It seems our defensive problems are over! With the transfer window now closed Sporting Director Andoni Zubizarreta gave a press conference this lunchtime alongside Vice-President Josep Maria Bartomeu to explain Barça’s activity, or rather lack of it, in this summer’s market. Zubizarreta stated that the club had tried everything to try and sign Thiago Silva both last summer and this, but the Brazilian had preferred PSG. Zubi then defended the decision not to incorporate another central defender with the usual excuse of the difficulties of finding the right player to fit the Barça system. He went on to talk about Carles Puyol, saying “there were 24 hours to go before the transfer window closed and yesterday Puyol went out to train. This is our signing.”
Now, nobody needs an introduction to Carles Puyol. As captain of our best ever team he has won every cup possible at club and international level. A blaugrana living legend. However, given his recent bad luck with injuries it is difficult to expect the 35-year-old Puyol to play too often or to offer the same level of performance as in previous seasons. Zubizarreta tried to justify the decision by stating that last season we achieved the best first half to a season ever with the same group of defenders even though we suffered injuries. However, Zubi failed to remember that last season we conceded 70 goals in 60 matches in all competitions, a poor record when compared to the previous four seasons under Pep Guardiola (2008/09: 55 goals conceded in 62 matches; 09/10: 41 goals in 59 matches; 10/11: 36 goals in 60 matches; 11/12: 48 goals in 64 matches).
The current situation only goes to magnify the foolishness of the decision not to offer Eric Abidal a new contract. With every day that passes Abidal proves his fitness, playing regularly for Monaco and being called up again for France. You might expect that when the decision was taken to let Abidal go, the club would have had somebody ready to sign as his replacement. But no, the club was thinking only of Thiago Silva who had already turned down the chance to join Barça in 2012. As Zubizarreta said today when talking about the Brazilian defender “not every player gets up in the morning thinking how wonderful it would be to play for Barça”. If Silva chose PSG over Barça in 2012 I think you can be pretty sure it is because they offered him more money. The club should have realised that the only way to get the player was by matching PSG’s wages. If this didn’t agree with Barça’s wage structure, then fine, don’t sign the player, but at least have an alternative ready before letting a player of Abidal’s qualities go.
Zubizarreta also spoke of the confidence the club has in Marc Bartrá. Now, Bartrá is still a promising player and he may still prove to be the answer to our defensive problems. However, last season when the first moment came to give him a chance, Tito Vilanova preferred to play Alex Song and then Adriano in central defence. Later in the season when Bartrá was thrown in at the deep end against Bayern he didn’t look quite ready for the job. The player needs playing time in some of our easier matches to continue to develop. So far this season he is the only fit outfield player who has still not played a minute, which also means Piqué and Mascherano are the only players who haven’t had a minute’s rest. At the moment it seems as though Bartrá could still face problems if suddenly needed against tough opposition.
On paper, Barça have started the season well. The first trophy of the season is in the bag and we are top of La Liga with the maximum nine points. However, there is a feeling that having failed to sign anybody apart from Neymar this summer, we may have to rely more than ever for good fortune regarding injuries if we are to challenge for the top trophies next May.