Robbie Dunne examines a club booming off the pitch but getting things wrong on team matters
Barcelona are on a mission. They are on a mission to “become the most admired, cherished and global club in the world,” according to club president Josep Bartomeu.
In a recent article by Jonathan Liew for The Telegraph outlining the desire and ambitions to continue the club’s growth with offices in New York, Hong Kong, and Shanghai and Sao Paulo opening later in the year, the main point is that they have gone from being more than a club to being just another superclub. At once, Bartomeu continues to drive Barcelona’s business endeavours off the field in the right direction but the business that affects their football has become the point of the most scrutiny.
Barcelona lined out with 11 of the world’s best players at their various positions last night against Juventus as their attempt to recreate the impossible began. On the bench, however, was a hodgepodge of football players who were never going to swing the game back in their direction if it continued to get away from them. That was evident when Sergi Roberto came off for Javier Mascherano in the 78th minute. The Argentine has never scored a goal for Barcelona in over 300 attempts and while he almost did with one of his first touches, that misses the point. Luis Enrique made just two substitutions on the night when the proverbial kitchen sink should have been thrown at Juve’s back line as early as possible. He knew he could not affect change with what he had on the bench and that the solution to their problem, if there was one, was in the boots of those 11 on the field.
This is still one of the greatest sides in the history of football. They lost some players from the team that Alex Ferguson declared “the best team we have ever played” but replaced them with top talents like Neymar and Luis Suarez. It is, however, hard to not feel worried for Barcelona and that generation, as the windows close on their careers. At the back, Gerard Pique is on the wrong side of 30, and both Javier Mascherano and Jeremy Mathieu could be gone in the summer. In midfield, Sergio Busquets has not had that same all-encompassing control on games he used to and may have lost a step, Andres Iniesta is not being played enough and Ivan Rakitic has no replacement when rest is needed. Crisis might be too strong a word but the next wave will need to be something special if they can keep pace with Real Madrid, who boast an embarrassment of riches on the field and on the bench with even more emerging and another handful on loan and returning in the summer.
Their business in the transfer market included Andre Gomes, who spent his night on the bench. Another summer recruit, Paco Alcacer, will do very well if he survives the club’s much-needed clear-out in the summer and other players like Arda Turan might be in the last summer where they command a transfer fee that would compensate for what they were paid.
Business might be booming for Barcelona off the field but they need to replace the ageing players in their squad, and the players who defined the club and its idea of football, with players capable of playing consistently at the top level and, in turn, becoming the face of the club when the others’ stars have waned.
Gerard Pique looked around at the Camp Nou after Barca had drawn a blank against the Old Lady and said that the fans were singing “like they wanted to be remembered”. Many of the older players will be remembered in that stadium forever but the same can’t be said for the generation coming through.