There can be few sweeter pleasures available for any footballer than the opportunity to pull on the famous colours of Barcelona. There’s also, undoubtedly, few more demanding exercises in existence.
Despite the Blaugrana recently setting the novel precedent of lifelong contract extensions, the bar for that particular privilege is no less than the inimitable Andres Iniesta. For the other mere mortals at the club, any morsel of security is to be cherished as though it were the Ballon d’Or itself.
Accordingly, here are five players within the current squad who will need to perform exceptionally for the rest of the season to ensure they will be lining up at the Camp Nou next season.
5. Denis Suarez
The former Manchester City youth prospect was initially signed by Barcelona in 2013, before a series of loan spells culminated in his departure to Villarreal in 2015.
However, after a stoic year with the Yellow Submarine, in which he collected five goals and 13 assists, the Spaniard returned to the Catalan side the following summer.
While the versatile forward has impressed sporadically for the Blaugrana, and has already matched his goals total this year from last campaign (with one more assist), he is yet to make himself indispensable, and his presence has been intermittent.
He will certainly need to prove his worth at the sharp end of the season if he is to secure his future with La Liga leaders.
4. Andre Gomes
An everpresent in rumour mills throughout the year, the 24-year-old Barca flop has seemingly been shopped around with as much success as a garage-bound and rusting car without an MOT.
However, for whatever reason (most likely because its clearly a tough sell) the Portuguese international remains with the Spanish giants.
If he wishes for it to stay that way, it is imperative he buck’s up his ideas, and strings together some performances worthy of the £31.5m that was paid for him in 2016.
Adding to his tally of one assist and zero goals this season would be a start…
3. Paco Alcacer
In keeping with a strangely incongrous similarity, being 24 years of age, Alcacer is also – to use a Carlos Carvalhal analogy – wrestling to stay afloat in the tempestuous and unforgiving sea that is FC Barcelona.
In another, perhaps not so incidental – and certainly more damning of the club’s recent transfer business – connection, the Spaniard is the third member of this list who was acquired in the fateful summer of 2016.
Since his arrival, Alcacer has accrued just 13 goals and seven assists, and is yet to fully establish himself within the club. Failure to rectify this situation in the coming months may lead to his imminent departure.
2. Aleix Vidal
Bucking both the aforementioned trends is 28-year-old Aleix Vidal, who was signed in 2015 from Sevilla.
Unfortunately, since then there have been far more pictures akin to the one included above than there have been celebratory ones.
Vidal’s one saving grace is the questionable state of Ousmane Dembele, who Barcelona are wisely taking no unnecessary chances with following his return from injury. The winger must capitalise on the Frenchmen’s current disposition if he is to convince the club of his value.
1. Luis Suarez
Perhaps a somewhat incendiary choice, but not without its reasons. Notwithstanding his admittedly extraordinary purple patch since November – in which time he has scored an astonishing 17 goals – his early season sluggishness will no doubt be cause for concern.
As will his goal drought in the Champions League; at the time of writing the Uruguyuan has gone 881 minutes in Europe’s premier competition without scoring. At 31, he is the oldest member of this undignified list, and despite his incremental improvement in fitness since the start of the campaign, clearly his most explosive days are behind.
Add these characteristics to the underlying narrative that the Catalan club are in possession of an ageing side, and are thus operating with more than one eye on the future, and Suarez’s security suddenly seems far less assured.
While his class (as is proverbially customary) is undoubtedly permanent, it may ultimately be sacrificed for some fresher, fleeter and Frencherlegs sooner than you think.