Changing of the guard: Last of Barcelona’s golden age coming to an end
One month into the 2022/23 season, Barcelona fans have already started to understand the players that will be a part of Xavi’s setup in the mid to long term.
There are a few nailed-on pieces in the starting lineup in the form of Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele, Jules Kounde, Ronald Araujo, Pedri, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Everyone else is replaceable, both temporarily and permanently.
Sergio Busquets is still a starter, but his contract expires next year. The Spaniard has shown no sign of extending it; in fact, talk of the town is that he would have already left Barça had there been no World Cup this year.
He is set to seal a move to Inter Miami as soon as his contract comes close to fruition.
Therefore, the coaching staff is already looking for alternatives for the Spaniard until Barcelona can sort out a long-term replacement. Likely in the form of Martin Zubimendi.
Earlier this season, Xavi deployed Frenkie de Jong and Pedri in a double pivot against Real Sociedad. Franck Kessie has played a handful of minutes in that role, too. Most recently, de Jong put up an absolute show against Elche playing as a single pivot, albeit against ten men.
Of the players currently slashed from their starting spot are two other captains: Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba.
With the arrival of Andreas Christensen and Jules Kounde, it was quite clear that Pique was going to be demoted to a rotation role this season. However, the extent of his non-participation is a bit surprising, to say the least.
The veteran has played a grand total of 135 minutes this season out of a possible 720. One cannot go as far as question Kounde, Ronald Araujo, Eric Garcia, and Christensen’s performance, but Pique’s bench role feels like a part of the plan from a higher power — the administration, not god.
That is because rumours suggest that if the former Manchester United man plays less than 35% of the available games this season, his contract – lasting until 2024 – could be unilaterally terminated in 2023.
That seems like a drastic measure, though, especially given how much Pique has helped Barça in the last few seasons. He has taken multiple salary cuts and deferrals to help the club register new signings.
Sergi: 1 year contract, struggling with injury problems.— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) September 22, 2022
Busquets: 1 year contract, no intention to renew.
Piqué: 1 year contract if he plays less than 35% of the matches this season.
Alba: 2 year contract, relegated to a bench role and unhappy at the club.
End of an era? pic.twitter.com/veyFE0Kb9E
All said and done, though, Pique has forever been a man of high self-esteem. The Spaniard will likely leave the club if push comes to shove.
On the other hand, Alba was seemingly close to leaving Barcelona this summer itself. The club had reached an agreement with Inter Milan over a loan deal, but the move did not come to fruition as the defender refused to leave.
He faces competition from not one, but two compatriots this season. Alejandro Balde seems to be on top of the pecking order, having assisted three goals already this season. Then, Marcos Alonso features on top of the pack after the first shuffle.
The interesting part is Alba still has a lot to offer. He finished last season as one of Barcelona’s best creators, with ten assists in the league.
He has, admittedly, lost a bit of intensity in the defence, but Alba is still the archetypal full-back. His offensive output is undoubtedly one of the best in Europe, and he probably knows it himself.
With two years still left on his contract, it will not be surprising if he chooses to leave Barcelona for a new challenge. Reports suggest that he is, alongside Busquets, tempted by a move to MLS for one last big payday.
We must not forget Sergi Roberto, either. Written off by fans, the La Masia graduate has started the new season brilliantly. Despite playing just five games, he has a goal and an assist to his name.
Truthfully though, it seems like the only reason Roberto is at the club is because of Xavi. The coach pushed for his extension during off-season and was granted his wishes, albeit in the form of a one-year renewal.
Roberto could well be awarded another extension if he does well this season, but the fact of the matter is that he has been struggling with injuries over the last two seasons. He picked up one against Viktoria Plzen, too, and missed the following three games, then.
The board is ready to back Xavi to the horizon and back, but even he would be hard-pressed to defend Roberto in his current condition.
Pique, Busquets, Alba, and Roberto – all part of the Made in La Masia gang, the golden age of Barcelona, the final line of the old guard, could well and truly call it time when this season ends.
And while Barcelona have replacements ready for most of them, it truly makes you feel old. The end of an era.