It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly is this current Barcelona team missing. For years now, this has been a question on many people’s minds, coaches included. But despite each of them having a vision of their own, a be-all and end-all plan to bring the club back from the brink, that integral substance kept alluding them.
2020/21 and Ronald Koeman respectively are facing a rather similar challenge. One step forward, two steps back is how you may very well describe the Catalans’ current ordeal, and as the Dutchman has quickly discovered, the path towards improvement is not as straightforward as it seems.
So what does all of that have to do with a 21-year-old centre-back who is yet to play a full season as Barcelona’s starter in defence? After all, Ronald Araújo, as good and as talismanic as he may be already, cannot pull the weight of the whole squad by himself, nor is he the prophecised solution to all of their problems.
He is, however, a spark of hope in an endlessly deep gutter Barcelona have found themselves in. Of course, he is not alone on this quest as the likes of Pedri have also been a true revelation under Koeman. But there is something about Araújo that screams confidence and optimism despite his young age.
In the span of just eight days, the centre-back has already played a total of 360 minutes, putting on a display worthy of admiration in every single one of them. He is also the kind of player who shouts, screams, confronts his challenges and, if needs be, ensures his teammates are as focused as they can be, especially in the absence of the banned Lionel Messi. Remind you of certain someone yet? He should.
Of course, no one is claiming Araújo is indeed Barcelona’s new Carles Puyol but the Uruguayan has the fire, the dedication and the predisposition to mimic the great Catalan warrior and continue his legacy at the Camp Nou. Puyi is one of the greatest captains Barcelona have had in their rich history and despite never being the most skilled, the most flamboyant or the most recognised of the Azulgranas – at least not to the outside world – the defender was the heart and soul of one of the most powerful squads on the planet.
That in itself says a lot and Araújo certainly has big shoes to fill. But that’s the best thing about the youngster. He doesn’t shy away from a challenge, and this could be his biggest one yet.
Does he have what it takes to fill the void no one has successfully filled since Puyol’s retirement? Let’s not forget about Gerard Piqué, of course, but at 33 years of age and fighting injuries, he is no longer a long-term option for the Catalans.
Looking further into the future, however, Araújo may well be. In a season full of ups and downs, the Uruguayan has remained defensively solid in the face of every opponent, regardless if Barcelona ended up winning or losing the game.
Of course, there are even bigger challenges that lie ahead but knowing him, we can say for sure that he’ll meet them head-on and without fear like a true warrior would. Again, we cannot say for sure he’ll have a legacy even Puyol would be proud of, but if these early signs are any indication at all, Araújo certainly has what it takes and more.
Now all that remains is for Barcelona to ensure his development proceeds as smoothly as possible and that the defender is given the right environment to reach his potential. That also means putting the right people around him and above all, trusting him to succeed.
With Piqué’s season all but over already and none of the other defenders brimming with confidence, chances are 2020/21 could be all about the Uruguayan in the backline.
These situations can make or break a young talent him. Is he going to rise up to the occasion and continue dominating?
Only time will tell but Barcelona faithful will surely hope he does.
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.