Now that La Liga has been won it is time to look forward to the 2013/14 season and attempt to analyse how Barça can improve. There is no doubt that despite the success in the 2012/13 campaign there were plenty of problems that were exposed in the big games which culminated in the heavy defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Of course there were circumstances that didn’t help such as Tito Vilanova’s illness and the injuries to key players at inopportune moments. However, instead of looking for excuses we would do well to try and recognise our failings, and in my opinion before we start talking about who to buy or who to sell there are two main points that need to be addressed: character and tactics.
There is little doubt in my mind about the talent in our squad, however, talent alone will rarely be enough to succeed in the modern game. It must be accompanied by a steely determination and desire, and in this respect we have been on a downward spiral ever since winning the Champions League in 2011. Pep Guardiola recognised the difficulty to maintain the high standards set as well as his own personal ability to continue motivating the players. Guardiola did a brilliant job but the effort left him tired which is why he felt the need for a year’s rest before returning to a new challenge at Bayern.
The change of having Tito Vilanova in charge seemed to inspire the players in the early months of this season, but since his return from New York the team has failed to show the same freshness. The fact that in these last two months we have been without the inspirational leadership qualities of Carles Puyol has played its part, and with our captain now at 35 years old the club should seriously be thinking about where we can find this inspiration.
It might be easy to call for a new coach but it is not going to happen while Rosell and Zubizaretta remain. They made a firm bet for Vilanova and to change coach now would only serve to undermine their own positions at club. Besides, I believe Vilanova deserves the opportunity for another season though I think it is fair to say he doesn’t transmit the same intensity to the players.
One option I’ve already suggested would be to bring in somebody like Luis Enrique as Vilanova’s assistant. However, this is also highly unlikely unless Vilanova asked for it and it would be very unfair to treat Jordi Roura in such a manner after the difficult role he played in Tito’s absence. So if Vilanova and Roura remain then they should be looking at finding a player who can consistantly inspire his teammates to give that little bit extra.
With Puyol unlikely to be a regular starter the captain’s role is likely to fall to Xavi with the other main leaders being Messi, Iniesta and possibly Piqué. While I have no doubt about the mental toughness of these players I don’t think they possess the same inspirational leadership qualities that have been offered by Puyol as a captain or Guardiola as a coach. So while we are looking for goalkeepers or centre backs we should definitely be trying to sign a player who can bring out the best in those around him.
Besides this there is a need to look at our tactics this season. While it is all very well to play all out attacking football when we are up against weaker opposition, our poor record in the big games this season suggests we should either reconsider the use of two attacking full-backs in these matches or look for another Keita-type player to bolster the midfield. Looking back to Guardiola’s most successful periods we nearly always had the more defensive Eric Abidal at left-back to counter for Alves on the right, while Keita was used in nearly all the important away fixtures. It is possible that Alex Song or Mascherano could be used to play this Keita role but neither were used like this in the entire season. If Vilanova doesn’t see Song or Mascherano as the answer then surely trying to sign a dynamic non-stop midfielder should be on the agenda.
We are reported to have a budget of €50 million to spend plus whatever we can make from sales. However, before we start selling we should be sure that we can find better replacements. Unfortunately it seems Valdés has decided to move on and it will be very tough to find a keeper who can offer the same standards. The other players reported to be most likely to leave seem to be David Villa and Adriano which is a shame but perhaps the right time to let them go. There may be a bit of money to make from selling some youngsters such as Johnathan Dos Santos or some of the loan-out players like Afellay or Fontás, but it seems unlikely we’ll arrive to €100 million unless we offload some bigger names. And we are not going to have much change from that if we are going to sign the likes of Neymar and Thiago Silva plus a goalkeeper.
Other decisions need to be made such as which youngsters should be promoted to the first team. In this respect we should try to avoid the situation seen too often recently with players like Fontás, Muniesa and Dos Santos. The most promising B team prospects Sergi Roberto, Rafinha and Deulofeu need playing time and if they are not going to be given a fair shot in the first team then the best decision would be to loan them out. For all the desire to play homegrown players we must be sure they have the quality to succeed at the top.
That’s about all I can manage today. I’ll leave the debates on Alexis and Fabregas to you guys but basically I see no need for a big clear out. I could go on about the chain of command and who is making the decisions as reports seem to suggest that Rosell, Zubi and Tito all have different priorities but it seems we are stuck with this until the next elections. So, to sum up, besides the obvious need for a new keeper if Valdés leaves, a centre back and a forward, for me the priority should be to find a player with an infectious personality who can inspire the rest and to find a dynamic Keita-style player to add energy to the midfield. I fear if we don’t add some character to the mix we could be in for a disappointing 2013/14 season.