FC Barcelona has been blessed to have many special players in its history. And there is one thing that always binds squads together: the Barça way. The tactical intelligence with which the technical qualities can shine within the 4-3-3 set up is something that stems from the idea brought to the club by Johan Cruyff. Spectators at the Camp Nou, who for so long have witnessed this philosophy, now expect to see this style of play and along with fans all across the world, they are becoming familiar with the player profile required to succeed at the club.
It is no surprise that when the board decided that they wanted to continue in the same direction after Josep Guardiola’s reign, they turned to the man who has worked closest to him over the last 5 years. His remit from Rosell must have been, “More of the same please!” Guardiola embraced the philosophy as a player and enhanced it to spectacular levels as a coach. However, the players that Guardiola started with are not the same players in the squad today. Herein lies the beauty of taking over at this iconic superpower of European football and Vilanova must identify the players who are capable of carrying the Barcelona torch.
Is there a better goalkeeper to encapsulate the idea of continuity than Andoni Zubizarreta? The current sporting director played over 300 games for the club. If that’s not enough, ask Sergio Busquets about his father, Carles, having spent over 10 years at the club as a player. Victor Valdes has won three Champions League trophies and as the Copa del Rey games and the recent friendlies have shown, Pinto is not a bad back up. No problem there.
With Éric Abidal’s future rather uncertain, there is no doubt that Jordi Alba’s arrival was warranted. That he is a graduate from La Masia only helps matters, and along with Adriano, possession will not be given up easily in that area of the pitch this season. Whilst Abidal is strong in the air, however, this may be a problem for Alba. Sergi Barjuán, Silvinho and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst would say not. Alejandro Grimaldo – watch and learn.
On the other flank we have the excellent Dani Alves – a Brazilian, ex-central midfielder just like Belletti. Martin Montoya has shown, for his age, no less potential than Albert Ferrer or Oleguer, both of whom won a Champions League as a Catalan right back for Barcelona.
Carles Puyol decided against another European Championship medal in order to be fit for the new club season. Three years ago, in the 6-2 win at Real Madrid; he kissed his Catalan captain’s armband and held it aloft for all the Madridistas to see. Many years ago, it was he who propped up Guardiola onto his shoulders on Pep’s last day as a player. Can there ever be another player like Carles Puyol? In terms of position, Bartra, Muniesa and Fontas will try.
However, Muniesa’s ability to sustain fitness is now going to be questioned and Fontas has not performed well enough when given a chance. It is clear to see why Fontas is still in the squad up to now. A left footed centre back with a good range of technical passing is a profile that Barcelona likes – Gabriel Milito in recent times and Frank De Boer from a decade ago. The reasons for the links with Daniel Agger are clear. Whilst Pique, much improved in the Euros, and Mascherano will be playing the majority of games this season, Bartra will be the one to step in when called upon. If he can pick up crucial tactical and technical points from Puyol, as Puyol did from Lilian Thuram, and from Pique, as Pique did from Rafael Marquez, Bartra could be a vital member of the squad in future years – seemingly a much better option than spending 40 million Euros on Javi Martinez.
Barcelona’s midfield is currently bearing the fruits of having trusted the policy of continuity. Iniesta’s fleet of football skills draw parallels to Michael Laudrup. Cruyff taught Guardiola how to play the defensive midfield position, and Guardiola passed that knowledge onto Sergio Busquets. Edmílson helped out in the interim in exactly the same way. Six years ago, Xavi’s passing was just as accurate, yet it was Deco who received the tag of being the team’s “metronome” by coach Frank Rijkaard. Xavi is still around, and Cesc and Thiago will look to continue Barcelona’s passing from the heart of the pitch. Dare I say that Cesc’s ability to link up with the forward and drive into the box will have the Culés thinking back to Luis Enrique.
Much like in defence, a profile that Barcelona coaches always look for is a left footed central midfielder. Phillip Cocu played almost 300 games for the club and Edgar Davids, on loan for half a season, worked wonders and was the key ingredient to Rijkaard’s first season as a manager. It is no surprise that Josep Guardiola immediately brought in Seydou Keita from Sevilla, but who will be Tito Vilanova’s option? A potential answer came in the friendly against Paris Saint Germain, as Rafinha tried to adjust into that role, although his profile is of a more attack minded player.
Will Alex Song be Vilanova’s Keita? Considering that Guardiola already had Yaya Toure in his squad and still brought in Busquets and Keita it should be a sign that Vilanova is seriously considering a defensive midfielder. Yaya Toure was not used to playing as a centre back, but ended up there for the semi final and final of the Champions League in Pep’s first season. Alex Song started out as a centre back, so will his versatility will be imperative, as was Emmanuel Petit’s under Serra Ferrer?
In terms of that world class, goal scoring ability, Messi has outdone the likes of Romário, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. His transition from a right-sided forward to a more central attacker has meant that the original goal-scoring striker has had to move out to the right hand side. Samuel Eto’o’s pace, power and work rate meant that he was an effective tool for Guardiola. Ibrahimovic had a completely different profile and was never going to be happy taking a backseat to Messi. Alexis Sanchez has the core ingredients to continue the work and style of Eto’o, but he needs to stay fit.
David Villa spent some time as the right-sided forward two seasons ago, notably away against his hometown club Sporting Gijon, and also the majority of the Champions League final against Manchester United. Villa and Pedro switching flanks always created different problems for opposition full backs, but like Sanchez, they have had troubled times with injury.
If Villa cannot recapture his old form from the left forward position, Vilanova could find himself rather short in terms of options. Iniesta has combined excellently with Alba in the summer; however, Iniesta and Xavi’s connection with Messi when he drops deeper should not be wasted. Afellay needs to stay fit and prove to the fans that he has something to offer, or else he will follow in the footsteps of Jeffren, Giovani Dos Santos and Bojan. Tello is a young player who could develop into something, but as for now, speed is not the only attribute needed to succeed in that position, as Marc Overmars and Boudewijn Zenden would confirm. At the start of Guardiola’s reign, the Barcelona fans saw the once legendary Ronaldinho leave and Thierry Henry make that position his own. By the end of Pep’s era, due to Villa’s injury, we were left with Tello. Isaac Cuenca provided another option and looked most comfortable as a right winger, although he will also have to improve dramatically in order to be become a Ludovic Giuly, rather than a Simão Sabrosa.
At this time, Tito Vilanova will be thinking about continuity aplenty in terms of shaping his squad. Could he look to bring in a player with a profile that hasn’t been seen before in the club’s recent history? Will he stick with what he has and simply promote from within? With Barcelona staying relatively local in order to complete a proper pre-season fitness programme, it seems like Vilanova is happy with what he has; hoping that the players remain fit and do not encounter any injury problems. Can Tito get three cheers for Villa and Pique back to top form, Pedro continuing his Copa Del Rey final and Euro 2012 exploits, the Alexis of Udinese, a fully fit Puyol and of course a return to full health for Éric Abidal? Only time will tell.
Editor’s note: This article was submitted to totalBarça by Anoop Jethwa. We’d like to thank Anoop for sharing this article with our community here. Who knows, perhaps we will see more of his writing in the future..