After winning everything on offer in 2008/09 and retaining the league last year, it’s time for Pep Guardiola’s difficult third album, with a stripped out feel from the last two big studio productions, and a return to their roots and what made them successful in the first place.
There is none of the youthful exuberance or leftover material from the first two albums, they’re the “biggest band in the world”, the one everyone wants to surpass, and whether they go the way of Bloc Party, whose third effort flopped critically or The Clash, who came out with London Calling, is to be seen.
Guardiola is notoriously loyal to the club’s youth system. He started his coaching there and worked with players such as Pedro and Sergio Busquets in Barcelona’s B team, before bringing them through to the first team with him. He is keen on bringing Cesc Fábregas back from Barcelona and was a driving force behind Gerard Piqué returning from Manchester United.
It seems that Guardiola would only use “foreign” players where he could not find products of La Masia, or Catalan players of sufficient ability to fill the hole. There is little doubting that Franck Ribéry, or Luka Modrič are better players than Pedro, but Pep brought the latter through rather than buying either of the former.
Four international players have left the club over the summer. Thierry Henry and Rafael Márquez were released to the USA, Yaya Touré was sold to Manchester City, and Dmytro Chygrynskiy was sold to Shakhtar Donetsk. In have come Adriano from Sevilla, David Villa from Valencia, and nobody else to date.
Rumours of Mikel Arteta coming in from Everton, himself a former Barcelona player, have so far proven wide of the mark. I would wonder whether Arteta would himself want the move, he would know that he was a stop-gap until Fábregas is prised from Arsenal.
Adriano’s arrival seems to indicate that Eric Abidal will be moved to play at center-back this season, to cover for the departures of Márquez and Chygynskiy, and Gabriel Milito will provide the cover for Puyol, should he be injured, rested or suspended at any point. Given Guardiola’s affection for La Masia though, it would not be a surprise to see Muniesa or Marc Bartra given a few games this season either in the centre of defense.
Henry and Márquez’s departures seem to have been partly motivated by the need to save money at the club. It is well known that the club has a debt of around 400 million Euros, and that both players were on wages well over 100,000 Euros a week. Just by cutting these two players from the wage bill, they will save over 10 million Euros a year, plus bonuses and so on.
It is unlikely that David Villa will be on next to nothing, but his wage demands at Valencia were not exorbitant. The club’s debt, although 2 to 3 times as high as Portsmouth’s, is not a huge problem because of the club’s income. Barcelona is the second-richest club in the world by income, raking in over 300 million Euros a year, even without a paying shirt sponsor.
They have valuable assets in the shape of their players and the land they own, in the same way that Portsmouth didn’t have valuable players such as Messi, and neither did they own Fratton Park by that point.
Due to the money problems faced by the club, and the holes in the squad from the departures of players mean that Guardiola’s loyalty to the youth system will probably have to be extended further. The likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta are likely to be rested and saved for the big games more than they were over the past two years, meaning that it will be up to players like Bojan, Jeffren and even younger players like Oriol Romeu, Thiago Alcantara, Jonathan dos Santos and company to beat smaller teams like Almería.
Messi, Xavi and others will probably still shine just as brightly as before, but they will struggle to scrape the 1-0 wins when they are playing badly, and they may burn out towards the end of the season. I cannot help but wonder whether Guardiola is relying rather too much on La Masia this season to be truly successful.
There are other teams in Europe, and arguably in Spain, with greater experience, greater strength in depth, and it could be their downfall this season.