After years of big signings and poor outcomes, Barcelona has finally decided to turn to youth. These are the youngsters that will help the team dearly next term.
? — The 'new' Barça. [sport] pic.twitter.com/jzMLBZPFQV— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 25, 2020
There isn’t anything much more beautiful than seeing a player climb through the ranks for his boyhood club. There is added pride when the youngster achieves significant milestones for the club. Recently, Birmingham City retired Jude Bellingham’s number 22 because the 17-year-old decided to sign a pro contract with the Championship club to leave for a more significant fee as Birmingham’s finances were in the red. Birmingham can be proud of their youngster, but he did not achieve anything with them. If one took a trip to the North of Spain, they’d be mesmerized by the amount of joy youngsters have given their club.
Whether it is the eternal Aritz Aduriz who had three spells with his Athletic Club side and scored 172 across all competitions with them, José Marí Bakero who won two league titles with Real Sociedad before leaving for Barça and becoming a part of Johan Cruyff’s dream team or several great Barça youngsters over the years, Spain has provided the brightest talent in the world.
Their golden generation won everything there was for club and country. However, if one compared Barcelona’s youth talents before and now, they’d obviously see a slight dip in La Masía’s talent pool. From Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi to players such as Isaac Cuenca, Martin Montoya, or Jonathan Dos Santos, the Barcelona academy has suffered from mediocrity, and that’s mainly on the board which kept blocking the way for bright youngsters to make their debut at Camp Nou. That’s how Alex Grimaldo, André Onana, or Hector Bellerín find themselves playing respectively for Benfica, Ajax, and Arsenal and fulfilling their enormous potential while being rumored to join Barça every summer.
In recent years, the board tried to cover the flood of homegrown talent with big signings, and most of them have disappointed. Always-injured Ousmane Dembélé, disappointing Philippe Coutinho or underwhelming Nelson Semedo. These are the kind of signings Culés have been treated to, and the complaints have flooded the board. Now, with little to no money in the bank, the board has to use their talents.
After years of blocking the way for Riqui Puig with André Gomes, Arturo Vidal or other older players, the Catalan has finally gotten his chance to impress under Setién, and he has been one of the few bright spots in a disappointing season in Blaugrana. For Ansu Fati, he was meant to be a makeshift left-winger as there was an injury crisis in Barça’s frontline, but his scintillating season has earned him a pro contract along with Puig. And the two brightest La Masía gems will have company next year, as signings will be scarce. Indeed, with no big wallet, there will be no big-money signings such as Lautaro Martinez and that will force Quique Setién and the board to trust in youth. The freshness rapid and energetic youngsters such as Pedri and Alex Collado, who can play as wingers and midfielders will surely help rest the tired veterans in 33-year-old Messi and Suarez and 34-year-old Arturo Vidal, especially when Arthur, 23, has left for Miralem Pjanic, 30, to take his place.
Against intense teams, using a more dynamic system in midfield with tireless players such as Frenkie De Jong, Sergi Roberto, and Riqui Puig could be key to win. On the bench in those sorts of games, Carles Aleña, who can also play as a false nine, could add some energy and the club already told him that they plan to use him after his loan to Real Betis this year. It will be Carles’ first real opportunity as a Culé, and he has to take his chances just as Riqui did.
In defense, Setién might have found the perfect Piqué replacement. Step in, Ronald Araujo. Indeed, the Uruguayan has played a handful of games at Camp Nou but has shown a lot of promise in a limited number of minutes. Piqué’s entering his last few years and trying to incorporate a composed centre-back with a lot of potential could help ease some pressure off the Catalan’s back. The defence also doesn’t need that much revamp as Nelson Semedo has found some sort of form for once, Clément Lenglet is one of the best in his position at only 25, and Junior Firpo could blow up if he’s given the right amount of confidence.
While we covered most of the young talent who are going to play for Barça next year, one enigma remains, and that’s Ousmane Dembélé’s case. As mentioned, the Frenchman has had trouble with his fitness since joining in 2017. However, when he has played, he has shown many promising signs. At 23, he’s one of the most skillful wingers in the league and can terrorize defences just by running at them at full speed. He can provide the width Setién’s team needs, and he has got that X-factor. Also, when he’s in the mood, he’s in the mood for a long time. We’re talking about a player who won the most points in 2018/19 in the league for Barça after Messi. That’s pretty crazy given his injuries.
The young group of players emerging at Barça will help the team when they require change and energy. The older brigade has done its part, winning many league titles and a Champions League. It’s time to have confidence in hungry youngsters rather than feeding the full veterans. Next year will be the year where everyone will get a fair chance, hopefully.
Braithwaite is the weapon Barcelona must keep in their arsenal
When Martin Braithwaite arrived for €18 million from Leganés to Barcelona, the Danish forward was unknown, his move critiqued, his transfer laughed at. Barcelona were allowed to sign him following the long term injury to Ousmane Dembele courtesy of a ‘joker window’ rule in La Liga.
Nine months later, Braithwaite is still a Blaugrana, and has, somehow, managed to earn the legendary ‘9’ jersey! With Luis Suarez departing to Atlético Madrid for peanuts, Braithwaite has remained Barcelona’s only striker option. But where does this equation head?
Braithwaite’s history since his move to Barcelona can be defined with one word: Surprise. Predicted to have no place in the team, a useless transfer and low-tier striker, Braithwaite has positively surprised angered Culés. Predicted to continue the hilarious legacy of Kevin-Prince Boateng who left after a six-month long loan, Braithwaite has comfortably overwhelmed fans.
Coming on as a substitute for Griezmann in the 72nd minute for Antoine Griezmann against Eibar on February 22nd, Braithwaite assisted both Lionel Messi and Arturo Vidal when Barcelona won 5-0 against Eibar.
It seemed like the perfect way to start. After all, Leganés is not Barcelona. In fact, they were 19th, a place above last when Braithwaite’s transfer was made official. However, Braithwaite failed to impress in Barcelona’s 2-0 defeat against Real Madrid. But then, he scored one goal against Mallorca a month later. He didn’t play regularly, though – and rightly so, he was never supposed to be a starter.
Despite getting more and more playtime towards the end of the season, Braithwaite’s importance reduced, eventually linking him with a departure. Fans wanted him out, not understanding why he should stay there. Talks multiplied in the media; Braithwaite was going to leave in the summer. A move never materialized and Braithwaite stayed.
Suarez moved to Atlético, and suddenly, Braithwaite was Barcelona’s only striker, to the general surprise. Not only was he the only striker, but he also received Suarez’s jersey number.
Braithwaite stayed, but Sétien did not. Ronald Koeman arrived at the helm to lead the club, and Braithwaite’s future went bleak. He was not a positive surprise anymore, but the forgotten one.
Against Getafe, in mid-october that Braithwaite finally played his first game of the season, coming off the bench for ten minutes. Games followed, but the 29-year-old did not manage to get more than ten minutes per game, often coming on around the 80th minute.
However, his performance against Dynamo Kyiv might motivate Koeman to give the Danish striker more chances. Not only was this his first start of the season, but also the second time he was on the pitch for the entire 90 for Barcelona.
When the lineup was announced, his inclusion over Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann was questioned, but he ended the game with two goals and an assist. Not to mention, he won the penalty kick which he eventually converted.
It is no exaggeration that the forgotten Danish forward is back to the heart of the topic: Does Barcelona need off the ball runners like Braithwaite, especially when players like Griezmann or Philippe Coutinho fail to perform?
His heatmap against Dynamo Kyiv suggests so. Contrary to Griezmann, Braithwaite does not need the ball to accomplish his work. Whilst Lionel Messi, Coutinho and Griezmann all earn record-high salaries, Braithwaite is a modest player. However, he has a presence in the box that neither of Griezmann or Coutinho have, and that is what he brings to the table. Multiple times could the Braithwaite be seen running to catch what could have been an assist.
Unless Barcelona get to have a proper #9, it’s probably best to keep Braithwaite. In Koeman’s system, a striker is needed, and Braithwaite might be a solution at times. Whilst it seems unlikely for him to start regularly, Koeman should review his options and re-consider his stance on Braithwaite.
Barcelona do not need superstars, they need modest players, and Braithwaite is one of them. Before rushing to conclusions, it is best if the Danish international is given more chances, and hopefully not in the form of a Stan Lee-cameo each game, for yesterday he proved what he can bring to the table — relentless running, a predatory instinct, and a never-dying attitude.