How would you rebuild Barcelona? FIFA Career Mode-Style!
We have all grown weary of the current board, who seem more intent on saving face than actually trying to rebuild the team. If I’m not mistaken, we recently fielded the oldest starting XI in the history of the team (!), and undoubtedly we have one of the oldest overall teams currently in Europe. To top it off, many of our young players are either loaned-out, getting little playing time or trying to leave, and those who in the team are being forsaken for previously world-class players who are clearly past their prime. Our bench is also one of the weakest among the best teams in Europe, in spite of spending as much or more than the biggest of them and having a gargantuan salary expenditure. Honestly, it’s embarrassing. And all we can do is hope that “Messi does his thing… again”.
Eric Abidal promised a lot when coming in and I’m not sure how much fault he deserves, but with scandal after scandal, a fresh new board and scouting team would be best, hopefully this summer. This clean-cut opportunity is likely a pipe-dream, unfortunately, and so our rebuild (which they will never call it as such) will have to happen under our current condition, most likely. Even so, I believe it still to be possible.
A successful rebuild/reshuffling would likely include these facets: getting rid of “dead wood”, even some very talented players, in order to ensure there are less egos to manage (and lower salaries!), more room for young players (who deserve it) to grow, and ensuring one has a “teachable” squad for a coach to be able to actually do his job, for once.
Quique Setién promised a lot coming in, but it has soon become apparent that he has little to no control over a team more and more run by players. Is this their fault? In part, yes. But it is also the fault of a board who created a vacuum of power by failing entirely in their jobs. Pique is a loud voice and still performs well-enough on the field, and I would say the same about Busquets.
I’ve had the chance to speak with a friend of mine who spent the last two World Cups as Chaplain of Uruguay’s National Team, and he has spoken often to Suárez. While Suárez is wonderfully talented, he tends to be undisciplined and even a hot head who needs strong leaders around. He also told me that Messi, for all his talent and undying hunger to be the best, possibly suffers from a minor form of autism, making it so he had difficulty forming deeper relationships (perhaps why he hangs on to Suarez) and can’t always express himself well (a key tenet for a leader). My friend also told me: “If Messi didn’t have football, he would have nothing to live for. It’s why he needs to play every single minute of every game, he lives and breathes football.” It’s probably why Messi’s best years were when surrounded by Puyol and Xavi. While he still puts up incredible numbers and is yet the best player in the world, he needs a coach that, while he can delegate authority and trust locker room leaders, puts his fist down and makes the changes needed without fear.
Is the best future coach for Barcelona Xavi? Would he demand the respect of Messi and Pique, trickling down to Suárez, Busquets, etc.? The locker room has become a cancer, where players are acting as coaches, and the coaches simply doing damage control. This must change, for us to see the best out of the twilight years of the GOAT and our beloved team.
3. Sales, new signings, youth players:
First off, who do we keep? Messi, if handled properly, has five or more good years left in him. Busquets, if willing to split-time with Pjanic and FDJ to keep fresh for games against slower opponents, remains useful. Of the older players, Piqué remains a solid piece (but needs a replacement soon!). Rakitic has impressed us all recently and seems to have a humble attitude; he can be useful so long as he is OK seeing the bench in most games.
The younger core to keep includes: Ter Stegen, FDJ, Dembele (need to fix the medical team and get this kid healthy!), Lenglet, Puig, Fati, Semedo (would be nice to upgrade, though!), Firpo (needs development and competition) and Araujo.
Returns: Coutinho, Todibo (should he return), Aleña, Rafinha (did you see him play against us? A fluke?), etc.
New signings: Pjanic is a wonderful talent, watch the tape and you see a lot of Xavi. Is he older? Yes, but he can give us 3 good years. Trincao is young, but has great vision and pace, seems to have a little bit of a young Neymar about him.
Sell/trade: In my opinion, Sergi Roberto is not quite good enough for Barcelona and is aging, having no real spot on the team and may be a good bargaining chip to trade for another player. Alba is well past his prime in a position that Barcelona depends on a wing-backs stamina and speed to make use of their creativity and defensive attributes. He’s simply too old. Vidal, while I love him, will soon drop of “the cliff”. The medical staff (hopefully a new one!) needs to look at Umtiti and make a decision, although I fear his career may be over. Suárez, unless willing to come on from the bench and Messi doesn’t cause a ruckus, would perhaps be better off going to MLS at this point. Griezmann, sadly, does not fit our structure and I can’t visualize how to get the most out of him. He retains great value, especially if a team were willing to exchange him for a player(s). He would be far better somewhere else, and I see Coutinho (who wasn’t as bad as the media made us think) with a better chance to impact the team than him. Braithwaite, while he has great work ethic and hunger, is closing in on 30 himself and still has good value in a sale. If Suárez stays, then Braithwaite goes, and vice versa, yet either case implies a new striker is brought in as the automatic starter (our #1, most important purchase this summer).
Proposed upgrades: We need a #1 striker, a #3 or #4 center-back (depends on faith in Todibo), a #3 or #4 winger (Dembelé insurance), a #1 left-back (perhaps one versatile enough to play both sides) and perhaps a #2 right-back. These players would ideally all be under 24 years old. I won’t add names of who to add here, leaving that to you instead.
The key is to have a deep, youthful and hungry squad, with competition at each spot. None of these things describe our current squad, unfortunately.
First and foremost, I believe we need to find a way to utilize Coutinho or a creative player like him, as strange as that sounds. We will never get our money back from Coutinho, but we all know the kind of player he could be if he regains his swagger. I believe Setien is preparing for this already and has been on the right track in trying to push Messi forward, and away from the midfield. We must understand that it’s one or the other with Messi (especially as he doesn’t run all 90 minutes): either he plays RW or attacking midfielder. Coutinho is a natural attacking midfield, Trincao is a natural RW. Who do you trust to step-up for Messi to slot in the other place? Arguments could be made for Dembele as RW, but it would still mean trusting a young Fati or Trincao as LW. Messi has made his name as a RW who ventures inside, so keeping him as an attacking midfielder takes away his strength, and putting him as a false 9 is more of an emergency option, as he doesn’t have the “muscle” needed to constantly bother CBs.
When our midfield has been strong and youthful enough, we can field a defensive midfielder (think prime Busquets) alongside an all-around midfielder to control the middle (think prime Xavi), with a freer attacking midfield (think prime Iniesta). In the past, this setup allowed the “tridente” to do major damage, with Messi, Suarez and Neymar. Our new midfield could be FDJ (as Busquets), Pjanic (as Xavi) and Coutinho/Puig (as Iniesta), with Messi, a new ST and Dembele as the “tridente”. In my opinion, the reason why Coutinho failed is that he plays as an attacking midfielder, while Valverde allowed Messi to crowd him. We saw how effective our attack suddenly became against Atletico de Madrid when Messi was stuck out wide and Puig was allowed to create (Coutinho is more experienced and has a devastating shot, Puig may do best backing-up him and Pjanic, while also getting solid minutes).
For a truly effective attack, it must be varied to retain the element of surprise. Barca needs Messi saving his energy and attacking from the wide areas first (a versatile forward could interchange with him off-and-on so he could be in front of goal also). We need an attacking midfielder like Coutinho breaking down the defense and opening lanes, we need a midfielder who is willing to play the long-ball occasionally like Pjanic is famed for (Puig has great vision too!). We also need a younger form of Alba and perhaps an upgraded Semedo to give Messi and Dembele support out wide, as well as the threat of a long shot, specialties of Coutinho, Rakitic and Pjanic.
Starting XI in 4-3-3 formation could be:
Goal (need 2 to 3): Ter Stegen (Neto #2)
Back-line (need 8 to 9): RB: Semedo (New player #2, Wague #3), CB: Piqué (Araujo #2), CB: Lenglet (Todibo or new player/youth #2), LB: New player (Firpo #2)
Holding Midfield (need 2 to 3): FDJ (Busquets #2, Pjanic emergency #3)
Midfield (need 2 to 3): Pjanic (Rakitic #2, New player or youth #3)
Attacking Midfield (need 2 to 3): Puig/Coutinho (Aleña or youth #3)
“Tridente” (need 6 or 7): Messi (Trincao #2), New player (Suárez or Braithwaite #2, New player/youth #3), Dembele (Fati #2)