FC Barcelona – change and continuity

Time for a little break from politics and a look at the changes in personnel at Barça over recent seasons. Last season was the club’s most successful since the glory years of Guardiola. To be the first club to win the prized triplete – league, cup and Champions League – for a second time, was a tremendous achievement.. The team has changed a lot since they managed this feat the first time around in 2009. How much as the squad changed since then? 2009 is a longish time ago, so perhaps a more relevant comparison is with the squad which last won the Champions League in 2011. The most striking difference is with the coaching team. Since Guardiola left the club in 2012 the team has had three different coaches, one for each season. Luis Enrique, a former player, took over at the beginning of last season and, after a bit of a shaky start, led the team to the three trophies. Luis Enrique is a very different person from Guardiola. He is less media friendly and seems to be even more stringent and demanding of the players than Guardiola. Whatever goes on behind the scenes, it certainly worked for last season. Repeating any kind of success is of course even more challenging, both for the coach and the players.

Though the current team has many similarities with Guardiola’s teams, there are some small but significant differences. In terms of playing style, this has not changed much, but the current team is a bit more direct at times and is not as secure at retaining possession as previous teams. This is probably due to other teams working out how Barça play and trying even harder to disrupt this possession. This probably explains why the team now counter attack more often. There is no point in over egging this change. It is only marginal as Barça still usually dominate possession and mostly try to play, sometimes overplay, their way to the opposition goal.

The biggest changes are to do with the players. In summary the team has fewer Spanish and Catalan players and fewer players have come through from the youth set-up, the famous cantera.  The team that started the 2011 Champions League final included seven Spanish players of whom four were from Catalunya. The 18 man squad for the final contained a further four Spanish nationals, of whom two were Catalans. By contrast for the 2015 final the figures were completely reversed when it came to nationality. Only four of the starting 11 were from Spain, though three of them were Catalans. Out of the 18 man squad, seven were Spanish, of whom five were Catalans. It is clear that the team and the larger squad has become progressively less Spanish and much more international. Though the number of Catalans in the team and squad has declined less so. In a sense the team is slightly more Catalan than Spanish, but overall it is more international. Below is a table showing a comparison of the two squads by nationality.

2011

2015

Starting 11
Spanish Iniesta Iniesta
Villa
Pedro
Catalan Valdés Piqué
Piqué Busquets
Busquets Alba
Xavi
Other Alves Ter-Stegen
Mascherano Alves
Abidal Mascherano
Messi Rakitić
Messi
Suarez
Neymar
Substitutes
Spanish Olazábal Pedro
Thiago
Catalan Puyol Bartra
Bojan Xavi
Other Adriano Bravo
Safely Adriano
Keita Mathieu
Rafinha

There is just as marked a difference when it comes to players who have progressed from the youth team to the first team. In 2011 the starting 11 included no fewer than seven players who had been formed in the youth team. One of these, Piqué, had left and returned, but the other six had been with the club for all of their careers. Some would leave after 2011, but at that time they had been with Barça for just about all of their professional career. A further four players from the youth team were included among the substitutes. By the 2015 there were fewer former youth team players in the starting team –  five instead of seven. These included Alba, another player who had left the youth team only to return. The substitutes included a further four players who had come through the youth team. Barcelona’s youth teams take in players from all over the world and the most famous of them all is from Argentina – Lionel Messi. However of the nine who were in the squad for the 2015 final, five were from Catalunya.

2011

2015

From Youth Team
Starting 11 Valdés Piqué
Piqué Alba
Busquets Busquets
Xavi Iniesta
Iniesta Messi
Messi
Pedro
Substitutes Puyol Xavi
Thiago Pedro
Bojan Rafinha
Olazábal Bartra

Looking ahead this trend is only likely to continue at least for the foreseeable future. It does not look like any of the current crop of youngsters is ready to make the jump to regular first team football. Rafinha, Sergi Roberto and the third goalkeeper, Masip, will continue to form part of the first team squad, but are unlikely to dislodge the current first choice players. Either Sandro or Munir may get a chance to join the first team squad, particularly if Pedro does finally decide to leave.  As the B team has just descended from the second to the third division its future is a bit uncertain, so it will probably take a few years before the youth team will produce any new future stars.

Two big name signings have been made, though neither can play until next January, due to the FIFA ban. Aleix Vidal is a Catalan who has signed from Sevilla. He is likely to be the long term replacement for Dani Alves at right back. Arda Turan is a Turkish international who has come from Atletico Madrid. Not quite sure where he will fit in. He seems most similar to Iniesta, but he has a good few years left in him at the top level. We will all find out from January onwards.

In the meantime the immediate future will rest will the same players who achieved the treble last season. Minus Xavi who has left for the Gulf. This leaves an opening for either Rafinha or Sergi Roberto, at least until January. Vermaelen seems to have recovered from his injury and if he stays fit will offer extra cover for the defence. Roll on the start of the season!

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