It seemed so long ago that Barcelona were the most lethal and most feared team in the world. An impenetrable defence, a fluid midfield and an explosive attack were the ingredients for a team that saw it win four Champions League titles within nine years, between 2006 and 2015. Now they are in what can potentially be a crisis. It’s all come crashing down hard for Barcelona in recent years, here’s the signs that they’re no longer the force that they were.
Letting Dani Alves go for nothing
For the majority of his career, Dani Alves was one of the best right backs in the world, particularly going forward. Signed from Sevilla in 2008 and helping Barca win the sextuple in his first season at the club, Alves was a feature down the right hand side of the pitch for Barcelona, his bursting runs forward opened up opportunities for the rest of the team, and he had a keen eye for a whipped in cross or even a screamer from long range. He is on the wrong side of thirty yet is still considered the best right back in the game, so it was considered odd for them to not renew his contract in 2016 and let Juventus snap him up on a free. The problem here, is that Alves hadn’t really regressed and continued to enjoy a world class season with Juventus, helping them reach the champions league final in 2017, before again making a move to PSG. After Alves’ departure, the right back position was an obvious weak link for Barcelona which made the decision to let him go all the more confusing, especially as the man himself called out the board for their mistreatment of him and other players. They have signed a right back in Nelson Semedo as a long-term replacement for this problem, but Alves’ continued form still shows that letting him go was the wrong decision, and it highlights more glaring problems facing the club.
They can no longer hold onto their major stars
In the modern era of dominance for Barcelona, there was always one standout attacker for them. First it was Ronaldinho, and then it was Lionel Messi. The problem facing the team currently is that there is no obvious candidate to take the mantle from Messi, who has just turned thirty. It was meant to be Neymar, as he was always tipped to be Messi’s heir at Barcelona. That ship has sailed as he secured a world record move to PSG as they had activated his mammoth release clause. Neymar left, and there was nothing Barcelona could do about it. This has even bigger ramifications than Dani Alves’ transfer, as now there is no player to help lead the line when Messi or Luis Suarez cannot do so. Few players have Neymar’s prodigious talent at beating players with skill, combined with superb passing and goal scoring abilities; he was more than a cog in the attack he was one of the main stars. You only need to look at his performance against PSG in the miraculous 6-1 comeback to see how important he was to them. Him leaving his a clear cut sign that things are very wrong in Barcelona. They were usually able to hold onto star players until they decided they were surplus to requirements, but for them to lose Neymar before he’s even hit his prime shows that they’re not the powers that they once were.
They have lost their leverage in the transfer market
For so long Barcelona was able to sign seemingly any player that they had felt like signing. Thierry Henry, Dani Alves, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, Jordi Alba, Neymar, Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez, are just some of the star players that they have been able to sign from other clubs, without any major hassle. Those players have either replaced each other or other players, and it allowed the club to maintain a consistent place at the top and consistently have a strong squad. Now they can no longer do this it seems. Whether or not their failings in the transfer market can be blamed on the incompetence of club President Josep Bartomeu is up for debate, but what can’t be debated is that their transfers have been appalling as of late. They haven’t signed a star player since Suarez in 2014, opting for squad players that have either underperformed or flat out flopped. Players like Thomas Vermaelen and Andre Gomes spring to mind, players that were expected to help out but have instead hindered Barcelona. Gomes especially, as he was expected to be a first team midfielder, but is now considered to be an expected flop. Where they have tried to sign star players, they have failed in recent times. In 2017, they were linked with Paolo Dybala, Phillipe Coutinho (as replacements for Neymar) and Marco Verrati. They got neither. With the first two they simply couldn’t force the deal to be done like they had with previous stars, and with Verrati he had chosen to stay with PSG, further proving their diminishing status. They were forced to sign Ousmane Dembele and Paulinho instead. While Dembele has all the talent in the world, $125million is simply too much for a twenty year old, and Paulinho was a flop with Tottenham Hotspur and cannot possibly expected to lead Barcelona’s midfield as Andres Iniesta ages. They simply need to step up their game in the transfer market, if they want to be dominant again.
Lack of youth production
From the legendary Johan Cruyff’s time as a player with and the manager of Barcelona, helped turn La Masia into the famed youth academy of Barcelona. A big part of Cruyff’s philosophy, and eventually Barcelona’s was developing these young players together, and instilling them the famous, fluid passing style of football that Barcelona is known for, and the fact that these young stars learnt it together, helped Barcelona and the Spanish National Team reach unrivalled success. It’s too difficult to name every star that has graduated from La Masia, but the list includes Pep Guardiola, Xavi, Andres Iniest, Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique. La Masia was as much a part of the team’s identity as anything. However, recently there has simply been a lack of star youth players emerging from the academy like the aforementioned players. While the youth teams of Barca have consistently lit up the opposition, no one significant has come up through the academy and made a huge impact in recent years. The only current star to have come through La Masia as of late was Thiago Alcantara, whom Barcelona foolishly let go to Bayern Munich in 2013, so they don’t even get to benefit from his development, especially as he plays in midfield, one of their weakest positions as of now. Not since Sergio Busquets has a star player gone through the academy, and graduated to achieve success with the first team. For a team that has prided itself on its youth system and academy, they better return to producing superstars, or else they lose a part of their soul as a club, as well as have to rely on the unpredictable transfer market to sign good players, which they cannot do themselves anyway.
It’s been difficult seeing a great club like Barcelona fall apart, so we can only help they are able to rectify these mistakes and return to the top and return to competing for glory.