“El Loco” Sampaoli

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Over the years, I have been constantly asked about Bielsa, and exactly why he has never really shone in Europe.

My answer has always been the same: While “El Loco” is a great philosophical coach, so much so Guardiola constantly says how much he values a talk he had with him in Argentina before becoming a coach, but he cannot set up his teams in a way they can actually compete. 

Just look at Bilbao’s 2011-2012 season: they played good football, they pressed hard and constantly and combined well… but since Bielsa never rotated, they were crushed in both final they reached that season (Europa League and Copa del Rey).

Yesterday, against Croatia, Jorge Sampaoli revealed to the World he is just as uncapable of setting up a competitive team as his “master” Bielsa. The previous successes he’s had in his career all came when he was working with Juanma Lillo, who clearly was keeping him in check.

Before talking about how Croatia didn’t even need to work that hard to obliterate Argentina, let’s take a look at “El Loco” Sampaoli’s work as Argentina’s NT.

FROM JUNE, 2017 TO JUNE, 2018

He took over the NT in June, 2017, after backstabbing Sevilla and reaching an agreement with the Argentine FA before even talking openly to his club about leaving, which already shows a lack of character and professionalism.

And on the 12 months that followed, Sampaoli could not manage to create an ACTUAL TEAM so Argentina could compete in the World Cup. A quick glance on how Argentina performed, even with Messi on the pitch proves it, and the fact they needed a win on the LAST qualifying match to get the World Cup cements it clearly.

As a matter of fact, that last match against Ecuador sums up how limited Sampaoli’s work with Argentina has been: he was not capable of setting an actual team after several months, and even managed to concede early in the game. If not for Messi genius hat trick, Argentina would not have even MADE IT to the World Cup.

And if after witnessing that dramatic match, where it was clear the team needed a better plan to compete in Russia… nothing changed. Actually, it got considerably worse.

THE PLAYERS CALLED UP

While there weren’t many players that should have made the final list (Pizarro and Icardi most likely should have made it), what actually shows how Sampaoli’s lack of planning and common sense was the players he took while injured, like Biglia and Mercado. 

Not taking Pizarro, who’s had a good season at Sevilla, and literally having an injured Biglia made no sense whatsoever, which just shows Sampaoli took several players that were never going to add to this team.

This situation got even weirder when Romero, who had been Argentina’s GK in 2014 WC had a knock on his knee. Romero told Sampaoli he would need only 10 days to recover (less time than Biglia and Mercado needed), but Sampaoli sent him packing and brought Guzman in.

He waited for Biglia and Mercado, but could not wait for the man who has been Argentina’s first choice GK for YEARS?! That was going to come to haunt him, and Croatia savoured every second of it.

THE PREPARATION IN THE 3 WEEKS LEADING TO THE WORLD CUP

Argentina had 3 full weeks to prepare for their World Cup debut, and the “feeling” around the camp was good: Messi has never been fitter before a World Cup, and there was an actual sense they could form a team to compete.

During that time, Lo Celso CONSTANTLY trained alongside Mascherano, and from what argentine journos with access to the sessions told us… it looked decent. Lo Celso was constantly linking up with Messi, and Leo’s relationship with Meza and Lanzini, and especially Pavon, looked promising.

Lanzini tore his ACL, and that was a huge shame. But he was ONE piece of the puzzle, and Pavon could have easily replaced him. And given Messi’s praise of the the kid, everything pointed to it.

It would not be the case.

ICELAND X ARGENTINA

Sampaoli himself, in the presser held a day before the match, revealed the lineup. And to everyone’s surprise, Lo Celso would be benched, and Biglia, who recently returned from injury, would form a Double CDM with Mascherano, “because the teams needs defensive stability to face Iceland”.

That made no sense.

First of all, everyone with half a brain who watched Iceland in the 2016 Euros knows very well they are a team that sits back, and tries to attack on counters and the eventual setpiece. That is their game plan, and there was clearly no NEED to use two CDM to “contain” them, since Argentina was always going to have the ball, and, with proper pressing, could easily contain Iceland.

Needless to say, it was a bad performance.

But, even though Mascherano touched the ball 134 times, Biglia did nothing and Messi never really someone close to him to combine and advance, YOU COULD SEE A FOOTBALL TEAM PLAYING AGAINST ICELAND.

It wasn’t a great team, and it would have CLEARLY improved had Lo Celso been placed next to Mascherano, so he could carry/pass the ball to Messi or the players placed on the wings. That did not happen.

The draw was a bad result, even more after Messi missed that penalty (and Argentina wasn’t given a clear second penalty, after a foul on Pavon where the ref didn’t even check VAR), but, again: YOU COULD SEE A FOOTBALL TEAM FACE ICELAND, CREATED CHANCES AND JUST COULDN’T BEAT A 10-MAN WALL IN FRONT OF GOAL.

That happens.

It was not the end of the world at all. Adding Lo Celso and Pavon, and taking Caballero out (he failed in Iceland’s goal), and Argentina would have been able to compete against Croatia.

Then, “El Loco” Sampaoli was born.

ARGENTINA X CROATIA

Once again,a day before the match, the lineup was known. Sampaoli didn’t personally reveal it this time, but several journos leaked it.

Sampaoli ditched a back four (Rojo or Fazio would accompany Otamendi), went with Mascherano and… Enzo Perez (who was on vacation and was called up to replace the injured Lanzini), and would use Acuna and Salvio as wingers in a kind of 352/flat 343.

It was a weird lineup, that WAS NOT USED ONCE ON THE 3 WEEKS OF PREPARATION BEFORE THE ICELAND MATCH. 

And it showed, didn’t it?

There was no midfield whatsoever. Argentina could not muster a single defensive transition through the middle, and all their (rare) charges forward happened through the wings.

There was a HUGE hole in the midfield during the first half, and Messi was literally left all alone: he only received TWENTY PASSES on the first half, which is literally unheard of. Sampaoli achieved Tata Martino’s dream when he coached FCB: “My plan was that Messi touched the ball the least possible”.

Croatia made it CLEAR the plan was not going to work.

Mandzukic could have scored early on.
Perisic made Caballero pull a good save from a left sided attack.

And yet, Argentina almost scored from a play from Acuna, where Enzo Perez could not score with an open goal in front of him.

But Argentina survived the first half. Had Sampaoli used the EXACT SAME FORMATION HE DID AGAINST ICELAND, HE WOULD HAVE TAKEN BACK THE CONTROL OF THE MATCH, AND FED MESSI PROPERLY.

It looked to be the case when he had Lo Celso and Pavon warm-up before the first half had even finished!
But, no changes were made.

His response was taking Aguero out (he was moving intelligently) to use… Higuain.
He took Perez out to put Dybala, WHO HAD LITERALLY NEVER TRAINED WITH THE STARTERS DURING THE WHOLE WORLD CUP PREP TIME.

And the disaster happened.

The first goal was 100% on Caballero, a 36 year old who had BARELY played for Argentina, and a reserve on his own team.

Meanwhile, Armani, who shines for River every week, played 0 minutes on this World Cup.

But Sampaoli “trusts” in Caballero than he did Armani. Croatia thanked him for that.

The other two goals happened due to El Loco’s poor planning, that put a huge distance between the defense and the “midfielders”, that allowed Modric to pick when and how to shoot. (He could have done better at that goal as well).

THE FUTURE

Argentina NT is a total mess, surrounded by a corrupt FA, a toxic media, and was handed to a coach WHO CHOSE TO NOT EVEN USE THE TEAM HE HIMSELF PREPARED FOR 3 WEEKS BEFORE THE WORLD CUP.

One could say Messi missed the penalty against Iceland, and was invisible against Croatia. BUT THOSE WHO SAY THAT WILL FOCUS ON STATS, AND NOT HOW IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

Messi barely received the ball versus Croatia, since Sampaoli’s plan was so poor, Argentina was barely able to break Croatia’s first line of pressing. And, even when they did, they could only go through the wings, before rapidly losing the ball again.

In the end, Sampaoli had ONE YEAR to set a team that could have some defensive stability, a midfield to make the ball get to Messi. He failed to do both.

And, for that, Argentina does not deserve Messi’s time and patience.

The damage done by Sampaoli has been so massive, that even if Nigeria earns points today, I sincerely doubt he’s able to come up with a plan to beat Nigeria next Tuesday.

And, even if he does, the damage he has caused to Messi (and all the other players) has just been too much for them to recover and compete.

I hope I’m wrong, naturally. But even if I am, one thing is clear:

Argentina should not take Messi’s time anymore. And the same should apply to us.

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2018-19 Season Planning (Can we have ONE world class CM now?)

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17-18 was a smoke and mirrors season. While we’ll always be favorites to win La Liga as long as Messi is around (he literally was #1 in goals, assists, dribbles, chances created this season), our poor squad, especially in midfield, turned us into a joke in UCL.

We cannot compete for the biggest trophy in European club football with Busquets (who has no backup and never rests), Rakitic (who isn’t creative) and the likes of Paulinho having minutes while Denis watches from the bench. Coutinho is more of a forward and lacks the overall patience and tempo do “replace” Iniesta.

2017 was the summer we were supposed to wake up and invest in world class CMs to be the best team in Europe once again.

Since this criminal board since 2012 only signed Song, Rakitic, Arda, Denis, Gomes and Paulinho to replace the likes of Xavi, Thiago (whom they PUSHED OUT OF THE CLUB FOR MONEY) and now Iniesta… now it’s the (second) chance to spend on our midfield with players that are good enough for us to compete at the highest level again.

Sadly, this isn’t what the board has in mind (Griezmann, Lenglent and no one else), but that won’t stop me from thinking of the ideal summer planning.

So, let’s take a look at our current squad, and talk about who should leave and who we need to sign.

 

GK – No problems whatsoever here

 

Stegen was flawless this season. Him and Messi shone the brightest in our La Liga campaign, and he’ll be our starting GK for many years to come.

Jasper is a great backup who had a flawless Copa performance, but, for those same reasons, is being chased by teams like Bayern and Liverpool. Given his release clause is 60mi, I would be OK if we sold him and used a Masia GK.

If Bayern, for instance, wants Jasper, we could make a money + player deal for Thiago, and that would help us way more than having a world class player like the dutchman to play… the Cup.

 

DEFENSE – Remove the dead weight and sign younger CBs

 

RBs- Sergi Roberto, Semedo, Aleix Vidal

Sergi Roberto is now our starting RB, and even though most of the goals we conceded this season came from his area of defense, he isn’t going anywhere, nor will be used on midfield.

Aleix Vidal has got to go. Valverde doesn’t trust him and was barely seen even on the bench, especially in 2018. We should get 10-12mi for him.

Semedo has the potential to compete for Roberto for our RB spot, or in the very least keep a healthy competition/rotation going. His failure on Roma’s third goal will always be a horror image to me, but the whole team was a mess, so it wasn’t all his fault.

 

SUMMER MOVE:

We’ll be fine with Roberto + Semedo at RB.

 

 

CBs: Pique,Umtiti, Vermaelen and Black Pennywise (Mina)

Pique-Umtiti will be our starting CB duo at least for the next 4-5 years, when Pique retires. Umtiti hasn’t been the same since his injury in February/March, but up until then his season was flawless. But we must have younger, hungry player to keep a healthy competition going and rotate as often as possible.

Vermalen has to leave. He’s tactically and technically gifted, and on the few matches he played for us this season he was great. But his age and frailty means we cannot trust him, at all. Has to leave, even if we get no money from him at all.

Black Pennywise is a Douglas-level signing. The man has zero tactical notion, always leaves the area to be the “protagonist” and cannot hold the proper formation at all. All of his flaws were evident against Levante, where he was at fault for at least 3 of their goals.
Given it was the first time since 2003 FC Barcelona conceded 5 goals in a match, it’s obvious he has to leave. Giving him “time” won’t change the fact he lacks the basic notions and will never be a world class player, Just like Douglas, Mathieu, Song, Arda and Gomes before him, “wishing” he’ll improve is demented.
Sell, loan or just cancel his contract altogether. He cannot wear our shirt again if we are to compete for Liga and UCL.

 

SUMMER MOVE:

 

sell Vermalen and Black Pennywise

sign someone like LENGLET (which apparently we already will for 35mi) AND DE LIGT

Alternative: bring back Marlon and save money to invest on our midfield

 

 

LBs: Alba and Digne

Alba had a great season, giving loads of assists this season and being, at most times, reliable at the back. However, we need someone to compete/rotate with him, something that rarely happened this season.

Digne has to go. While he’s a good, humble guy that tries his best, he’s far from being FCB level, and that’s why Valverde rarely trusted on him. Since we won’t invest in fullbacks this season, someone from Masia has to come up and take his place.

 

SUMMER MOVE:

Sell Digne

Promote Cucurella

 

 

 

 


MIDFIELD- WE NEED TO COMPLETELY REBUILD IT TO BE ABLE TO COMPETE IN THE NEAR FUTURE

 

CDM: Busquets

Busquets has been our starting CDM for almost a decade now, and has rarely been rested or had someone to compete with him.

That has hurt us seriously last UCL season, when he got injured, Lucho put Mascherano as CDM and Mathieu at CB… 3-0.

This was the case again this season, where Busquets was clearly not fit on both Roma matches, and we simply got overrun… 3-0.

For us to win the UCL again, we need someone to compete/rotate with Busquets. It will allow him to play UCL matches actually rested and on his best physical condition, while his “competitor” sees more La Liga minutes.

SUMMER MOVE: Bring ARTHUR this summer, or sign WEIGL

 

 

CMs: Rakitic, Rafinha, Denis, Turan, Gomes, Paulinho

(Due to this board’s ineptitude, I will keep the same opening paragraphs I wrote on my 17-18 Season planning article, making only a few changes)

The backbone of our team, our style, and that is completely weakened nowadays. RM has never had an Academy so well run as ours, has never had a generation of homegrown players like Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Thiago, or a playing philosophy that has dominated Europe from 2008-2012.

But they still won 3 Champions League titles on the last 4 years, and will most likely win their 3rd in a row and 4 in 5 years in 6 days.

And how did they do it?

By having signed players like Modric, Kroos, Isco and Kovacic on the last few years. When you have great midfielders to balance out whatever weaknesses you may have in defense or in attack, you’ll always have the advantage.

If we want to be able to compete on the Champions League today, and especially to retain our La Liga title, we need to do a complete overhaul in our midfield.

Iniesta is gone. We will not be able to seriously compete at UCL if we do not sign a proper replacement for him. Iniesta is a football legend, one of the all-time greats, and I’m aware there’s not “replacement” for him.
But there’s a player profile that we can try to sign: someone who can retain and recycle possesion, play with his head always up, looking to combine with all players close to him, and keep things calm under pressure. Thiago, Pjanic and Eriksen can all play like that.

Rakitic isn’t creative and doesn’t give us an extra edge when we are in a dire situation, like we were in Rome. And even though selling him to go for a world class CM that would suit us more would be the most logical choice… it won’t happen.
Valverde trusts him and is too conservative and limited to NOT have someone like Rakitic besides Busquets to contain and press. So… he will be a starter next season, even though we clearly could have a different profile on his place, doing all he does and still using our possession to hurt our adversaries, something Ivan rarely ever does.

Rafinha won’t return, so we should get as much money as we can from him.
He is not a controlling CM, and his style would fit like a glove in most Premier League teams. Since we can no longer take chances in our midfield set up, especially after the last three seasons, I would also sell him, for 25-30mi euros.

Denis is a very intelligent young man, who’s able to combine in small spaces, can dribble easily, and has the patience and vision to thrive as the kind of CM we need right now. If he has way more minutes than he did in 17-18, he can help us both as a CM and a backup LW.

Arda Turan. The most nonsensical signing our club made in the last two decades. Not even worth trying to describe all of his flaws. We need to sell him to whoever pays more.

Gomes should have never been signed in the first place, and spent two seasons here just making us lose money and take minutes that should have gone to players like Denis and Aleñá. Even if we get only 20mi for him, has to be sold urgently.

Paulinho is Pep Segura’s (and the culer who wants “muscle) wet dream. Yet all he does is complete 3 meter passes, and only backwards and sideways. He isn’t press resistent, does not defend well (the muscle argument does not apply to him), rarely makes a vertical pass, let alone an assist and NEVER even tries a long ball. His signing is an aberration, and each second we keep him around we are betraying everything this club represents as a possession based, creative side.
I’m aware he will not be sold this season, but I’ll be happy to screenshot this paragraph in 12 months, when he’ll be leaving from the backdoor just like Gomes will be leaving this summer.

 

SUMMER MOVE

Sell Rafinha, Arda and Gomes

Sign 2 players from: Jorginho, Eriksen, Pjanic and Thiago

Promote Aleñá

 

 

 

ATTACK: HOW TO MAKE COUTINHO, MESSI, GRIEZMANN, SUAREZ AND DEMBELE FIT TOGETHER?!

 

Our attacking set-up next season will depend on which formation Valverde will choose to use, especially on big matches. In 2017-18, we basically used 442, with the occasional 433 or even 4231.

Griezmann, apparently, has been a done deal since at least december/2017. Before talking about his traits and qualities, it’s clear he’s coming to be a Second Striker, not a winger.
Griezmann hasn’t played as winger since his Real Sociedad days (over 5 years ago), and has always had a 9 in front of him at Atleti (Mandzukic, Costa, Torres, Gameiro). He turned into a world class footballer by playing in “the pocket” between CDMs and CBs, just like Messi did on his False 9 years.

So, from Griezmann’s signing alone, it all points to us focusing more on 442 or 4231 in 2018-19. And since the board does not plan to sign any world class CMs this season, these are our realistic formations:

442, with Griezmann and Suarez upfront, would mean, a midfield with Busquets, Rakitic, Coutinho… and Messi.
While in theory this would work on most matches, we would be using a formation where Rakitic wouldn’t create much, and Coutinho would be used a CM when he’s clearly way more effective for us as a forward.

And having Messi behind both Griezmann and Suarez is a waste in itself, since Leo is the most prolific goalscorer between the three of them. Besides, it would place Messi in a role he hasn’t really played much in his career, and placing on him marking/defensive obligations that will leave them whole team unbalanced, and put extra strain on Busquets-Rakitic and the whole of our defense, especially our right defensive side.

4231, with Suarez upfront, and Busquets-Rakitic, Coutinho (LM), Griezmann behind Suarez and Messi (RM).

We would basically become 2011-2013 RM under Mourinho. A murderous team upfront, that would rip most teams to shreads with Coutinho, Messi, Griezmann and Suarez upfront, but seriously lacking balance to compete against a properly put together team.

The best way to defend isn’t having a “CDM duo” like Busquets-Rakitic, backed by a “strong” defense. The best way to defend is to keep the ball, regardless of how high or hard our opposing teams press, and keep that possession with creative players that will put us on advantage as soon as we complete our defensive transitions.

And the best way to achieve that… is with 433.

If we sign a world class CM this season, this would be our ideal formation: Busquets, Rakitic, Thiago/Eriksen/Pjanic; Messi, Dembele and Coutinho.

Busquets having Rakitic’s solidity and Thiago’s creativity and versatility alongside him. That’s that best midfield we could dream of this season, under Valverde/this board.

This would allow Messi to return to his False 9 role, and make use of Coutinho as a LLW (Lazy Left Winger): a player coming from the left not to stretch the opposition and remain stuck to the line, but to create and combine with Messi from the pocket.
This would also give the RW for Dembele to shine, allowing him to both stretch plays when he cuts outside, and combine and finish when he cuts inside.

But… where would Suarez and Griezmann fit?! That’s where I wanted to get.

All the formations I just listed above could world, even if we do not sign a world class midfielder (which, apparently, will be the case).

But having Coutinho, Dembele, Messi, Griezmann and Suarez, as most likely will be the case in 2018-19 does not give us ONE clear formation to fit them all.

Griezmann isn’t a 9, and has never been. He’s a second striker, who became world class playing behind a classic 9, like Suarez.
So Antoine obviously isn’t coming to replace/rotate with Suarez. And they cannot play together in a 433, for instance, but could play in 4231 or 442.

Messi and Coutinho would fit on all cenarios (442, 4231 and 433). But when we think about the team’s stability, it’s clear one or both of them would be used in midfield positions that would make life way harder for our defense, and easier for our opponents.

And there’s Dembele.
One of the most talented young players in Europe, who can play, pass, dribble and shoot with both feet, and can also play as a classic winger, stuck to the sideline; or cut inside to combine, create and score.
But he does not fit a 442 (reason why Valverde rarely trusted him in 2017-18).
4231 would fit him, but, as I already said, leave us just too unbalanced.
433 would be perfect for him… but Suarez and Griezmann would both be let out.

That is why our board is shopping Dembele around Europe: they do not trust him enough to give him more minutes, and decided to go with what is easier to Valverde: sign Griezmann, who fits perfectly in a 442/4231, formations that would “exempt” them from signing a world class CM.

This just shows this board has no clear plans as to how we should be playing whatsoever, and they would gladly hurt Dembele’s career just to fit Griezmann, make Valverde happy and not have to sign the CM we’ve been needing for years.

So what will happen? I HAVE NO IDEA!

I don’t see a formation where Coutinho, Messi, Griezmann, Dembele and Suarez would fit together while remaining competitive/balanced, and I also don’t see a set up where these 5 players would rotate constantly and remain happy/feel important.

Besides all that, we do not have a coach with such tactical fluidity to make it all work. Valverde is clearly limited, only feeling confident and being able to deploy “central approaches”, like we have seen with a 442 and will see with a 4231 once Griezmann arrives.

But not using the wings to stretch our opposition’s defense and give more passing options and lanes to both our midfield and Messi is demented, while also making it way easier to stop us.

Be certain of something: if Valverde/the board get rid of Dembele, just to focus on 442/4231, we will not be a competitive team, maybe not even in La Liga. With all of our attacks focused on the center, most teams would just pile CDMs, and we would not have a clear “escape” route from the wings.

So, everything points to use getting rid of Dembele, or at least having him on the bench most of the times, to use formations that wouldn’t work against big teams…. because we won’t have a winger like Dembele to stretch them. See how fucked up this whole thing is?

But, anyway, let’s focus on the players we’ll have next season, and “wish for the best”. It is our board’s mantra, anyway.

 

I will not even write about Messi. It will be curious to see him alongside Griezmann, since he hasn’t had TWO players in front of him during his career. And, as it has always been the case since Rosell/Bartomeu took over, our success in 2018-19 will depend on him and how well we place players around him.

The same goes to Suarez. Even though he’s had a very irregular season, still scored 33 goals, gave 14 assists and has kept his insane work rate and commitment to this team, and to opening spaces for Messi. He’s the best 9 in the world and we won’t find a better fit.
However, if he doesn’t have a great 2018-19 season, I would be willing to sell him next summer. The fact he’s Messi’s best friend won’t keep him at FCB forever, and we need a player that can deliver both in La Liga (he always has) and UCL (him, and every player not named Messi, have failed us there).

 Alcacer  should have never been signed on the first place. He’s a very humble guy who’s given his best whenever trusted upon, but selling him and investing the money on the players we do need would be the best choice.

Coutinho is a forward. The fact the played a midfielder/CM for Liverpool does not mean anything. FCB is unique, and the obligations our CMs have to deliver are way different than those needed at the EPL.
Just look at Coutinho performances this season: while it is true he didn’t have a preseason with us and arrived in the winter, he never really had one big match as CM, be it at the Iniesta role, or on the right.
He always keeps the ball well and is press resistent, but his combination with our players have always been scarce… it’s like he just vanishes for long periods of time during our matches.
But whenever he plays as an actual forward… he FLIES. Coutinho in a attacking LM or LW role next season will be an actual monster, and I sincerely expect him to score 25+ goals and be directly involved in many others.
All we need to do is let go of this idea he’s the “new Iniesta”. He’s the professional version of Ronaldinho.

Griezmann is talent. The man can press nonstop, combines perfectly with his team mates, hardly loses the ball, and given he rarely gets clear cut chances in Atleti, is an absolute KILLER, rarely missing the target. 29 goals and 13 assists this season just prove it.
He will be a gift to Messi, and they will be able to create beatiful moments and combine superbly well through the center of the pitch, feeding each other constantly.
The man has shone in big matches in the last few seasons, scoring 3 goals against Zidane’s RM (only Messi has scored more), and being Atleti’s leader and hero on their Europe League title.
Culers have to let go of this idea Antoine is coming to “replace” Suarez. He is not a 9, and has always had someone like Mandzukic, Torres and Costa in front of him. So we’ll have Griezmann combining with both Messi AND Suarez, not relegating anyone to the bench, as most culers are predicting.
However, having Griezmann and just focusing on “center based” attacks, like we would on a 442/4231 is very risky, and even with all the talent in the world (Coutinho, Messi, Antoine, Suarez), opposing teams would find it easier, and manageable to just pile 3 CDMs in front of a back 5 or 4 and just get in the way of them combining through the middle.
That’s why we should keep someone like Dembele around, to stretch our oppositions and give creative players like Griezmann a better passing option.

 

SUMMER MOVE

Sell Alcacer, bring back Munir 

Griezmann has already been signed (apparently)

 

 

 

 To sum it all up: we need at least one world class CM, and preferably also a CDM/CM hybrid to able to compete in 2018-19 UCL (we’ll always be favorites to win La Liga with a healthy Messi).

Sadly, as has been the case with this board since 2012, we are most likely only getting 1 CB (Lenglet), 1 young CM (Alena) and Griezmann. Will that be enough to compete in UCL again? Hardly so, especially under a coach like Valverde.

So my dream 2018-19 summer would be to get Quique Setien as coach and sign two world class CMs, like Thiago and Pjanic. Cucurella, Munir, De Ligt, De Jong and Arthur should all come as well, while we would get rid of Vermaelen, Mina, Digne, Rakitic, Gomes, Paulinho and Alcacer.

But, if the board keep their misguided plan (Griezmann, Lenglet and Alena), we’ll be sailing in dangerous waters, trying to regain our relevance in Europe with little to none midfield support.

It’s far from ideal, but at least Messi will be our Captain. 

 

 

 

 

Arthur: from Goiânia to Barcelona

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After months of rumours, it’s official: FCB has reached an agreement to sign Arthur Melo (born 1996) from Grêmio for 30mi euros, plus 9mi in add-ons. He’ll land in Barcelona in July.

GOIÁS YEARS: 2003-2010

Arthur is from my hometown of Goiânia, having played at my homeclub, Goiás, since he was 7 years old. Goiânia is a very hot and dry city, and the fact he’s so thirsty for football he played for 2 different Goiás Academy teams, playing 2 different positions (10 and CDM), shows his hunger and desire to thrive.

Besides that, he went against the rules Goiás has set for academy players and constantly played futsal for a different team in Goiânia. That rebelious choice has given him many tools that set him apart today: ability to keep the ball, press resistance, quick thinking, quick turns, etc.

Arthur stayed at his hometown, Goiânia, playing for Goiás until he was 14 years old. He then got an invitation from Grêmio, 2.000 kilometers away from home. There was resistance from his family, specially his mother, but the kid got enough support from his father and made the move.

GREMIO YEARS: 2010-2018

As it happens with most youth players in Brazil, Arthur didn’t get much chances on the first team, having spent 2 years on the bench after “making it” to the professionals. Regardless, he’s always been an important player on the lower levels of the Brazilian NT, even becoming the Captain of the U-20 team.

Arthur only actually became an important player for Grêmio in 2017, his breakout year. He got his first important chances on Primeira Liga, an “alternative league” the clubs themselves are trying to develop in Brazil, and then, in May/2017, started playing the Brazilian League for the first time.

He’s played 27 League matches so far in is career, but Gremio’s focus wasn’t on the national competition in 2017. They aimed to win the Libertadores for the third time in their history, and Arthur was instrumental on their way to the title.

Here are a few of his best performances during the 2017 Libertadores edition:

Quarter finals against Botafogo:

Semi finals against Barcelona (ECU):

Final against Lanús (ARG):

Even though Arthur only played 45 minutes, he was named the best player of the first leg of Libertadores Final. His injury prevented him for playing the second leg.

STYLE OF PLAY:

As one can see from the performances above, Arthur is a modern, intelligent CDM that can keep, recycle and move the ball perfectly, besides being very press resistent.

He’s very different from the average brazilian CDM (brute, unable to resist pressure, always booting the ball away), and all brazilians pundits have praised his abilities, especially given his age.

He was named Best CDM of the Brazilian League in 2017, being the player with the most correct passes in the competition (1.962). He was also named  the Breakout Star of the 2017 Brazilian League, which is very rare for CDMs.

He’s said Iniesta is his biggest idol in world football, “both in and our of the football pitch”, and that he’s even read Iniesta’s biographies. Curious coincidence, since Iniesta himself got his first big chance as a CDM in the 2006 UCL final, and since then has grown into on the best CMs of all time.

If Arthur follows his idol’s trajectory, position wise, FCB is in for a treat.

PRICE AND FIT IN CURRENT FCB TEAM:

Paying 30mi euros for a 21 year player that’s never been tested in Europe and has only been a professional player for 11 months is risky, sure.

But Arthur is not your usual brazilian “star”, not really being into parties and being known for being reserved and focused on his career development.

He’s so focused, actually, that he’s known for asking the data analysts to show him his performances so he’s able to see flaws on his game. That, for instance, has made him try to make more vertical passes and through balls.

On the current FCB setup under Valverde, Arthur’s primary role would be as Busquets’ backup, which would allow Busquets to rest for the FIRST time since he’s become a first team player, in 2008.

Besides that, Arthur could easily also replace Rakitic, when needed, and push away the brazilian undesirable we currently have in our midfield.

But, as I said before, given his abilities, focus and desire to grow, Arthur could be developed to fill in for his idol, Iniesta, in the coming years. That, of course, is a BIG “IF”, given Valverde hasn’t actually been developing young players since he took over our first team.

Overall, Arthur is a smart signing.

30 + 9 mi euros on this inflated market isn’t that bad, and for the first time in many year we are signing someone that fits our possession based style.

Add that to the fact Arthur is only 21 years old and has all the traits to become more than a CDM for us, we could be in for a treat.

This is a not a shady (Douglas) or weird (Mina) signing from Brazil. Arthur was named the Breakout Star of the 2017 Brazilian League, Best CDM of the 2017 Brazilian League, and MVP of the First Leg of the Libertadores Final.

I myself am happy with his signing and think that, given proper coaching and TIME (something culers aren’t giving even to Ousmane Dembele right now…) Arthur will be a fine addition to our team.

 

 

 

 

17-18 Season: Squad Analysis and Expectation

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The summer transfer window is now officially closed. I won’t talk about how badly the FCB board handled it, be it at signing the players we needed, be it at selling our outgoing players for a respectable price. I’ve done that every single day via twitter. I’ve had enough about this subject.

So, let’s look at our squad for the 17-18 season.

 

GKs: Stegen and Cillessen: We are fine here.

Barring injuries, we shouldn’t have any problems regarding our GKs. I just hope fans are smart enough to know the difference between a badly set up team that has a weak defensive system due to a lack of control from the midfield… and actually having a bad GK. We have a superb GK and a great backup one.

 

FBs: Semedo, Aleix, Roberto, Alba and Digne:

While, for some reason, I see lots of people attacking Semedo before he’s yet to play 90 minutes for us, I’m confident we’ve signed a very tactically capable player, who can both defend and attack well.

Aleix, as I said in my 17-18 Season Planning article should have been sold, and his performances so far have been DIRE. Hope he’s our backup RB and only used sparingly.

Alba should have a better season this time around, due to the fact our midfield will be, in theory, better in defense, be it due to Valverde’s focus on pressing, be it due to the presence of someone like Paulinho to allow our FBs to attack freely.

Digne, who’s decent in defense and mediocre in attack should remain with his current role: a backup LB who won’t ever see the final third when we are attacking.

CBs: Pique, Umtiti, Mascherano and Vermaelen:

Somehow, the board managed to leave our central backline WORSE than it was when the summer window opened!

Marlon has had great performances in 16-17, having been one of the very few surprises to come from La Masia in the next few years. Having him as backup would rejuvenate the group and create an action competition between our backup CBs. With him on the squad, we would be OK, at least regarding the qualities of each player available.

But, as they’ve done with 98% of our Masia talent since they took over, this board decided to loan him to Nice, and trust Mascherano and Vermaelen to be our backup CBs…

No team that aims to win the Champions League again would trust in Mascherano, and especially in Vermaelen, as backup CBs. It’s that simple.

Mascherano should have left our club this summer, because he’s become a liability, especially during the last 2 seasons.

And Vermaelen hasn’t even played 40 matches on the last 4 seasons due to injuries… but they decided to trust him when we rotate our CBS, which is something we’ll DEFINITELY due constantly during the season.

So, we need to root that Pique and Umtiti have both a superb season and remain perfectly healthy and free from suspensions. Relying on Mascherano and Vermaelen, even for emergencies, is just too risky and ill conceived.

 

CDMs: Busquets, Gomes, Roberto, Paulinho:

Busquets, once again, is left all alone as our CDM option.

Samper should not have been loaned out, because he’d not only help rest Busquets, but also learn from him. That would have been the best bet for our future, but, once again, the board showed they could not care less about Masia players and set Samper packing. For the second straight season.

I sincerely hope Gomes is used as our backup CDM, because he’s been dire in every other position we’ve used him. He’s far from being able to replace Busquets (no player in Europe is), but at least he’s had decent performances on this position.

After Gomes, I’d use Sergi Roberto as our backup CDM, when needed. Few people will remember it, but Roberto started carving his place as a 1st team starter after Lucho used him a few times as CDM, and he impressed. It was only after that he gained the confidence from the coach and became our RB. To make it clear: I want Roberto as our CM, but given the other CDM backup option is Paulinho… better a Masia player, any day of the week.

Paulinho… First time I ever write about his signing. A few players in the world would be SO different from our style and what we (are supposed to) represent. A thug box-to-box player who is a mediocre passer, worse assist giver and has only thrived for Corinthians and Brazil NT for “having stamina” and scoring a few goals. It should be clear, however, that Paulinho is a “threat in attack” because he simply vacates his defensive/organizational duties behind and tries to attack. Whenever we are caught in counters, the massive hole left behind each time Paulinho decides to attack will cause us serious problems.

I sincerely hope Valverde is not thinking of using a 4231 with Paulinho besides Busquets. Our matches would be dull, slow and predictable, only relying on fast transitions and counters to actually be a threat to our opponents. The “muscles and speed” Paulinho brings means nothing. The danger/safety has to come from keeping the ball and moving it intelligently, not by having someone running 14km each match.

 

CMs: Iniesta, Rakitic, Denis, Rafinha, Roberto, Paulinho, André Gomes, Alenya:

Sigh… After 16-17, we it was CRYSTAL CLEAR we needed to invest in intelligent, organizing CMs so we’d have a chance to set up a proper midfield and compete for the Champions League again, the ONLY SIGNING WE MADE WAS PAULINHO!

I won’t even talk about all that happened regarding Verratti, Ceballos and Coutinho, it’s pretty clear we have now WORSE CM options that we did for the start of the 16-17 season, and older players to perform the same roles.

Andres Iniesta is reaching the twilight of his career, and the years under Lucho did him no good. If Valverde sets the team up in a manner where Iniesta will be able to get the ball closer to the area and be able to combine with players such as Dembele and Messi, we should see a great season from him. However, if Valverde thinks like Lucho and places Iniesta behind the halfway line, so he has 30-40m in front of him… Awful news.

Rakitic’s best season was 14-15, due to the fact Lucho set up a system where he basically had to cover for Messi and Alves. He had zero creative obligations then, and was basically just a work horse. Since then, not only has he not been able to perform the same way, but any time he was given more responsabilities, especially creative… we suffered.

Paulinho is a liability. While I’m sure he’ll press the exact way Valverde desires, and will even score a few goals, be it from headers or chaotic counters, he’ll leave us vulnerable each time he decides to attack. If Paulinho is as disciplined as Rakitic was in 14-15, which I highly doubt, then, maybe, he’d be a decent option to current Rakitic. But get this: signing a 29 year old player from the Chinese League to basically replace a 31 year old player that has had vestigial creative importance in our squad is just demented.

Denis has been impressing so far this season, even though he’s not had many minutes to play. I’m aware he’s performed better as a LW than a CM, but he’s the type of player that can help us keep/recycle/circulate possession. He has pausa, can dribble and can be given a creative role. Trusting Denis over Paulinho is the way to go, but I doubt that will happen.

Rafinha should have been sold this summer. But since he can run/press and Valverde likes that, let’s hope he’s given enough minutes and we give the minutes Paulinho would have to him. If we are to have a box to box player, at least let it be from Masia, not the Chinese League.

Sergi Roberto. I sincerely think this will be THE SEASON he becomes a midfield starter. He offers more than Rakitic and Paulinho would, due to the fact that he not only can run/press, but can also also help us keep and recycle possession when needed. Roberto is versatile and will also be to both take part in creating chances during a slow, horizontal build up, but also help us during counters, as he’s shown last season, even at the Bernabeu. Yet again: if we are to trust on players like Rakitic/Paulinho… at least let’s put Roberto ahead of both. Especially after last season, he’s earned it.

André Gomes should also have left this summer. He will never suit us, be it under our actual style, be it under a vertical one. He’s too slow to move, can’t even turn to look for better passing options, and always needs two touches on the ball and time to think before making a simple pass. He cannot run, his pressing is limited, he can’t dribble and lacks vision to create chances. Every single time he’s used as a CM, I’ll prefer Rakitic/Paulinho instead, and that is saying A LOT. Should be used as CDM, and very rarely.

Alenya is a great Masia talent, with several attributes that we should be looking for in a midfielder. I doubt Valverde will give him many minutes, after sending Marlon and Samper away, however. Let’s hope that isn’t the case and Carles gets the minutes and the trust from the coach to shine.

Wingers: Deulofeu and Dembele

The one position in our squad where we’ll see young, hungry, skilled players.

Deulofeu has too many critics. Even when he’s having a good match, like the one against Betis, people always find a way to attack him. What people seem to forget, however, is that Deulofeu had to finish his development in clubs such as Everton, Sevilla and Milan because our club did not trust/believe in him. Judging a winger that had to develop under systems COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM OURS IS WRONG. Once Deulofeu gets a full season as a 1st team player, we’ll be able to actually see if he’s good enough. The potential is there and clear to anyone who is willing to give the kid a chance. I believe in him and his potential, and sincerely hope he has a superb season. We’ll need his brilliance.

Ousmane Dembele. My favorite young player in Europe is finally ours. Dembouz offers so much: pace, ruthless dribbling, vision and creativity. He does not waste possession easily, and besides being really acute and vertical, is also able to both combine well with the other attackers/midfielders, and to slow down and think of the best option during a counter attack, instead of simply looking down and charging forward. With Dembele, we have a world class talent that will surely provide us with many fun moments and matches throughout the season.

If Valverde keeps his plan so have Messi as false 9/closer to the area, and Dembele is used as RW, we’ll see many moments where they will link up, and, given time, a Dembele – Messi relationship will develop, where Dembele will provide even more assists than he did Aubameyang (but findind Messi  to finish them).

I’m aware we paid lots of money for him, and that he’ll only have his 3rd professional season in 17-18. But Dembele is simply too talented and unique for us to doubt that he can give us so much during the next few years. Sky is the limit, and given he’ll be close  to Messi and Suarez every day, he’ll become an even better player, given time and patience.

 

Forwards: Suarez and Alcacer

 

The average culer and Suarez. What a weird relationship.

When we first signed him, even though it was something Messi had been asking for over 2 seasons (a 9 in front of him), most people reacted like we had just brought on Pepe. The focus was all on his history of violence, his ban, his diving. Only the negatives.

But the fact is: Suarez is the best 9 in Europe.

Was vital in getting us the Treble, and even more so when we won the League in 15-16. People apparently forgot he was absolutely ruthless back then, and, without him, we would not have retained our Liga title.

Yes, he also had a very irregular season in 16-17. But still scored 40+ goals. Whenever Suarez isn’t absolutely brilliant, culers attack him heavily. No other player from our squad is treated that way. It’s harsh and it’s ungrateful.

I’m sure Suarez will score 40+ goals again this season, and his constant pressing and runs will make life easier for both Messi and Dembele (and our midfielders, in case the plan is to have them also create chances this season, since that was not the case under Lucho…).

Alcacer is a good boy, who is light-years behind Suarez in terms of pressing and making runs to allow passing options when we need to create chances. He’s slower and even less able to handle the ball and create chances when not inside the area.

But he’s a hard working, humble player, that will help us when needed. He’s not capable of ever competing with Suarez for the starting spot,and don’t even get me started on how he fares as a “winger”.

 

Ernesto Valverde:

I expect nothing from Valverde. Nothing.

He’s just a “normal” coach that will obey whatever this obscene board tells him. Samper literally left and said “Valverde wanted me around, but explained to me he could only have a certain number of midfield options, and since he didn’t know who would leave and who would be signed, he had to let me go”.

Stop. Read that again. Analyze it.

Ernesto Valverde told one of the most promising Masia midfielders from the last few years, and Busquets’ natural heir, that he had to send him away because he didn’t know what kind of squad the board would give him. IN AUGUST.

Valverde, unlike Pep and even Lucho, will not bother having his voice heard. He came as a simple employee, and will use the players the board decides to give him, and even the formation they want him to use. (yes. Pep Segura is a “fan of English football” and adores 2 CDMs/one route football”.

The pressing is back, and it’s working, so far. However, the midfield still severely lacks creativity, and the ONE signing we made, Paulinho, will certainly NOT help us create more chances, and the notion he’ll make us “more defensive stable” is utter nonsense.

If Valverde keeps the pressing up, the professionalism (will send Arda packing soon), and provides Messi with the basics of a decently set up team, we’ll compete for the League.

 

WHAT I EXPECT OF OUR 17-18 SEASON:

As long as we have Messi, we’ll be the favorites the win La Liga. It’s as simple as that.

RM may have their best squad in history, full to the brim of the midfielders we should have signed instead of the Songs, Ardas, Gomeses and Paulinhos, but not even that was able to comfortably take the title away from Messi in 16-17 (that only happened due to Lucho’s stupidity and Neymar’s lack of professionalism).

Look: even under Tata Martino, such an excuse for a coach we never pressed and he “wanted Messi to touch the ball the least possible”, we competed for the 13-14 League title until the very last second.

Valverde may be just a simple puppet of this board, but he has vast La Liga experience, will demand professionalism from our players, and we’ll compete for the title, with actual chances of winning it.

Besides that, and I talk the season as whole… WE’LL HAVE FUN!… ON SOME MATCHES, AT LEAST.

Look: with players like Dembele, Deulofeu and Suarez around Messi and the MINIMAL SUPPORT from our midfield, we’ll certainly witness lots and lots of matches where we’ll crush our adversaries and score lots of times. We’ll have crazy fun when Dembele-Messi click.

But without a properly set up midfield, every single time we face a big or well put together team, we’ll suffer. We’ll suffer just like we’ve been suffering since 15-16. And not even Dembele and Messi will be able to save us, because the ball simply won’t get to them.

If we don’t win La Liga, it won’t be due to Suarez, Dembele or Messi. It will be due to the people behind them that are supposed to support them. It’s very simple.

Champions League? We’ll go as long as Messi, Dembele and co are able to take us. I’ll never doubt Messi can give us any title, but the last 2 seasons have showed us that without support from the midfield, Leo can only do so much.

In summary: our transfer window was a complete disaster, but we’ll have lots of fun with Dembele around. We’ll compete for La Liga and may even win it, but for us to compete for the UCL title, Messi will have to perform superbly once again, and the people around him have the decency to AT LEAST not waste all the chances he’ll inevitably create.

 

La Descomposició

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Qualsevol que ha fet una entrevista de feina (o vist una en alguna sèrie de TV o pel·lícula) coneix la pregunta típica: “On et veus en 5 anys?”

Mai em vaig preocupar les raons de perquè aquesta és una pregunta standard de Recursos Humans a qualsevol lloc del món des de fa una pila d’anys, però l’objectiu és simple: saber si la persona entrevistada té el desig de créixer i assolir més del que té actualment, cosa que implica que farà créixer la companyia amb la seva empenta.

Fa 5 anys si algun fan del FCBarcelona hagués preguntat “on veus el teu equip en 5 anys?”, la resposta seria MOLT diferent que la nostra realitat actual.

Maig, 2012.

Messi era de lluny el millor jugador del planeta, marcant una absurda quantitat de gols, i sense assolir cap dels dos títols importants a la competició abans de les seves vacances.

La darrera temporada de Guardiola va incloure l’afegitó de Fàbregas, i un ús més habitual del 3-4-3, que ens permeté destrossar el Real Madrid per 1-3, malgrat encaixar un gol en els primers segons i fent-ho fàcil en la segona part.

El FCB no pogué guanyar la Lliga degut a la seva incapacitat per a batre grans bloquejos defensius un cop i un altre, a bande de patir amb els arbitratges errors en contra, mentre el Real Madrid triomfava a la seva manera

A la Champions League, mentre l’equip dominava els partits, creant més de 20 oportunitats en cada partit, l’esforç del Chelsea (i la pura sort) ens va fer caure a les semifinals a casa

Però el futur per a Leo era brillant

No només era al pic de la seva energia, sino que l’equip estava equilibrat (encara que Alexis era lluny de ser el jugador que és avui), Xavi i Iniesta encara donaven espectacle allà on anaven, i la feina feta a La Masia era encara focalitzada al voltant de l’estil Cruijff i la creença en el cervell per damunt el muscle, a la possessió per damunt dels adversaris que corrien.

Aleshores començà la revenja de Rosell i Bartomeu contra Laporta

Donat que Guardiola ja no hi era -una icona de La Masia, Capità del primer equip, i l’entrenador que guanyà 6 títols en el seu primer any com a entrenador, a banda de batre al Real Madrid al Bernabéu per 2-6- finalment ells posarien en marxa la SEVA visió del futbol.

Però abans de focalitzar-nos en això, necessitem entendre com funciona la societat catalana, i especialment com es mou al voltant del nostre club.

Els membres més rics de la societat catalana no són moderns empresaris que viatgen al voltant del món per tastar noves cultures i acceptar visions més intel·ligents com una manera d’avançar. Són conservadors, limitats, pensen que són els PROPIETARIS no només de Catalunya, sino especialment del nostre club de futbol.

FCB ha fet molta gent rica encara més rica, i convertí algú tan mediocre com a Josep Lluís Núñez en un home molt ric. El que va necessitar per a ser President del FCB durant 22 anys fou només agenollar-se

Agenollar-se davant les més riques famílies catalanes, que volen la seva gent gestionant el club. Agenollar-se davant els grups de comunicació que venen diaris mercès al nostre club: Grup godó,que posseeix Mundo Deportivo i RAC1, i Grupo Z que està en risc financer des de fa anys, i que sobreviu només venent marxandatge del FCB mitjançant SPORT, el seu diari.

Agenollar-se davant les Penyes, clubs de fans existents a tota Catalunya i Espanya, on la gent gran, conservadors, veu que els 13 a 15.000 vots que arrosseguen a cada elecció presidencial son suficients per a garantir-los autobusos de franc per anar als partits al Camp Nou, entrades de franc per als grans partits, o inclús bitllets d’avió de franc per assistir als desplaçaments

Les coses han estat així durant tot el segle XX

Conservadors amb ments tancades gestionant el club a base de difondre propaganda i contratant entrenadors que es focalitzaven a la força i el córrer. Les úniques excepcions foren durant l’era Kubala, quan la influència de l’hongarès va abraçar tot el club, i vàrem guanyar 5 importants títols en pocs anys. Malgrat això, aquest fantàstic equip acabà el 1961

Després d’una dècada de més mediocritat, mentre el poder romangué allà on era, un parell d’holandesos vàren portar l’alegria i una Lliga un altre cop al nostre club. El 1973-74, Michels i Cruijff van capgirar un trist equip de perdedors i una encara més trista massa social en una força a tenir en compte.

Però el problema dels conservadors es que ells no volen estrangers fent-ho bé al “seu” territori.

Encara menys quan l’estranger es una estrella com Johan Cruijff, de bon aspecte, i un jugador superb… i més intel·ligent i sincer que ningú a Catalunya aleshores. A més a més, encara que ells apreciaven el títol i el respecte que ell va portar de nou al nostre club, sempre estigueren ressentits amb ell. La mediocritat sempre repudia la brillantor.

Per tant, naturalment, Michels i Cruijff vàren marxar. I molts més anys de mediocritat i zero lligues tornaren un altre cop. Vàrem guanyar la lliga 84-85, però amb un equip basat sobretot en el físic, que no fou capaç de mantenir l’impuls guanyador més enllà d’una temporada.

I, un cop més, quan la pressió de l’afecció fou massa forta, els conservadors vàren tenir que recórrer a l’holandès que els va salvà el 1973: Cruijff tornà com a entrenador el 1988, i, durant els 8 anys que romangué com a entrenador del primer equip, el FCB construí no només un equip guanyador, sino un Dream Team, que fou capaç de guanyar 4 títols de Lliga seguits (una cosa que el nostre club no ha tornar a repetir des d’aleshores), i inclús donar-nos el nostre primer títol de Copa d’Europa, una cosa per la qual vàrem estar esperant durant 37 anys fins que arribà a bon port

Cruijff no només ens donà una identitat de joc, focalitzada en la possessió, el pressing, el posicionament i la intel·ligència, sino que també s’assegurà que els mateixos elements foren compartits i ensenyats pel futbol base de La Masia.

La Masia produiria diversos talents extraordinaris degut a la visió de Cruijff i a la constant creença que jugar un futbol atractiu és la manera més segura de gaudir l’esport tal i com fou dissenyat i que aquella era la manera per assolir la majoria de títols: creure en un estil a qualsevol preu, i no anar a solucions fàcils o típiques (com mantenir un 9 llarguerut a la banqueta per a quan necessitesim un gol per a salvar-nos als darrers minuts del partit).

Tantmateix, malgrat tots els títols i el domini futbolístic, Cruijff i la gent que l’envoltava MAI foren estimats unànimement a Catalunya

Recordeu: els conservadors mai vàren poder fer un motllo d’ells mateixos, per tant necessitaven martellejar constantment les mateixes lamentables idees que vàren sentir dels seus avantpassats per a sentir-se importants. I algú tant brillant com Cruijff mai podria ser acceptat per aquella gent

I aquesta gent que posà i tregué presidents i que controlava el que els afeccionats consumien en relació al club, via diaris, ràdio o TV sempre vàren qualificar Cruijff de “geni, però impredictible”, un “mercenari”, un “entrenador descuidat”.

Addicionalment, el 1996, quan Cruijff estva pensant com construir una nova generació guanyadora, considerant noms com Bergkamp o Zidane… fou acomiadat. Al vestidor. Sense previ avís.

Els conservadors es vàren lliurar d’una persona aliena al “seu” club, i vingueren primer Bobby Robson i després Van Gaal a mantenir l’impuls del que Cruijff construí. (Recordeu això; està succeint ara mateix al nostre club)

Quan les coses es fan bé, quan La Masia dóna nanos que encaixaran a l’equip i a l’estil de joc sense problemes… aquest impuls continuarà fàcilment durant 3 o 4 anys, inclús si portes entrenadors com a Robson o Van Gaal

Però la qüestió es: el nostre estil de joc sempre necessitarà algú que cregui en fer millores i canvis per a mantenir-nos competitius, per valorar La Masia abans inclús de considerar nous fitxatges, especialment migcampistes, però que també porti estrelles de fora quan siguin capaces d’aportar a l’equip alguna cosa que no s’ensenya a La Masia, però que a llarg termini farà més compettiu el nostre equip.

Aquest impuls es va acabar l’any 2000

2000-2001. 2001-2002. 2002-2003. Tres temporades on, sense l’impuls de Cruijff, el nostre club a dures penes aconseguí acabar entre els 4 primers de La Liga. Futbol lleig, entrenadors monotemàtics, preferència pels jugadors forts per damunt dels intel·ligents. Justament la manera en la que els conservadors volien que fos el nostre club. Tantmateix, naturalment, els resultats mai vàren arribar.

Els afeccionats van dir prou. Protestes al Camp Nou, queixes i, finalment, exactament després de que Cruijff i el seu llegat deixessin el club per la porta del darrera, aquells ideals foren vistos com a una cosa important, un cop més.

Laporta guanyà les eleccions, amb Cruijff al seu costat, i escollí entrenadors que creien en la mateixa filosofia de futbol que Johan. També contractà gent amb els mateixos punts de vista per a gestionar La Masia, i per valoritzar els bons jugadors per damunt de la força o la velocitat.

Vàrem ser aviat un altre cop al camí dels triomfs. Dues lligues consecutives, la nit màgica de París, on vàrem aixecar la nostra segona Copa d’Europa, i joves jugadors sortint de La Masia frequentment per ajudar a enfortir el nostre equip.

El “retorn” inicial durà 3 anys, i després de dues temporades molt decebedores, vàrem deixar marxar en Rijkaard, i Pep Guardiola, que mai havia entrenat un equip professional en una gran lliga europea abans, es convertí en el nostre líder.

I la reta és història. 14 títols en 4 temporades, i un nivell de dominació futbolística que Europa no havia vist feia dècades.

Tot estava éssent construït d’una manera per a mantenir la mentalitat guanyadora i l’estil basat en la possessió durant tant de temps com fos humanament possible.Guardiola parlava cada setmana amb els entrenadors de La Masia, i planificava quan fer debutar els joves talents de La Masia.

Però recordeu els conservadors? Els que governen Catalunya, els mitjans de comunicació, les penyes i que poden fer canviar l’opinió de l’afecció força ràpidament? Cap al 2010 ja en tenien prou de Laporta, que era massa sorollós, massa de la gresca, massa independentista per al seu gust. I vàren escollir Sandro Rosell, un d’ells, algú en qui ells confiaven per a gestionar EL SEU club.

Aviat van anar a per Guardiola, per les mateixes raons que havien anat a per Cruijff: algú que és immensament intel·ligent i exitós sempre tindrà grans defectes al seu cervell. A més a més, estàvem guanyant lligues i arribant a finals i semifinals de la Champions League CADA TEMPORADA aleshores.

Així tenien els seus mitjans de comunicació (no eren AMICS dels mitjans, els posseien per complert) atacant Guardiola quan perdiem un partit o un títol. Quan qualsevol detall ens feia empatar o perdre un partit. Sempre que podien.

I Guardiola digué prou. Encara que és un dels símbols de Catalunya, especialment pel que fa al moviment d’independència, en Pep deixà el club de la seva vida, el lloc on assolí el que cap altre equip havia assolit abans… perquè hi havia massa gent (important, poderosa) en contra d’ell.

I els conservadors tornaren al poder, per a gestionar el club de la manera que ELLS volguessin. Contractar entrenadors que podien vendre com a portadors de “l’ADN Barça”, però amb la personalitat necessària per a obeir en tot allò que se’ls digués. Els líders com Cruijff o Pep eren massa “imprevisibles”.

Recordeu quan parlàvem de l’impuls després de la marxa de Cruijff el 1996? I que durà 3-4 anys?

Mireu les temporades 12-13, 13-14, 14-15, 15-16 i 16-17.

Tito era el qui vàren escollir per a substituir en Pep. Ells sabien que la reacció de l’afecció (i els jugadors) seria extrema si anaven a cercar algú de fora de Catalunya, per tant Tito ja els va estar bé.

Els mitjans vàren començar a dir EXACTAMENT el mateix que deien del període 1988-1996: els entrenadors (Cruijff/Pep) són els líders, però els que coneixen bé les tàctiques i les gestionen són els assistents (Rexach/Tito).

Sovint la història es repeteix a ella mateixa, però al nostre club això és extremadament fàcil de veure.

La temporada 12-13 mantingué l’impuls de Pep viu i en forma. Vàrem guanyar la Llliga amb 100 punts, però donat que la cura pel més mínim detall del nostre estil ja no era la mateixa, vàrem ser destruïts a la Champions pel Bayern Munich. Aquella circumstància hauria d’haver estat prova suficient com per a començar a rejuvenir el nostre centre del camp, o si més no, donar més experiència als que havien de substituir Xavi i Iniesta.

Però els conservadors no vàren fer això. Vàren portar Alex Song aquella temporada pel nostre centre del camp, i vàren vendre THIAGO tant aviat com el títol de Lliga va quedar enllestit. Perquè mantenir un migcampista controlador i organitzador quan necessitaven diners per a fitxar… Neymar?

Tristament, la malaltia de Tito va tallar d’arrel la seva època com a entrenador del FCB, i Tata Martino fou contractat com a entrenador del FCB. Un argentí amb algún èxit a Sudamérica, però cap experiència europea. Però els conservadors el vàren vendre com que “tenia més ADN Barça que molts dins el club”, i tenien alguns periodistes dels mitjans que dominen per a relacionar la seva arribada amb una demanda de Messi (que mai havia vist aquest home a la seva vida).

El domini de Messi és tan poderós, i l’impuls era tan fort, que gairebé vàrem guanyar la Lliga (de fet la vàrem guanyar, però no parlarem del gol de Messi, perquè estic segur que l’Atlètic de Madrid n’hagués marcat un altre igualment), però vàrem fracassar un altre cop a la Champions League.

Neymar, que fou fitxat per Rosell per una única raó (substituir Messi, mentre feia guanyar als conservadors i al club molts diners amb el marxandatge) tingué una molt modesta primera temporada europea. I així, Messi continuà, i aleshores arribà Luis Enrique.

Recordeu la cura per la possessió, el posicionament, el pressing? L’urgència per a donar valor a tenir la pilota per damunt de qualsevol altre cosa, donat que la millor manera d’atacar i defendre és justament fer-ho així? Luis Enrique mai va creure en aquestes coses. Ell només veia el futbol com veu la vida: com una competició on necessites arribar al teu objectiu abans que el teu adversari, i cap “estil” o “filosofia” eren necessaris. Només guanyar.

I ell guanyà. Inclús encara que l’únic migcampista que vàrem fitxar per a la temporada del Triplet fou Rakitic, i Xavi ja era enfilant la sortida, vàrem guanyar la Liga i tinguerem ua de les millors trajectòries a la història de la Champions League, eliminant els campions de lliga de França, Holanda, Anglaterra, Alemanya i Itàlia per a guanyar la nostra 5ena Champions.

I la temporada 15-16 arribà, i encara que Arda Turan (!) fou escollit com a fitxatge al mig del camp, la competitivitat de Lucho i el que encara quedava de l’impuls (i Messi) ens vàren fer guanyar la Lliga encara un altre cop, però fracassar aviat a la Champions per les mateixes raons que el Tata: manca de creativitat adequada i organització del mig camp per a batre un equip com l’Atlètic de Madrid.

2 Lligues i 1 Champions en 2 temporades. Evidentment els conservadors volien continuar amb Lucho. I vàren afegir… Andre Gomes per ajudar-nos a recuperar els nostres dies triomfants, després que el Real Madrid hagués guanyat la Champions un altre cop, la 2a en 3 temporades. i així varem anar a la temporada 16-17 amb els darrers grams de l’impuls Cruijff/Pep, i el què quedava de la velocitat i l’entusiasme de Lucho i la seva MSN.

No fou suficient. L’objectiu de Lucho fou aconseguir resultats el més ràpid possible amb el mínim esforç possible. Aquesta filosofia pot convertir-te en un equip guanyador ara (com va passar el 14-15), però no t’ajudarà en el futur i tampoc a construïr una identitat en absolut. Al cap i al a fi, no pots ser ràpid per sempre. Aquesta és la raó per la que no hem aconseguit cap títol rellevant la temporada 16-17.

I ara mateix, no hi ha res.

No tenim ni l’impuls del què Pep/Cruijff vàren construïr. Ni la velocitat o la pura competitivitat de Lucho.

Tenim només un equip envellit, mai rejuvenit adequadament, especialment al mig del camp, i que del 2012 ençà només ha incorporat Song, Rakitic, Arda, Gomes i actualment PAULINHO per a intentar tornar als dies guanyadors que ens donà la brillantor de Xavi/Inesta i la inquebrantable lleialtat al nostre estil i la manera en que la Masia hauria de ser gestionada.

Els conservadors han escollit Valverde com a entrenador, una persona que mai ha gestionat un gran equip o utilitzat un estil valent a la seva carrera… però efectivament serà un obedient empleat dels conservadors i de qualsevol que ells escolleixin per a gestionar el nostre club, sigui Bartomeu ara, o Cardoner quan ells considerin oportú.

Per tant, no gasteu energies criticant Valverde. Ell ha estat contractat per assolir resultats amb les eines/jugadors que la Junta Directiva considera adient donar-li. ell no té veu, ni control, ni pes en cap de les decisions relatives al futbol. Aquestes decisions seran preses per la gent que actuant en revenja i amb mentalitat petita, han destruït tot el que teniem el 2012.

Que ens durà de tornada a l’ÚNICA identitat/filosofia futbolística que ens va convertir en els millors del món? Unes altres 3 temporades tristes i sense títols, com vàrem experimentar entre el 2000 i el 2003?

O els socis catalans reaccionaran un cop més abans de que malbaratem el potencial de Messi i els nostres jugadors?

Cap al final de Setembre ho sabrem. I abans d’això, escriuré la segona part d’aquest article, on em concentraré en cadascun dels ombrívols acords als quals els conservadors i la gent que tenen darrera han arribat des de 2012, quan tots ells es vàren enriquir mentre el nostre club anava descomposant-se i assecant-se

The Decay

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Anyone who ever faced a job interview (or watched one being shown in a TV Series or movie) knows of the cliché question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

I never cared to read the reasons why that is a standard HR question basically everywhere in the world for lots of years already, but the main goal is simple: to know if the person being interviewed has the desire to grow and achieve more than what he currently possesses, which means he will make the company grow as well with said drive.

5 years ago, had any FC Barcelona fan been asked “where do you see your team in 5 years?”, the answers would be VERY different from our current reality.

May, 2012.

Messi was by far the best player on the planet, scoring and absurd number of goals, yet not really taking any of the two important titles home before taking his vacation.

Guardiola’s last season saw the addition of Fábregas, and a more frequent use of 343, that even allowed us to crush RM at home for 1-3, despite conceding on the first few seconds and taking it easy against them on the second half.

FCB wasn’t able to win the League, due to an inability to beat deep defensive blocks over and over again, besides suffering with refs mistakes against our club, while RM would get all the calls their way.

On the Champions League, while the team was still completely dominating the games, creating 20+ chances on each match, Chelsea’s effort (and sheer luck) made us fall on the semi finals, at home.

But the future was bright for Leo.

Not only was he on the peak of his powers, but the squad was balanced enough (even though Alexis was far from being the player he is right now), Xavi and Iniesta were still running the show wherever they went, and the work being done in La Masia was still focused around Cruijff’s style and belief in brains over muscle, in possession over running adversaries over.

Then Rosell’s and Bartomeu’s revenge against Laporta started.

Since Guardiola was no longer around, someone who was a Masia icon, first team Captain, and the coach who won 6 titles on his first year as first team coach, while beating RM at the Bernabeu for 2-6… they would finally put THEIR view about football in motion.

But before we focus on that, you need to understand how the Catalan society works, and especially how it moves around our club.

The richest members of the Catalan society are not modern entrepreneurs who travel around the world to experience new cultures and accept more intelligent views as a way to move forward. They are conservative, limited, who think they are the OWNERS of not only Catalunya itself, but especially our football club.

FCB has made many rich people even richer, and turned someone as mediocre as Nunez in a very rich man. As he needed to do to be FCB’s President for 22 years was bend the knee.

Bend knee for the richest Catalan families, who want their own people running our club.
Bend the knee to the media groups that sell the most newspapers about our club: Grup Godó, who owns Mundo Deportivo and RAC1 radio; and Grup Zeta, which has been in financial peril for years, and can only survive by selling FCB merchandise through SPORT, its newspaper.
Bend the knee to the Penyas, fan clubs around Catalunya and Spain, where older, conservative people see that the 13.000 or 15.000 votes they hold on any Presidential Election are enough to warrant them free buses to pick them up to attend Camp Nou matches, free tickets for big games, or even free airplane tickets to watch away games, any time they see fit.

Things were like that throughout the whole 20th century.

Conservatives with closed minds running the club by spreading propaganda and hiring coaches that focused on strength and running. The only exceptions came during the Kubala Era, where the Hungarian influence took over our club, and we won 5 very important titles in a very few years. However, that superb team ended in 1961.

After more than a decade of more mediocrity, while the powers that be remained where they were, a couple of Dutchmen brought happiness and a League title back to our club. In 1973-74, Michels and Cruijff turned a sad, losing team and an ever sadder and abandoned fan base in a force to be reckoned with.

But, you see, the thing about conservatives is that they do not like foreigners doing well on “their” ground.

Even less so when said foreigner is a star like Johan Cruijff, who was good looking, a superb player… and more intelligent and outspoken than anyone in Catalunya back then. Therefore, even though they loved the title and the respect he brought back to our club, they always resented him. Mediocrity will always loathe brilliance.

So, naturally, Michels and Cruijff left. And many more years of mediocrity and zero League titles happened yet again. We did win the Liga in 83-84, but with a very physically based team, that was not able to keep the winning momentum for more than one season.

And, once again, when the pressure from the fans was too big, the conservatives had to resort to the Dutchman who saved them back in 1973: Cruijff did come back as coach in 1988, and, on the 8 years he remained as first team coach, FCB built not only a winning team, but a Dream Team, what was able to win 4 League titles in a row (something our club hasn’t done before or since), and even give us our first European title, something we waited 37 years to come to fruition.

Cruijff not only gave us a playing identity, focused on possession, pressing, positioning and intelligence, but also made sure the same elements were taught in our Academy.

La Masia would produce several amazing talents due to Cruijff’s views and undying belief that playing a pleasing brand of football is the surest way to enjoy the sport as it was intended and that  that was the way to achieve the most titles: by believing in a style at all costs, and not going for easy/cliché solutions (like keeping a tall 9 in the bench for when we need a goal to save us in the dying minutes).

Nevertheless, even through all of the titles and the dominance, Cruijff and the people around him where NEVER unanimously loved in Catalunya.

Remember: conservatives were never able to form a mold to themselves as human beings, so they need to keep hammering the same pitiful ideas they heard from their older relatives to feel relevant. And someone as flashy and crass like Cruijff will never be accepted by said people.

And these people, that made and broke Presidents and that controlled what the fans would consume about our club, be it via newspapers, radio or TV, always sold Cruijff was “genius, but unpredictable”, a “mercenary”, a “careless coach”.

Therefore, in 1996, when Cruijff was thinking about building a new winning generation, while considering names such as Bergkamp and Zidane… he was fired. On the dressing room. With no previous warning.

The conservatives got rid of the strange person on “their” club, and went first with Bobby Robson, then with Van Gaal, to keep the momentum from what Cruijff built coming. (Remember this; it is happening right now to our club).

When things are done properly, when La Masia is raising kids that would fit into the team/playing style seamlessly… said momentum will easily go on for 3 or 4 years, even if you bring coaches like Robson or Van Gaal.

But the fact of the matter is: our playing style will always need someone who actually believes in it to make improvements and changes to keep us competitive, to value La Masia before even looking to sign a new player, especially midfielders, but that will also bring foreign stars when they are able to introduce to the team something that just isn’t taught in Masia, but that will make our team more competitive in the long run.

That momentum ended in 2000.

2000-2001. 2001-2002. 2002-2003. The three seasons where, with no Cruijff Momentum going on, our club was barely able to finish in the Top 4 in La Liga. Ugly football, one-route coaches, focus on strong players over intelligent ones. Just the way the conservatives wanted our club to be. However, naturally, no results came. 

The fans had enough. Manifestations on the Camp Nou, complaints, and, finally, exactly 7 years after Cruijff and his legacy had left the club by the backdoor, those ideals were seen as important, once again.

Laporta won the elections, with Cruijff by his side, and chose coaches that believed in the same brand of football Johan did. He also hired people with the same views to run La Masia and to value good players over strength or speed.

We were soon on the winning path again. Two straight Liga titles, the magic night in Paris, where we lifted our second European Cup, and young players coming from La Masia frequently to help strengthen our squad.

The initial “comeback” lasted 3 years, and after 2 very disappointing seasons, Rijkaard was let go, and Pep Guardiola, who had never coached a professional team in a top European league before, became our leader.

And the rest is history. 14 titles in 4 seasons, and a level of footballing dominance that Europe had not see for decades.

Everything was being built in a way to keep our winning mentality and possession based style around for as long as humanly possible. Guardiola would each week talk to Masia coaches, and would plan for when to debut young Masia talents.

But remember the conservatives? The ones that run Catalunya, the media, the penyas and that can make the fanbase change their minds very quickly? By 2010, they had enough of Laporta, who was too loud, too much of a party animal, too much of an independentist for their taste. And they elected Sandro Rosell, one of their own, someone they trusted to run THEIR club.

Soon enough, they were after Guardiola, for the same reasons they went after Cruijff: someone who is immensely intelligent and successful will always have huge flaws, in their minds. Moreover, do not forget: we were winning Leagues and reaching UCL finals/semifinals EVERY SEASON back then.

So they would have their media (they are not FRIENDS with the media, they own it completely) attack him whenever we lost a match, or a title. Whenever a sub caused us to draw or lose a match. Whenever they could.

And Guardiola said enough. Even though he’s Catalunya’s poster boy, especially when it comes to the Independence movement, Pep up and left the club of his life, the place where the achieved what no other team had achieved before or since… because there were just too many people (important, powerful people) against him.

And the conservatives were back in power, to run the club the way THEY wanted. To hire coaches that could sell as “Barça DNA” bearers, but with the personality to blindly obey whatever they were told. Leaders like Cruijff and Pep were too “unpredictable”.

Remember when we talked about the momemtum after Cruijff left in 1996? And that it lasted for 3-4 years?

Check our 12-13, 13-14, 14-15, 15-16 and 16-17 seasons.

Tito was the one they chose to “replace” Pep. They knew the backlash from the fans (and players) would be too much if they went with someone from outside Catalunya, so they went with Tito.

And soon the media would say EXACTLY like they did from 1988-1996: the coach (Cruijff/Pep) are the leaders, but the one who actually thinks of the tactics and excel at it are the assistants (Rexach/Tito).

History will always repeat itself, but in our club, that is just too easy to see.

12-13 kept the momentum of what Pep built alive and well. We won the League with 100 points, but since the care about the most minimal parts of our style was gone, we were destroyed in the UCL by Bayern. That moment right there should have been proof that we had to work on making our midfield younger, or at least give experience to those would eventually take over for Xavi and Iniesta.

But the conservatives didn’t do that. They brought Alex Song to our midfield that season, and sold THIAGO as soon as our Liga title was wrapped. Why keep a controlling, organizing midfielder around when they needed the money to sign… Neymar?

Sadly, Tito’s illness cut his time as FCB coach short, and Tata Martino was signed as FCB coach. An argentine with some success in South America, but zero european experience. But the conservatives sold him as “having more Barça DNA than many here”, and had several people from the media they own link his arrival with a demand from Messi (who had never met the man before in his life).

Messi’s dominance is so abundant, and the momentum was so strong, that we almost won the League (we actually won it, but we won’t talk about that Messi goal, cause I’m sure Atleti would just score another anyway), but failed once again to win the Champions League.

Neymar, who was signed by Rosell to do one thing and one thing only (replace Messi, while making the conservatives and club lots of merchandise money) had a very shy first European season. So Messi stayed, Tata left, and then came Luis Enrique.

Remember the care for possession, positioning, pressing? The urge to value keeping the ball above all other things, since the best way to both attack and defend is to do just so? Luis Enrique never believed in those things. He saw football just as he sees life: as a competition where you need to reach your goal faster than your adversary, and no “style” or “philosophy” were necessary. Just winning.

And he did win. Even though the one midfielder we signed for our Treble winning season was Rakitic, and Xavi was on his way out, we won La Liga and had one of the most memorable runs in Champions League history, beating the League Champions of Netherlands, France, England, Germany and Italy to win our 5th European title.

15-16 came, and even though Arda Turan (!) was chosen as the midfield signing, Lucho’s competitiveness and what was left of our momentum (and Messi), made us win the League yet again, but fall short on UCL due to the same reasons Tata did: lack of proper creativity and midfield organization to beat a team like Atleti.

2 Leagues and 1 UCL in 2 seasons. Of course the conservatives would keep Lucho around. And they added… Andre Gomes to help us regain our winning ways, after Real Madrid had won the UCL yet again, their 2nd in 3 seasons. So we went for the 16-17 season with the last few ounces of our Cruijff/Pep momentum, and whatever was left of the speed and verve Lucho and his MSN were carrying.

That wasn’t enough. Lucho’s focus was always on getting results as soon as possible and with the least suffering possible. Such a view may turn you into a winning team right now (like it did in 14-15), but won’t help you build for the future or keep an identity alive at all. You can’t be fast forever, after all. That’s why no actual relevant title came in 16-17.

And, right now, there’s nothing.

No momentum from what Cruijff/Pep built. Nor the speed and sheer competitiveness from Lucho.

There’s just an older team, that never got properly rejuvenated, especially in midfield, and that, since 2012, only signed the likes of Song, Rakitic, Arda, Gomes and just today PAULINHO to try to return to the winning days provided by Xavi/Iniesta’s brilliance and the undying loyalty to our style and the way Masia should be developed.

The conservatives went with Valverde as coach, a person that never managed a big team or ever played a brave style in his career… but will certainly be a very obedient employee of the conservatives and to whoever they choose to run our club, be it Bartomeu now, or Cardoner when they see fit.

So don’t waste your energy on criticizing Valverde. He’s been hired to get results with the tools/players the board sees fit to give him. He has no voice, no control or weight in any footballing decision. They will all be made by the people that acting on revenge and pettiness, destroyed all that we had going for us in 2012.

What will it take to bring us back to the ONE football identity/philosophy that turned us in the best in the world? Another 3 sad and trophy less seasons, like we have from 2000-2003?

Or will the Catalan socis react once again before we waste Messi’s and all of our player’s potential?

By the end of September, we’ll know. And before that, I’ll write the second part of this article, where I’ll focus on every single shady deal the conservatives and the people behind them pulled since 2012, where they all got richer while our club decayed and withered.

 

 

 

Nelson Semedo

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After Gerard Deulofeu’s return, our second 17-18 signing is Nelson Semedo, who’s been my favorite pick for our RB spot since I sat down to analyze the available names.

We paid 30mi euros, plus variables, for this 23 year old player, who’s been playing for Benfica for the last 5 years, and has also featured for Portugal’s NT.

Semedo is a very fast and strong (for his stature) RB, who besides having a great eye for creating chances (had 12 assists last season), also is intelligent and skillful enough to combine with midfielders and attackers who are close to him.

Being 1,77cm tall, he is good enough to hold his own when facing aerial duels, especially during corners. His others defensive traits are his tackling, which he knows when and where to use; and his interceptions, where he uses both his intelligence and superior pace to beat the opponents before they can even reach the ball.

After 16-17, a season where we had NOT EVEN ONE PROPER RIGHT BACK in our squad (Roberto is a midfielder and Aleix is a winger), Semedo’s signing is great news for our club, and our future.

Not only did we not sign Bellerin, who’s been more of an obsession in resigning former catalan Masia players then trying to bring a player that could actually strenghten our team; but we’ll also have a player that will compete with Aleix for the starting RB spot, and will allow Roberto the chance to shine in our midfield, since both Rafinha and Denis Suarez have failed to do so (up until now).

Messi himself will also be happy to have Semedo around, since is calm on possession and rarely gets dispossessed. Nelson has the skills to combine in closed spaces, which is something Leo likes to do at all times, but can also overlap and make crosses and assists from very acute positions. Besides that, Semedo has been known to lay out passes for players that are invading the area, which is another thing Messi adores receiving (just ask Alba and anyone at the Bernabeu).

While paying 30+ mi for a 23 year RB who isn’t a “star” shows, once again, that our club now looks first to what the market has to offer before trying to promote Masia players (like Palencia, who’s had a great 16-17 in the B team), Semedo’s overall qualities, and his potential for growth are worth the investiment and the risk.

And even though he’s represented by Jorge Mendes, the player is the real deal. I prefer to sign Mendes’ players than to ever invest in random brazilians, like we did with Henrique, Keirrisson and Douglas (and now Paulinho, for whatever reason).

Overall, Semedo’s signing has pleased me greatly, and I’m certain we’ve signed a young and talented player that can defend well enough and is calm when under pressure; will provide more options when we are trying to create chances from the middle, but also be a threat in the final third, especially when cutting back to look for players invading the area.

Here are some videos to better understand Semedo’s qualities: