Quique Setién’s recent line-ups have not convinced the culés whatsoever. It is time Barcelona leave the old guard and dressing room politics behind and trust in youth again.
FC Barcelona are the most political club in world football. This gargantuan side from the northeast of Spain is one of the most successful in Spanish history, but politics always led it. During the Franco regime, Barcelona were the club of the resistance, with the Camp Nou being bombed in 1938 due to the institution’s political views. Now, they are still politically led. For example, they still have the Senyera on their badge, to show which side the culés stand on concerning the separation of Catalonia.
However, far from actual politics, the Catalans are still the most political club in the world. The elections, mandates and ruling of the club make it as though the club has its little society, where people from all parts of the world can associate. Between players and managers, debates surrounding politics and how the coach should manage his squad is always a hot topic.
Coach Pep Guardiola wasn’t the friendliest of men, especially with players he did not like, such as Yaya Touré and Samuel Eto’o, but he knew how to grasp the attention of his players when he wanted to. Luis Enrique had this type of charisma too, and he never backed down when he had clear ideas, but he came at a wrong time, where the politics of the club got messed up. His predecessor, Gerardo Tata Martino, suffered a lot during the Sandro Rosell days, the same man that managed to suck the love for Barcelona out Pep Guardiola’s system.
Ernesto Valverde was a cause and victim of the squad’s problems at the same time | Photo by Imago
After Luis Enrique succumbed to the pressure, Ernesto Valverde succeeded him, but something was off. No palpitating press conferences, no hunger, no nothing. Valverde seemed to be a robot whenever he coached the team, and sometimes looked as if he picked the team because of the name behind the shirt and not the form on the pitch.
Of course, el Txingurri got results. Winning two La Liga titles is no small feat. But he also had his failures with squads that shouldn’t have been on the pitch. The best example could be Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian spent one year eating up minutes other players could have profited from by playing like a ghost, showing once or twice in a full campaign.
“First team players must know that the talented kids will get the chance if they deserve it. The first team players cannot relax. That must be clear“
in his presentation as a Barça manager
With Valverde’s sacking bringing Quique Setién to Barcelona, culés all over the world thought all this favouritism would change. To be fair to the fans, Quique sold everyone dreams in his first press conferences by saying that he would pick teams on merit and not because of reputation. Well, he hasn’t done that since coming.
In his first games, he showed some character by subbing on youngsters Riqui Puig against Granada or Álex Collado at Valencia’s Mestalla. The loss at Mestalla was a tough one to take, and Setién changed something that day. He reverted to Valverde’s way of picking players, and Riqui got limited minutes while Collado is yet to see the pitch since that 2–0 loss to Valencia in February. Supporters would see ageing and tired stars get underserved game time.
“No player from La Masía has convinced me that he deserves a spot in the first team”
After quarantine, Barcelona fans saw Ronald Araújo in the line-up in Mallorca and thought that the former Real Betis manager took the time to figure in those three months without football. Luis Suárez got a cameo in that game but looked as if he wasn’t going to start a week later on Seville. Setién said that the Uruguayan striker wasn’t fit enough to play the whole 90, but that’s precisely what Suárez did at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. Despite more than poor performances in the league prior to the Celta game, Suárez got the nod every time, eating up the minutes of Ansu Fati, Martin Braithwaite and Antoine Griezmann to an extent.
Now, after yesterday’s 2–2 draw at Balaídos, culés were left wondering why didn’t Araújo start in front of Umtiti. The Uruguayan defender had a stellar performance two weeks ago and seeing Samuel Umtiti, who sacrificed his knee for the World Cup in 2018, start ahead of him was a little irreverent by Setién, a man who never holds anything back when talking.
A debate is growing at the Camp Nou
Many people are starting to believe the younger players have deserved a place in the squad over the veterans, but it seems like these old stars do not want to sit on the bench for too long. How long can a team get impressive results with old and tired legs when they have younger blood through their ranks? Why did Riqui Puig have to put on a superhero suit against Athletic Club to deserve a start in Vigo? Don’t these old heads know how to keep fit?
These questions have emerged, and rightfully so. Playing the old guard every match, with this hectic schedule, is suicidal. Yes, Gerard Piqué, Luis Suárez, Arturo Vidal or obviously Lionel Messi are world-class stars. Still, they are all over 32 years old now; it is not sustainable to keep them playing their whole life, especially when kids like Puig at 20 and Fati at 17 are loving life in their city and look as though they are ready to take over.
“I’m not equivocal when it comes to assessing players from the academy. I’ll give the youngsters a chance when I can count on them to win games”
Riqui, Ansu, Aleñá, Araújo or Collado have to put on so many brilliant performances to get the call once. Still, Samuel Umtiti, Vidal or Suárez just have to make a tackle, score or defend well during a game to get unlimited game time. It’s a far cry from Quique’s first words when he became the blaugrana coach, and this blindness leaves fans perplex on a day to day basis. This whole situation is the reason why Eric García is enjoying life in Manchester when Barcelona actively search for Piqué’s replacement, for example, or why many other hot prospects have been leaving La Masía in recent years too.
Of course, the team cannot rely on kids to guide them to titles, but they cannot rely solely on old and experienced players, sometimes younger is better. Barcelona will be second in the league if Real Madrid win or draw against Espanyol, and the culés need to find a solution to their problems quickly. Trusting in youth is the way to go.
The Copa del Rey could be Barcelona’s only saving grace this season
With the league out of sight, and the Champions League a distant dream, the Copa del Rey could be the saving grace Barcelona are looking for this season.
As much as it wrenches a Culés‘ heart to see the club they once witnessed conquer Europe with all it’s might now look like a pale shadow of its former self, it’s also vital to come to terms with the fact that Barça are still in the process of recovery, patching their wounds while attempting to rediscover its former glory.
Winning the Champions League and La Liga will invariably be the main motive at a club as big as Barcelona. Still, for once, the chances of contending with Europe’s elite seems immensely slim, especially with the continuous spells of inconsistencies the Azulgranas have endured this season.
Woefully, the club have also made it a customary practice to flounder against relatively bigger oppositions, cracking under pressure in amateur fashion. It’s safe to assume these old habits will once again die hard.
It might be a little too late to kickstart a challenge for the league, as Atletico Madrid do not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down in the league and teams like Bayern Munich and Manchester City are always major forces to reckon with in the Champions League. Not to mention, last year’s finalists – PSG – await Barça in the round of 16, who will undoubtedly be a tough nut to crack over the two legs. Having a shot against established sides in one of the club’s most vulnerable states does not seem plausible in the slightest.
However, despite the chances of winning the two big trophies looking ever so minuscule, the Copa Del Rey stands in solitude, waiting to reconcile with the team that has one way or another always found itself reclaiming this esteemed trophy as it habitually dresses in the Blaugrana colours at the end of the campaign.
Having been knocked out disgracefully in the Spanish Super Cup finals, the Copa del Rey may end up being a crucial source of silverware for the Catalan giants. The prize may not be as notable as the aforementioned competitions, yet it undeniably holds value and possesses the ability to save Barcelona’s turbulent season.
Albeit there’s no guaranteeing the road to success will be a stroll in the park for the Blaugranas, it’s apparent that the situation has been made considerably easier, as the fickle finger of fate blesses Barça’s fortunes with the shocking exits of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Additionally, the fact that Sevilla square up against Valencia and Real Betis lock horns with Real Sociedad implies that two prominent teams will be forced to bid farewell to the competition in the next round, making Barça’s road to the final substantially less complicated.
While the Copa Del Rey’s primary stages are typically utilized to award youngsters and players from the B team opportunities with the first team, Ronald Koeman understandably appears to be opting for his best players in the upcoming round of 16 clash against Rayo Vallecano, who sit at 4th place in the Segunda Division.
Owing to the fact that two of Spain’s biggest teams have already departed the competition indicates that there is simply no margin for error and seeing how even the underdogs cannot be underestimated, Barca must use this as a lesson to showcase their winning mentality, even against sides from the lower divisions.
“It is an important moment of the season, we are doing well away from home. We will put up a strong line-up tomorrow. We know that the Cup is the shortest way to win something.”Ronald Koeman | Pre-game press conference
For a team that has basked in silverware and has reigned supreme on the big stage for years, it’s absolutely quintessential to get back to winning ways. After a season full of turmoil, the Copa Del Rey is the least Barça should salvage. With the context perfect for victory, the acclaimed Spanish Competition could very well be Barça’s saving grace this season, and possibly sow the seeds for success.
Of course, it is too soon to write Barça off in any competition yet, but if there’s one thing the club have proven time and time again, it is that they are still a serious work in progress. That said, the Copa Del Rey would be a respectable achievement for Barcelona during these troubling times. Although it may seem as if it is simply an acceptance of mediocrity, the cup would be a great stepping stone for the future, a chance to not only lift silverware again; but also to get into the habit of winning.