mix along and if they are to recover their sense of self, a serious drive is needed to promote from within.
The problem for a team like Barcelona, or Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich is that upgrading at any position on the field means buying the very cream of the crop, not sifting through the bargain basement just before the sale ends. In the case of Alcacer, bought on August 30th, this seems to be the case. The Gomes transfer is a case of Barcelona not being able to think ahead and foresee where he would slot into the team and make it better.
Dani Alves said recently in an interview that Barcelona don’t know how to look after their players, as he was treated poorly during his final chapter at the club. They are currently playing a game of high-risk Russian Roulette with Lionel Messi as his contract winds down that they can not lose. Dani Alves is long gone and his replacement has been hard to find. If Alves is hard to replace, imagine the hole Messi will leave in the squad should he get fed up, as it looked like when he saved Barcelona’s bacon yet again on Sunday night? The worst thing is, faith in Barcelona’s board identifying a suitable candidate has almost evaporated entirely.
This, very much, is a club on the brink.