Will Barcelona really be affected by the transfer ban?
With Barcelona not allowed to sign players until 2016, can they survive a year without making new signings?
From the dizzying heights reached under Pep Guardiola to the darkness surrounding the club right now after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld their transfer ban, Barcelona have truly exemplified the fact that no club is infallible. The intricacies involved in their dealings, especially at the administrative level, have led to Barca’s suffering; they have been penalised for breaching rules relating to signing players below the age of 18.
Despite their protests, the board must admit that they could have handled things more efficiently. Now, having been sanctioned with bans for two transfer windows, questions are being raised on whether Barcelona will be able to remain among the elite teams in Europe.
Let us take a look at how the transfer ban will affect Barcelona.
Changes at boardroom level
Mes Que un Club (more than a club) – these words symbolize all that FC Barcelona as a football club and a sporting institution stand for. They have always prided themselves on being for the people rather than a commercial football club. But lately, as football grows bigger as a commercial entity, Barcelona under Rossell made some compromises which did not go down well with all the fans.
The transfer ban was not the first controversy the club got dragged into. The Neymar transfer saga, which ultimately led to Rossell’s resignation from the club, tarnished the image Barcelona had long worked to uphold. The shirt sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways further led them to deviate from their old practice of not having any sponsors.
But thankfully, unlike clubs in England and other major Leagues across Europe, the club is not owned by a billionaire who has a monopoly on the goings-on in the club. It is the fans who own and operate the club, so they have a major say in what happens by choosing their favoured candidate at the Presidential elections which will take place in 2016. There have also been calls for the elections to be held earlier, as not many see hope in the current administration.
Josep Bartmeu, who succeeded Rossel, lacks credibility as he was not elected by the Cules. He faces stiff competition from the enigmatic ex-President Juan Laporta and Catalan businessman Augusti Bendito, who had also contested the elections earlier when Rossell had emerged victorious. Whichever way we look at it, it seems certain that change is imminent at the club, and the off-field drama has had a bad effect on the performances on the pitch as well.
Defensive worries linger
The powers that be at Barcelona must be scratching their heads in their bid to find a way to solve this problematic area of their play. The transfer ban immensely adds to the pressure of trying to find solutions in their defensive department.
The recent transfer window saw them bringing in Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermalean to add more steel to their defence. Mathieu has proved to be a good player, but unfortunately just being good doesn’t cut it at a club which aspires to win everything. That brings us to Vermalean, who could prove to be a major factor post-injury; the fans must be hoping that he can return to the form which made him the captain at Arsenal.
Players like Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano continue to deputise at the role while they also have Gerard Pique and Marc Batra who need to step up their game.
But the problem isn’t just with the quality of the defenders; it also has a lot to do with how the defenders are asked to play. Barcelona are known for their high pressing game which leaves their defence vulnerable to quick counter-attacks. Now that the transfer ban looks unlikely to be upturned, what they can change is their defensive strategy. A more conservative approach at the defensive end could work well.
Let’s face it, there are a dearth of quality defenders at the market who can quickly adapt to Barca’s style, and the defensive debate has been going on for years. Maybe the ban will help Barcelona devise a new strategy at least on the defensive front
La Masia carries on
It is funny how people think that Barcelona will fade away because they cannot buy players for two transfer windows. We need to remember that the Golden Barcelona generation of 2006-2013 mostly consisted of Academy graduates who honed their skills at La Masia. Just a few years back, Barcelona could field a full team of home grown players who could arguably beat any side on the planet.
It is not like La Masia has suddenly become irrelevant. In fact, they have moved to a bigger facility with better training facilities, and the work behind the scenes goes on. They are continuously producing exciting talents, case in point being Munir El Hadadi and Sandro Ramirez’s impressive performances when given a run this season. The list of potential stars awaiting their turn to grace the Camp Nou arena in the Blaugrana colurs is long.
Despite having an indifferent loan spell at Sevilla, Gerard Deulofeu was a revelation last season at Everton and is still one of the most exciting prospects at Barcelona. Then there are players like Rafinha Alacantara, Jean Marie Dongou and Allen Halilovic, who have all been tipped for great things in the future.
Fielding players solely from La Masia was earlier a luxury they could afford, but now it will also become a necessity. They might even invest potential transfer money in improving the youth training facilities further. Things are not all that bad as they are being made out to be right now.
Stability in the team
Football today has become a very commercial product and more often than not, most clubs appease their fans by bringing in star signings every year. Clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona buy players more as a sign of their institution’s superiority rather than out of need. Fielding the same team for more than a few years is something which is unheard of in modern times.
People call it a lack of ambition, but no one seems to focus on the fact that a team can only get better if the players together for a long period. With the transfer ban, the Barcelona players will get a longer run to prove themselves. And with no uncertainty about their futures, they can concentrate on their game and improve their teamwork.
There will always be dissenters who will argue that this may lead to complacency, but if some players do carry that attitude they will rightly have no right to don the Blaugrana colours.
Barca still have the most potent attack with young players
For all the pessimism surrounding Barcelona’s defensive weakness, they still have one of the most potent attacks in the world. The trio of Neymar, Messi and Suarez can give the best of defenders nightmares and single-handedly decide matches. Further, age is also on their side. Messi and Suarez are 27 while Neymar is just 22. There are also a slew of starlets waiting on the sidelines.
The midfield too is relatively young and can endure a few more seasons at the top level. Barring Xavi who is 34, the midfield mostly consists of players in their prime age. Andres Iniesta at 30 still has a few more seasons in him, Busquets and Rakitic are 26 while Mascherano is also 30.
A year-and-a-half is a long time in the world of football, but a team of the calibre of Barcelona should be able to weather the storm.