Josep Maria Bartomeu announced his resignation as president of FC Barcelona on Tuesday. With Bartomeu expected to face a vote of no confidence next month, his premature departure was not a huge surprise. What was a surprise, was his revelation that the Catalan club had agreed, in principle, to join a yet-to-be-created European Super League to ease its financial woes.
Bartomeu’s comment will have sent shivers down the spines of the executives who run Europe’s big five leagues. But the fact remains, despite the whispers and background briefings, the competition Barca has agreed to join doesn’t yet exist. Before chasing the riches of a competition that has long been discussed without (so far) materializing, Barca must rebuild if it wants to be one of the continent’s most-feared teams again.
A clearly-defined style of play
The FC Barcelona under Pep Guardiola was defined by the short-passing, possession-based tiki-taka style. It was not always the most thrilling to watch but, with a sudden increase in pace and incisive pattern of passing, it was often deadly. Since Guardiola’s departure, and as players have come and gone at the Nou Camp, the team has had to adapt its style.
While possession is still the name of the game, a Barca team today is willing to go more direct, with a longer pass, or, at times, launch a counter-attack. This sort of evolution is sensible and essential – the most-successful brand of soccer changes relatively frequently in the game’s history. A key challenge for coach Ronald Koeman, then, is shaping a clear style of play that is effective and attractive. And, more importantly, finding a style that his current crop of players can thrive in.
The influence of Messi
Bartomeu’s resignation means Lionel Messi is far more likely to stay at Barcelona next season. Had Messi, the player most consider the greatest ever, left the club where he has played his whole career, it would have been a disaster for Barca. Even at 33, the Argentine is a crucial player and the message his departure would have sent would have been one of a club in chaos.
Now, the club, and especially the new president once elected, must make Messi feel a part of the project again. On the pitch, he is good enough to essentially do his own thing. Koeman would still be wise to consult his captain on the style he sees as the best fit for Barca. There is a reason Messi has power and influence at Barca and Bartomeu leaving is the chance to mend bridges between the club and its biggest star.
Building a squad for now and an academy for the future
Barcelona needs to freshen up its squad if it is going to compete for the Champions League. As well as Messi, the spine of the team includes Sergio Busquets, 32, and Gerard Piqué, 33. Both have been fantastic servants, but neither can play at the top level forever. There are some young players for whom there are high hopes, not least Ansu Fati. Frenkie de Jong and Sergiño Dest are others who could be stars. Overall though, the squad looks like it needs some reinforcements. Like a style of play, Barca need a clearly-defined strategy for signings who can play in their system. It should be a long-term strategy, not one that changes with a new coach or new president.
It may also be time to look at their rightly-famed academy. La Masia has produced some excellent players but is it still moulding enough players who are good enough to make the difference in the Barca first team? A bigger question is: is it still creating the sorts of players Barca need? If the long-term strategy is to move away from tiki-taka, perhaps the education a player receives needs to be re-thought and re-focused on whatever the new style will be. With money looking very tight at the Nou Camp, players from its academy could be more important than ever, so its essential they have the skills and profile the first team need.