In recent days Barcelona has been said to be interested in a physical player to complete the midfield, without realising that football is much more complex than that label.
Paco Seirul·lo, for many years the head of methodology at FC Barcelona and one of the most vital figures in the development of the club’s model over the past decades, explained in the book Pep Guardiola: The Evolution by Martí Perarnau: “People generally speak about phases of the game, and football has always evolved from there. But we deny that attack and defence exist. Denying this concept is denying a lot”. While most tend to separate football into two clear blocks, attack and defence, Seirul·lo defends that they are all united and interrelated. Football is a union of circumstances, situations and contexts, with each of them being different, and thus it should not be reduced into two exclusive stages.
This already hints at the complexity of this sport and, more specifically, of Barcelona’s philosophy. The game is shaped by countless factors, but the idea is to, to the extent possible, have a control over them. This contrasts, though, to the current vision and tendency of the world in which everything needs to be minimised as the result and outcome is almost the only thing that matter. With football transformed into a business and ferocious competition more than ever, concepts and ideas don’t matter, but numbers and figures (and money) do.
❛ The best players in history, Messi, Maradona, Pelé, Di Stéfano…were all small. And the good ones will continue to be so ❜
former manager at Barcelona and its youth ranks
The Barcelona board is going in this same direction, in spite of leading a club that should be renowned for its uniqueness. Maybe it’s their lack of knowledge, or maybe it’s their unwillingness to dig deeper into the complexities of the game, but in any case they seem to stick only with the surface of the problem. The institution’s biggest issues are reduced to mere clichés – which possibly is what is preventing the club from advancing. Instead of analysing the technical reasons, the tactical unbalance or the positional matters, often they exclusively distinguish the subjects into right or wrong. Into good or bad. Into technical or physical.
If Barcelona wants Ndombele, it should be for his global qualities, not for being physical or not | Photo by Imago
Over the past few days, with the absence of football action, all sort of rumours have been mounting in newspapers. But, apart from the usual Neymar and Lautaro Martínez sagas, the debates have been revolving around midfield. In particular, a division seems to have been made between technical midfielders and physical midfielders. Roughly a month ago, local newspaper Mundo Deportivo wrote in its front page: ‘Barça searches muscle’. This was followed by the picture of Tottenham’s Tanguy Ndombele, as well as of Fabián Ruiz. Them, alongside N’Golo Kanté to a lesser extent, have been linked with the Catalans as the club is reportedly looking for a versatile and physical midfielder that can cover a lot of ground. Possibly they did not realise that, more than for his physique, Ndombele stands out for his ability to carry the ball and evade the press. Or that Fabián is an exquisite maestro to dictate the tempo and that has a delicious left foot to pass, distribute and also shoot. Yet, again, the present world seems to be more focused on putting tags to things.
❛ Guardiola remained a lanky teenager with little muscle mass, the opposite of the ideal footballer’s stature. But great art is always born of frustration, and since he lacked the pace and strength to overcome the opposition, he substituted physical power with the power of the mind ❜
in his book Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning
The debate on whether Barcelona needs versatility, energy and a physical profile or not is for another day, even if we should never forget that the blaugranas conquered the world with 1.70-metres tall magicians not so long ago. And, while we try to convince ourselves that modern football has changed a lot since, it really hasn’t that much. Tactically, it has, with slightly new patterns and innovations implemented, but the game hasn’t transformed into a whole new sport. Barcelona should not be afraid to delve deep into its profound problems, and should continue to trust the methods that made them special in the past. Getting back to the club’s roots is the path for the long-desired success.
Can the ban to Messi turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Barcelona?
Though the ban to Lionel Messi does seem terrifying news, a deeper thought suggests that it could be a blessing in disguise for Barcelona, opening up several avenues for Ronald Koeman to experiment.
Lionel Messi has made a name for breaking records for fun. Be it goals or assists or dribbles, he has the accolades decorating the walls of his quiet haven in Barcelona. On Sunday the Argentine found himself breaking yet another record, however, not one he would have relished too much.
The six-time Ballon d’Or award winner was sent off for the very first time in Barcelona’s famous Garnet and Blue. An unarguable offence involving a violent swing of the arm at Asier Villalibre was the incident that saw him earn the same. Consequently, a ban awarded will see Messi missing action in the upcoming two fixtures – namely against UE Cornella and Elche.
Though it does seem terrifying news, to begin with, a deeper thought suggests that it could indeed be a blessing in disguise for Ronald Koeman’s side. Temporarily so, though. Moreover, it could benefit both parties involved: the player and the team.
Sparing a scenario where he participates in Barcelona’s second-round fixture in the Copa del Rey, Leo will return to action once again against the side he received his marching orders against. The speculated return date is the 31st of January against Athletic Bilbao.
Having just come back from a muscle injury he picked up against Granada, the Argentine was far from his best in the Super Cup final. A red card was a miserable end to a painful night for him. It was evident that he was not ready to play. He pulled on through the night, almost till the very end before his patience caved in.
A fit and ready Lionel Messi is one of the key cogs in Barcelona’s engine. Rushing the captain back from injury would not be wise either for the team or the player. Messi, at 33, needs to be managed efficiently yet cautiously. This includes embracing the fact that regaining rhythm after injuries will require a longer window. Bearing that in mind, a forced two-game hiatus could be exactly what he requires to return raging.
However, the absence of the La Liga top scorer will put more burden on the shoulders of €100 million club players Antoine Greizmann and Ousmane Dembele. The French duo can see this as the perfect opportunity to step up. It is the perfect chance to prove why exactly they do have a bright future at the club. The talisman’s absence provides Griezmann with exactly the position he considers his own, and enable him to take up the baton of scoring. It will be the ideal stage for him to dictate the play between the lines and orchestrate the proceedings.
Meanwhile, for a certain Dembele, it almost guarantees successive starts. The youngster is just beginning to find his rhythm at Catalonia, and he will be looking forward to making up for the absence of his captain.
The games Leo is set to miss are relatively low-pressure on paper. This could now tempt Koeman to push in youngsters and experiment with the forward line. The Copa del Rey fixture against Cornella could well see young Alex Collado and Konrad get deserved minutes.
While Collado has constantly been superb for the B team, Konrad has been patient on the bench for many games. The La Masia graduates deserve a chance in the top flight, and Messi’s suspension could give them a chance. Either way, both have made it to the squad list for the Kings’ Cup fixture.
Similarly, the opening up of a spot on the right-wing, an infrequent occurrence, could see chances given to Fransisco Trincao. The youngster has hardly got a sniff of a start so far, and the opening up of a spot in his natural position could be what it takes for him to earn a start.
Moreover, there is a certain aspect of this on the team as a whole. Coming back after a defeat poses its own range of challenges. Nonetheless, bouncing back after a defeat in the final of an event requires suturing of a much deeper and painful wound. Having Leo on the side is always a reassurance to his teammates on the field. However, his absence following a major defeat will be a real test of the sides resilience.
An individual effort will not suffice in the coming games. With the captain on the sidelines and the hounds of the traumatizing defeat set loose on them, the players will have to be on their toes. It will be a test for the coach, and one that examines the drive in the players. What could that be in the eyes of a true fan, if not a blessing in disguise.
The team is in dire need for motivation, and for a sense of confidence. Victories in two games without their talisman can provide the biggest boost in morale for all the players alike. As for his return, Messi will be looking to come back with a bang against Bilbao next week once his ban calls curtains
It is no secret that the club-captain’s presence would lift the spirits and confidence of all personnel involved. However, the ban to Messi benefits multiple parties in the given situation, himself included. It also provides the chance for the likes of other players to step up and take responsibility on the pitch when, namely the likes of Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann, among others. Alternatively, an empty spot in the team might force Ronald Koeman’s hand to give minutes to Konrad de la Fuente, Fransisco Trincao, and even Alex Collado. Will the side be able to cross the line? One really hopes so.