Ronald Koeman’s arrival was a highly debatable matter in Catalonia, both among the fans and the media alike. The Dutchman is a Barcelona legend, there are no two ways about, but came in as a man whose reputation preceded him, and not necessarily all in good ways either.
He was touted to be a man set in his ways, adamant on doing things the way he envisioned them from start to finish. Some may say this is exactly what Barcelona had lacked prior to his arrival. After all, managerial stints post the Luis Enrique era were quite mellow, to say the least.
Both Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setién couldn’t really impose their will, neither on the board nor the players themselves, resulting in them becoming puppets that were promptly discarded once their usefulness date expired. Enter Koeman. A strong-willed coach who will have things his way or he won’t have them at all. Sometimes, unfortunately, for the detriment of the whole squad.
So what does all of that have to do with the main protagonist of this story? Well, Carles Aleñá is just one of the players who simply cannot be happy with how things are shaping up in the Catalan capital. Of course, the overall results are poor, that much is certain, but on a personal level, the La Masia gem has experienced a big hit.
Yes, we’ve seen Aleñá feature in a couple of games lately but that was only because Koeman had no other options after injuries galore had decimated the squad. Prior to that, Aleñá hadn’t started a single game for Barcelona since December 2019, which is a disappointing fact on its own.
The reason behind that lies in the change in formation. With the introduction of the 4-2-3-1, Koeman insists on two entirely different midfield profiles for his double-pivot. Those players, at least according to him, have to possess certain characteristics that Aleñá doesn’t have.
“With the players we have, 4-2-3-1 is the best system.”Ronald Koeman | Post-match press conference
Prior to the game against Osasuna in La Liga some time ago, Koeman addressed this issue in the pre-game press conference, saying:
“The system change cost Aleñá a bit at the beginning of the season, but he is improving a lot to be a pivot for this team. He is changing things he needs to be a Barça midfielder. You have to give him time to improve.”
So clearly, it’s the system change that’s affecting the player’s involvement, not explicitly his overall quality. He also says to give him time so what awaits Aleñá further down the line is anybody’s guess. However, rumours are mounting that he might indeed be sold once the January transfer window opens to accumulate additional funds since Barcelona are, for the lack of a better term, penniless.
But this then begs the question: should Barça be looking to offload him or should they look to somehow make use of his skillset after all? For me, there’s no doubt in my mind the latter option is surely the way to go, with a slight caveat we’ll discuss shortly.
Koeman mentions the system change as the root problem here and says Aleñá is not suited for a pivot role. Of course, in a 4-2-3-1, there’s only ever room for two midfielders in the team since the third and the advanced one is more of an attacker in his own right.
But do players like Philippe Coutinho or even Sergio Busquets deserve to start ahead of the young talent? Aleñá brings a completely unique set of skills to the table, an arsenal no one else possesses or even if they do, it’s not executed with the same proficiency and smoothness. The 22-year-old is a creative outlet that can break the opposition lines but is also shaping up to become the orchestrator whose role is to speed up or slow down the tempo of play according to the team’s needs.
This type of versatility makes him an invaluable asset that understands Barcelona’s main principles and executes them perfectly. Add to that his swiftness and agility on and off the ball and you get a La Masia prototype midfielder through and through.
If he wasn’t their own academy product, Barcelona would likely be lining up to buy him for millions and millions of euros from other teams. However, since he is, they take him for granted. There are definitely players that could and should be sold for funds but Aleñá is most certainly not among those names.
Of course, players have to adapt to the system, not the other way around, but when the system is hurting the team, maybe a slight change is needed after all. But such is Aleñá’s quality that he’s slowly becoming a midfielder who can fit Koeman’s mould.
Transitioning to a pivot was never really a route we’d expect him to take but it’s also a welcoming adaptation that will only serve to expand his never-ending arsenal. And all of that at the tender age of just 22.
One thing has to be clear — he’s not perfect and he won’t play every game without faults. But in a team riddled with underperformers, it does feel like selling him of all people would be a travesty. That being said, should he really stay in an environment where he won’t get a chance to play and improve?
Even if that team is the team of his youth, the answer should always be a resounding no. So far, he’s been willing to risk it all for a chance to succeed in Catalonia, back home, but all of that may still change if his exile continues.
Let’s hope Koeman realises this before it’s too late.