FC Barcelona: Damned by hypocrisy and the quest to succeed consistently
"I've read that Madrid has spent €1.2 billion since 2002. We've spent money as well, but we don't have Bankia."
"We have Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Valdés, Busquets, Pedro... a generation that cost nothing. That's our key to competing with Madrid. We've bought Ibra, Villa, Neymar, but one a year.
"We don't do what they did, not having won anything for a season, and sign Bale, Illarramendi, Isco..."- Gerard Pique in 2013
When Pep Guardiola was running his merry run at Barcelona from 2008 to 2012, Barcelona formed an envious unit on the pitch. Guardiola was initially appointed as the manager because the Catalan had been a former Barcelona captain and the club's beliefs and philosophies of the club were deeply embedded in him.
In his playing career, Guardiola was the leader of a side managed by the effervescent Johann Cruyff. The Dutch legend had brought in his own sets of beliefs that made Barcelona one of the most respected clubs in the whole of Europe.
Promotion of young talents, a detailed research and development of the La Masia along with, ensuring the fact that the club's beliefs remained intact were of utmost importance for the club. These were certain things that made Barcelona the 'right' club. They played football in a manner that the fans loved watching.
There was always a plethora of talent on the brink of breaking into the first team. They invested more into the academy rather than into the first-team and hence enjoyed the benefits of it for a long period of time. This differentiated them from their archrivals Real Madrid in a massive way, and earned the club an unparalleled respect from the fans.
Because FC Barcelona was the right club. The good man's club. A club that popularised the actual thought of playing football.
This one major factor was the reason that the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona boosted to this extreme level in recent years.
At a time when Florentino Perez was enthralling the capital of Spain with his attractive transfer policy, Barcelona had closely struck to their pattern of improving the young 13-14-year-olds at La Masia.
Apparently, the sheer disparity in the transfer policies of both the clubs promoted their philosophies. Real Madrid were the ones who went behind the best players in the world. Perez was ready to give a big paycheck to ensure that he kept his eternal rivals in check.
In comparison to Barcelona, Madrid hardly had any academy players who made it big on the big stage. Iker Casillas might be the only exception. However, Barcelona were the ones who actually made the best use of their academy.
Hence, the signings of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham was a statement of intent from Perez. Whether these transfers yielded appropriate results is questionable. However, Real Madrid made sure that they became the most marketable club in world football.
The arrival of David Beckham from Manchester United particularly made little sense as the team already had Luis Figo playing in that position. However, the off-field effect of this deal is simply too good to ignore.
David Beckham came to Real Madrid and incidentally attracted a global audience towards the giant brand of the club. Well, Madrid did have the chance to sign then World Cup winner Ronaldinho. In hindsight, Ronaldinho would have bettered the team more than Beckham ever did.
However, Barcelona were both smart as well as restrained in their transfers. They bought Ronaldinho from PSG for a fee of approximately £29m. Instead, Ronaldinho went on to propel the team to an era of absolute dominance. His quality, skills and consistent displays for the Blaugrana further increased the gap between the two teams.
This was another major incident that highlighted the difference in the approach of both the teams. Ronaldinho and Beckham had extremely contrasting careers in Spain. However, things could have been different if Real Madrid were as smart as Barcelona in their decision-making in the transfer market.
As it was to see, Barcelona mixed the policy of buying excellent talents by improving the youngsters at their disposal too. Besides Ronaldinho played a young, talented Lionel Messi and both these players perfectly summed up the club’s clever run in the transfer market.
A host of young talents graduated from the club’s academy to the first-team and formed the crux of the team that dominated world football in Guardiola’s reign. When Perez started the second Galactico era, he bought the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka for massive fees.
Even then Pep Guardiola's Barcelona thoroughly dominated Spain and Europe in that illustrious four-year reign. The La Masia products were trusted to form the core of the team whilst superstars like Samuel Eto and Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to seal their place at the club.
It was a clear indication of the fact that Barcelona churned out possibly the most talented players in European football. Under Guardiola, they obviously trusted their academy products to do the required job on the field more than these perceived superstars.
Whenever Barcelona was in trouble, their local talents stepped up to raise their performances and that effectively helped the team to achieve unparalleled success in the past. Clubs like Bayer Leverkusen and Ajax have been known for their excellent academy products too.
However, none of their players came close to the quality of players extracted from La Masia. There was an inevitable arrogance, a matter of pride of sorts within Barcelona and their fans that they were the best club regarding the fact that they trusted the most on their academy to produce the best players in European football.
However, can’t priding yourself on something too much stab you in the back at times?
Guardiola's time at Barcelona meant that the club saw an era of excellent success backed by one of the best managers in the world. Guardiola spent a decent amount of money.
However, the main source of success were players like Messi, Pedro, Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Puyol, Valdes etc. These were the players who were brought up being taught a specific style of football that suited Guardiola's ideologies.
Once Guardiola left for a new challenge, Barcelona failed to recruit a manager with the same level of unique approach towards the game. After winning 14 trophies out of a possible 19 under Guardiola, buckling down was simply not going to be an option for Barcelona.
They had a huge legacy to live up to but lacked the ingredients of success that Guardiola had. It is safe to say that Barcelona was so engrossed in their unmatched success that they gave their future plans a cold shoulder.
Players like Hector Bellerin and Thiago Alcantara were allowed to leave after they were not given enough opportunities. Alcantara especially is a player perfectly moulded to Barcelona's style of play. He could have been the potential successor to Xavi had he been allowed to play more in his final season.
In the end, as per a clause in his contract, Alcantara was allowed to leave the club. Hector Bellerin, too, was allowed to go as the club already had the services of Dani Alves in that position.
Cesc Fabregas was bought again from Arsenal amid huge fanfare. He failed to cement his place in the squad. Part of it was owing to his poor performances and lack of a proper position on the field.
Eventually, Fabregas left the club and joined Chelsea. He has won two Premier League titles there and has endured a largely successful time in London. However, had Barcelona been a little more patient with the player, the scenario would have been much different.
Another example that comes to my mind is that of Mauro Icardi. Having joined the club at the age of 15, he was allowed to leave after just three years to Sampdoria. The mere fact that the club shelled £65m on Luis Suarez years after selling Icardi highlights how poor this judgment was.
Embroiled in the success that most clubs can only desire to achieve, Barcelona made a huge mistake in being complacent regarding their youth players. For a football club, it is always necessary to keep rebuilding even after achieving great success. This is to ensure that they extend the tenure of their triumphs.
It is not as if Barcelona hasn't been successful in the post-Guardiola period. A treble in the 2014/15 season was a pure testament to the greatness of this football club. However, it has come at the cost of the club’s philosophy; something, that has been very unacceptable to the club’s fanbase until now.
Mes que un club
FC Barcelona claims to be more than what just a club is. They are a family, rather than an organization.They pride on staying intact with their beliefs even in the toughest of times.
It is the same club that rejected a successful and proven Jose Mourinho as he did not fit the demands and philosophies of the club. The same club that selected an unproven and inexperienced Pep Guardiola to lead them, just because, the manager stayed true to the philosophies of the club.
So, it leads us to the question: have Barcelona done justice to their ideologies in the transfer market in recent seasons?
First up was Neymar’s move from Santos that involved a host of controversies that ruined the club’s image of that of a clean face in Europe. The Brazilian moved to the club for a huge fee, but his transfer was marred by unnecessary and avoidable circumstances.
Moreover, the signing of Luis Suarez, just months after his biting controversy in the FIFA World Cup 2014 signaled the club’s changing beliefs. Do not get me wrong here; Luis Suarez has been immense for Barcelona ever since joining them from Liverpool.
However, spare a minute and think whether the Barcelona board of the yesteryear would have sanctioned the move for such a controversial player?
With the influx of cash and money in recent years, Barcelona has not shied away from giving a cold shoulder to their academy players. If you look at the current squad, only Sergi Roberto's name pops up as a regular starter who was brought up from La Masia in the post-Guardiola period.
Barcelona then signed the likes of Paco Alcacer, Andre Gomes, Arda Turan and Lucas Digne for a reasonable amount of money. Interestingly, it is safe to say that none of these players did justice to the huge expectations and the price tag that came with them.
Now, after the money that came with Neymar’s departure to PSG, Barcelona have completely remodeled their stance on transfers. Paulinho, Ousmane Dembele, and Phillipe Coutinho were signed for hefty fees within the span of six months.
Personally, I think it is little wrong to spend the money that came through Neymar’s departure. However, I am not a Cule too and have never boasted of the plethora of talent that Barcelona used to have at La Masia.
The club has been stuck in similar situations in the past, but, they have always looked to their academy for the solution. Right now, the case is different.
For as long as I remember, no Cule has ever given up an opportunity to shame Real Madrid for spending big on world-beating players. Now, it is quite evident that to stay in touch with the ever-increasing competition in European football, Barcelona is ready to mend their perspective regarding the transfer market.
Nothing wrong with it. But, can an entity claiming to be more than a club afford to do this?