Not even a week into his appointment as head coach and Ronald Koeman has swiftly got into action. The new season is not even a month away, and the club need to take quick transfer decisions. From the flurry of reports coming out in recent days, it looks like Koeman has promising plans for Barcelona. Furthermore, they include some ruthless decisions involving the heavyweights.
Winning over the Barcelona fanbase seems to be a rather simple task for any incoming manager. A brief discourse on the greatness of Johann Cruyff, a convincing talk about the greatness of tiki-taka and the promise of bringing back the golden days seems to seal the deal. An additional proposal of playing academy and youth players ahead of veterans is enough for Culés to start worshipping the manager even before the beginning of their tenure. Though it doesn’t imply that their intentions were flawed, one is only remembered for what one does and not for statements made in the media.
Steve Jobs once said, “To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.”
Every man that walks into the dressing room as a coach undoubtedly has that inner fire to succeed. For all their good intentions to leave a positive mark, however, it is a daunting task to execute them. The risk of losing the dressing room, and thereby the job is always looming. It’s not easy to have the spine to take calls directly affecting the heavyweights, and clearly even Quique Setien fell prey to the same circumstance.
Suárez, Messi and Piqué — the club’s heavyweights discussing during the La Liga match against Villareal | Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Just 5 days into his post as the manager of FC Barcelona and Ronald Koeman already seems to be showing signs of some much-needed boldness. Being a club legend himself, one expects him to have significant leverage even over the dressing room icons. Additionally, with a new board set to come in within 6 months, his longevity as the manager is questionable even before the commencement of the season. With nothing much to lose, he has not held back in taking big decisions.
The team in dire need of a rebuild. Barcelona has the highest wage bill in Europe, with several underperforming stars being paid ridiculously high wages. There is an urgent need to inject young blood into the side and cast away some of the older players. And for the first time in many years, it looked possible after the calamitous night in Lisbon. All that was needed was a manager who would not fear the repercussions of taking these big calls. In comes Ronald Koeman.
Koeman seems to have a clear cut plan in mind. Having a definitive idea of the players you count on and those you don’t is a fundamental step in any rebuild. According to multiple reports, the Dutchman has personally called and informed the likes of Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal, and Samuel Umtiti that he has not included them in his plans for the coming season. A one on one conversation directly communicating the news to the players shows the dutchman’s professionalism and sincerity. A simple, yet gracious gesture that does away with the melodrama of media and press leaks.
Ivan Rakitic replacing Arturo Vidal in the La Liga match against Sevilla, 2019 | Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
At the same time, mainstays like Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique have been instructed to buckle up. Unlike previous seasons, they will not be guaranteed a role as a default starter. Selection will be based on merit, as is the universal paradigm. Concurrently,the club is aiming to bring in reinforcements for the centre-back and left-back positions this summer, intensifying the pressure on these stalwarts.
Sergio Busquets finds himself in a novel situation too. After a mixed season with the progressive trend of his decline, it seems to be ascertained that he will see a drastic reduction in game time. His place in the team might not be in jeopardy, yet there will a change in role for the midfielder. Ronald Koeman’s admiration of Frenkie de Jong is no secret. The duo have worked together previously too and the results have been promising. The dutch coach has made it clear that he intends on playing Frenkie closer to the defence. Further, the arrival of Miralem Pjanic from Juventus adds competition for the same position. Koeman prefers to play his cards in a 4-2-3-1, and despite having a double pivot, Sergio may find himself at the bottom of the pecking order. Undoubtedly, this will be the season where he is slowly phased out.
Sergio Busquets during the 8-2 Champions League disaster against Bayern Munich | Photo by Manu Fernandez/Pool via Getty Images
On the contrary, there has been positive news for the likes of Phillipe Coutinho. After a treble winning season on loan at Bayern Munich, the coach reportedly called the Brazilian to inform him about his inclusion in next seasons plans. Coutinho’s last spell at Barcelona did not go down well, but one must remember that he played out of position for most of the season. Moreover, a change in role could mean a change in fortune. The manager has communicated that he prefers to play the players in their natural position. It might sound optimistic, but there may still be an opportunity with Coutinho under the new manager.
Koeman may be merciless while making decisions, but it is heartening to see his sincerity. Clearing the deadwood would do a world of good to the younger players who are struggling to breakthrough. Not to mention, it would be relieving even to the club’s finances. At the same time, he seems to be the right man to keep the remaining heavyweights on their toes. It is certainly time to move on from some club legends, and hopefully, they get the fitting farewell they deserve. Barcelona has had a player’s dressing room for too long, and it is time for a dominating figure to take over the reins and restyle it to a manager’s dressing room. Undoubtedly, we will see a fresher and younger team henceforth, and hopefully a successful one.
Barcelona’s rebirth is inevitable, but it will take time
Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner. In early March, the club will finally get their long-awaited new president following the tyranny that was Josep Maria Bartomeu’s tenure. And perhaps ‘tyranny’ may be a bit too harsh of a verdict, but how else would you call years of systematically destroying the club, consciously or subconsciously, plunging it deeper and deeper into the abyss? On second thoughts, ‘tyranny‘ will just have to do.
But all of that is firmly behind us now. In just weeks’ time, the Catalan giant will rise once more, reborn from the ashes of its fallen self to conquer the world anew. But things in football are never really that easy, are they? Everyone knows you can’t win all the time.
Even the greatest of teams such as Pep Guardiola’s very own Barcelona had their rise, peak and subsequent downfall. And there are not many clubs out there who have faced the harsh reality of building new dynasties from scratch as much as Barcelona have.
So if history is any indication at all, change takes time and the upcoming presidential tenure at the club will be no different. But let’s get one thing clear right away – this is not meant to bash any of the three candidates nor promote them either. All three of Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Antoni Freixa have their own visions of the direction in which to take their beloved club.
However, to think everything will suddenly and immediately change upon their appointment would be foolish. No, in March, we’re not getting the rebirth; we’re only getting the very beginning of one. With a new president sitting in that chair and appointing a new board, Barcelona will once again lay the groundwork for future success.
The immediate appointment of the new upper hierarchy might boost the morale, of course. And that in itself could then translate to a boost on the pitch as well. But a new president can only do as much in such a short amount of time. The real battles are always fought on the pitches and there, Barcelona are still looking like a broken team.
This too, of course, can be fixed over time. With the appropriate staff behind the scenes, a much better scouting department, physios, psychologists and a step-by-step tactical and squad overhaul, we can start hoping for result. But those are all long-term goals that require patience both from us the fans and the team itself.
Unfortunately, years of failure in the market, chasing ghosts of our pasts and blind picks, have resulted in a financially distorted club. Where once was wealth and prosperity now we only have crumbs of former glory. Yes, Barcelona are still a powerful outfit that can and should be aiming to attract only the very best.
But we also have to remember that each of the three candidates is seemingly putting a lot of emphasis on going back to the roots. ‘The roots‘ here mean La Masia, the academy and the youth. But just as is the case with any sporting project, especially the ones founded on the strength coming from within, this takes time to develop. Rome wasn’t built overnight. Nor was La Masia or Barcelona’s legacy, for that matter.
The Azulgranas really do have incredible talent in their youth ranks and this is definitely a pool of players that should be utilised in the future. We shouldn’t, however, expect to find the new Golden Generation right around the corner.
We have been fooled into thinking the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi are the standard and the rule. Unfortunately, as much as we like to keep telling ourselves otherwise, they are very much the exception to the rule; the standout and likely a one-in-a-million crop of players that flourished under a brilliant manager.
So many things had to be in the right place for them to make it, and somehow, the stars had aligned back then to ensure their development into footballing giants. It would be foolish to expect the same thing to happen again, or rather, to happen that quickly.
But with the right foundations, the right personnel, trust and hope, why shouldn’t we believe in it happening once more? After all, we have the secret recipe for success but are too afraid to use it. Why? Well, the times have changed since Barcelona last ruled the world.
Back in 2009, success was not guaranteed nor was is so expected and the fans were nowhere near as spoilt as they are now. Back then, the coach actually had the time to build a squad, groom them and mould them in his image. That’s what Pep did and miraculously enough, it didn’t take him years, not even months, to start making something truly incredible.
And in so many ways, 2021 mirrors that exact same situation. Before Pep’s time, Frank Rijkaard had been struggling for a while and his team, despite having some big names, was in a need of an overhaul. In that regard, Barcelona were entering their transitional period, the same one they are experiencing now.
Rijkaard bowed out from the stage having finished third in La Liga and having exited both Copa del Rey and the Champions League in the semi-finals. It was a valiant effort for a broken team but ultimately, he finished his tenure with a trophyless season. But in so many ways, that 2007/08 campaign was a start of a new story; one that promoted trust in the youth, power from within and confidence in the beginning of a rise to glory.
So what can we learn from that? We must accept that change is sometimes necessary but that it can cost a lot. In football, results and trophies matter, that’s in the nature of the sport. But sometimes you have to take a step back before you jump two steps forward. 2020 wasn’t easy and 2021 is looking equally as exhausting and challenging. But it’s also necessary.
Already, in a season that may seem full of pain, anger and disappointment, we’ve seen glimpses of what’s to come. Players like Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ronald Araújo rising to the occasion to guide us to a better future. That future may also be without Lionel Messi, the one player who embodies this club the most.
But we should also remember Pep had to lose, or rather let go of Ronaldinho to kickstart his great overhaul. Both players were and still are icons of the club but a new era requires new heroes and new leaders. So even if Messi leaves this coming summer, the world won’t suddenly stop, nor should Barcelona’s strive for greatness.
In March, a new president will get elected and the foundation for a better future will finally be set. It will take time and it won’t suddenly solve all of our problems.
But it will give us a push that we oh so need. Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner.
Don’t give up hope in the moment of our greatest triumph.