Silly Season is upon us. There are those who grab the bottle of Hector Pills and head for the hills, coming down only when the season starts and there are no more deals to be done.
Others of us absolutely LOVE this shit. Let’s do it. The crazier the better, because Silly Season isn’t the time for logic. Barca will be bundling Krkic, Cuenca, Fontas, Dos Santos and two chickens in a package for Griezmann? Show me the feathers. Let’s get real gone.
So your humble mods got to talking about what we would do with Our Summer Vacation, assuming we had control of the purse string and color copier cartridges. And this is more open, simply “What would you do to improve the club next season?” I started with banning bangs, courtesy of The Villa Experiment. Others had saner thoughts. Here we go:
Were I Barça’s coach, what would I do this offseason? I would curl up in a ball and cry for mommy. I’m sure of it. I would need a new pair of pants and—oh, you mean, what off-field moves would I make? Besides dodging paparazzi on my way to the book store to buy tactical guides, of course. Ah, the eternal silly season question.
First, I’d see how Xavi was feeling and try to convince him to skip the Euros. Maybe that’s selfish from a Spanish perspective because who doesn’t want Xavi romping all over Eastern European fields delighting crowds and passing well? Besides opponents, it’s definitely Barça. What’s to like about having your midfield metronome tacking miles of hard running onto his already over-worked ankles? Then I’d buy Messi a lollipop and a summer-long pass to Legoland.
As for the team, I’d make sure that Cuenca and Tello are aware of their less-than-starter role in the coming year, but also make sure to impress upon them that they’ll be instrumental in the multiple front fight. Then I’d buy a left back who can double as a CB. I don’t know who because I’m fairly hopeless at figuring out defenders—can we get Eric Abidal from 4 years ago? Or somehow an opposite foot clone of Dani Alves? We’ll have David Villa back, Afellay healthy, and a series of young guns moving their way up, so the front line is set; with Jonathan dos Santos coming up into the midfield, that line is good to go as well; and Fontas returning and Muniesa moving up will help us out in the back, but I would promote Montoya to be Alves’ official backup. That leaves the left still a bit shaky so someone could be brought in there. Muniesa can play there, but I’m not 100% convinced that he’s the guy for that job. I like him at CB a bit more despite some of his, er, missteps there. Then I’d buy Messi a popsicle and a summer-long pass to EuroDisney.
I’m a big fan of attacking LBs, but it makes sense to play a slightly more conservative player like Abidal if you’re going to be bombing down the right so much that there has to be pretty serious cover on that side. Then again, if were re-inverting the pyramid, we could get Gareth Bale or some other attack-minded fullback who also happens to play on the left. That’s the lefty Alves thing again.
And yet we’re probably going to let Keita waltz out the door and we might sell Adriano and we might spend eighty billion euros on some sort of winger/striker hybrid. These things I would not do. I like Keita. I like Adriano. They play hard and don’t complain; they bring technical quality to the side and they seem to get along with the other players. Yes, Keita is getting up there in age (he’s 32), but another year won’t kill him–or us. After extending Keita’s contract, I’d buy Messi an ice cream cone and a summer-long pass to…wherever Diego Maradona isn’t.
Oh and I’d also definitely buy Javi Martinez just to have him yell more crap at Cristiano Ronaldo.
For once, I’d like to see Barça start the season with a full complement of 24-25 players – and fully fit players at that.
Incoming: definitely need an LB. Maybe they found a way to clone Abi when they replaced his liver, and the Abi-clone is in an accelerated growth program right now.
I’m really not sure that Bale is world class enough to fit into Barça – would definitely love to see David Alaba there (only 19 and plays with the maturity of 29, young, fit, and plays box-to-box), however I highly doubt that Bayern would let him go.
Failing that, Jordi Alba – but he mustn’t be allowed to fall into complacency mode, thinking that he’s made it and now he can relax. I saw the bad side to his play during the first leg of the Europa round to At. Madrid, and the guy was simply awful – think double Maxwell/Adriano combination of awful on their bad days, with some Chiggy thrown into it.
Outgoing: Adriano left the pitch against Espanyol looking as if he was saying thank you and goodbye to Camp Nou. In his after-match interview, he said that he’s like to stay his remaining 2 years. I would like to see him stay too – otherwise we’ll be putting even more stress on the left side of the pitch. Would not like to see Keita leave – at all. I would miss his Keitee-face and his skills and the extra dimension that he brings to the team’s play. Messi would definitely miss Keita, after already missing the Yaya and Abi cuddles after scoring. J
B-teamers already promoted into the first team: Fontas, Cuenca, and I’ll count Tello, and I’ll still include Thiago here because I don’t feel that he’s improved any since his promotion. If they get another season, this will be the one to prove that they have what it takes to stay at the club in the first team. If not, they’ll be sold or loaned out.
Like it or not, a lot of the B-teamers and younger La Masia grads will be getting time in the first team simply to increase their exposure on the world stage, so that their selling prices are increased. If La Masia is the farm house where the prime cattle is raised, the Camp Nou pitch becomes the auction ring where the thoroughbreds are paraded for sale.
B-teamers: with the exception of Montoya who is a dependable and traditional RB, I don’t see any of the B-teamers producing the quality that is mandatory for permanent selection into the first team. There is simply not the calibre nor the consistency of players of the likes of Messi, Puyol, VV, Xavi or Iniesta to be seen in the next generation, and that is what is needed for the first team. Any permanent promotions need to strengthen the team and add value, not drag it down, performance-wise. If there were shining stars, we’d see them standing head and shoulders above the rest of the B-team and in Liga Adelante, despite the performances of the other team members – or their coach. There isn’t the natural talent, nor the intelligence, in their play. I see a lot of lower-level Thiago-like players when I watch the B-team, and I’m not yet convinced that Thiago has what it takes to be a first team player at Barça. Maybe Tito will straighten him out.
I don’t yet consider Dongou to be a B-teamer and think that they are rushing him. The kid has enormous talent, but psychologically if he’s not ready it’s not going to do him any favours to give him an early promotion. I think that he has an exciting career ahead of him and he’s a perfect RW/center attack type player and very strong. But fielding him against the other much older and very physical players in the other Adelante teams is risking injury to him at a vital stage in his development. Give him another half season before promotion is what I’d do – and then I’d nurture him under Tito’s wing, not Eusebio’s.
Euros: I don’t want Xavi to play either – but I don’t think that anything will keep him away, barring a physical incapacity. It may be his last Euro.
It will be Puyol’s last NT outing, I’d wager – he’s already on record as saying that he will retire from the NT in 2012, after giving VdB another 2 years after the World Cup.
I’d like to see Iniesta retire from NT duty too. J
Busquets is playing the Euros AND the Olympics, so he’s not going to get much down-time in this “off-season”.
Tactics: I’m quietly excited about Tito taking over – best thing that could have happened in the wake of a Pep departure. I think that where Pep was stubborn about keeping his tactics pure and all about the Barça-way, I think that we’re about to see the players mixing it up a little. Tito is very strong on set pieces, so I expect to see a lot of innovation in that area. I also think that at times we’ll see a more physical running game when it’s required – like the Rayo game, but more organised when the team plays against better opponents. That was just a small taste of what’s possible.
I would love to see the wing play developed. The left has been neglected since Titi left, and Iniesta is NOT a winger. The right has only really been serviced by hybrid Alves, with Cuenca playing a more traditional role in recent times. But both Cuenca and Tello need more development and need to learn how to retain the ball on the edge of the box and not kill the flow of the plays by stopping with the ball in the expectation of beating the defence from a standing start. Messi can do that – not them. They need to be faster wingers pounding in the crosses. Their skill-sets (or lack of) are perfect examples of most of the B-team players right now – they do one thing well, not a whole lot of things which is what is required to get into the top teams in the world.
. Busquets is going to be the key. He’s going to have to learn to play without depending on others like Xavi and Iniesta, and to make decisions for himself – like we saw him do with the assist for Messi in the Espanyol game. He needs to bring the ball forward a lot more and make more decisive passes. If he’s going to fall over, he may as well do it in our penalty box and get the kick for the team, rather than down the other end of the pitch where, quite frankly, he’s a liability right now.
Masch may score his first goal in the next season too! ;.)
Cesc and Afellay will also be in for some specialised training. I think that Afellay will be drilled and utilised in an area in which he is already strong – the long shots on goal, and I don’t care what anyone says, Cesc is going to be groomed for a Xavi-like role. He has the intelligence, the ability and the speed, and the vision to see the opportunity. When he becomes more sure of his role, and he’s not tripping over or running into the 3 other midfielders on the pitch, Cesc will come into his own. He links really well with the forwards, and is actually better when he can run from midfield into the box to create a scoring op or the assist, rather than when he is standing flat-footed on the edge of the box, waiting for the pass.
I’ll stop now…
I hate Silly Season. I really do. It brings out every know-it-all with a keyboard and a decent knowledge of Football Manager (not YOU guys, of course!). It makes me twitchy. So my contribution to this post will be short and sweet. And possibly a little silly.
I generally assume that the managers and coaches know better than I do when it comes to buying & selling players and making changes to the team for the next season. And I know that Pep has thoroughly discussed the team’s needs and development for next year with Tito, Zubi & Rosell. Tito is his own man and will have his own plans, but he is also very committed to the Guardiola style and the team as it is now. He is not about to start dismantling the team by selling off key players (Dani Alves) or bringing in new signings based on star power (Neymar). I don’t actually see a whole of changes happening this summer. With Villa and Afellay returned to health, it is almost like having two brand new signings.
No one! NOOOOOO!!!!! *ahem* OK.
As our squad stands right now we have 19 fit players (including Villa because he is almost there and certainly will be by the beginning of next season) plus Fontas and Abidal. Fontas should be fit sometime this summer. Abidal we just don’t know about. Looking at the squad list, I just don’t see anyone leaving. Pinto has one more year on his contract, and I expect him to stay for that. He is too important a member of the dressing-room to sell off for the paltry sum we would get for him.
There have been the usual murmurs about Keita leaving. It’s certainly a possibility. At 32, he’s not getting any younger and may be looking for his last big contract at a club where he will get more playing time. His agent has said that they have not and will not talk to any other clubs until after the CdR final when they will meet with Tito to discuss his future. I believe that Tito will want Keita to stay. He brings things to the team that no one else does. He is a reliable midfield destroyer, shoots from outside the box, and has this season successfully learned to play as a DM to give Busquets some relief. He is also plays the Ethical Barometer position. It’s in his technical profile. The issue is whether Keita will be happy with the amount of playing time he would likely get. My personal opinion is that the lure of more money or playing time won’t be enough to make Keita want to uproot his family and leave the best team on the planet. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Adriano’s name has also been thrown around as a possibility to leave, but why? He has more than proven his importance to the team this year, and he doesn’t give off the vibes of a player who is unhappy and wants to go. He may very well have offers from other teams, but I think we should keep him. It would be very difficult to find another player that can fill in at so many different positions.
Then there is the Dani Alves thing. I don’t see it. He’s staying.
The only first-team player I can realistically see leaving this summer is Fontas. Even before his injury he was never fully integrated with the squad (although off the pitch it seems that Puyol has adopted him and brought him into the moc moc team). He was supposed to be the next Pique, but was never really that convincing on the field, looking slow and clumsy on the ball. We will have to see what Tito’s plans are, but I suspect he might be sent out on loan to get consistent playing time somewhere else. Or sold with a buyback option.
B Team promotions
As always, we should look for new players in our own house before looking elsewhere. The club has confirmed that Montoya, Muniesa, Bartra, and Jonathan Dos Santos will all be promoted at the end of the season, in accordance with their contracts. No word on Tello, but I think it would be hard to send him back to the B team now. The only other B team players I could see being promoted this year are Oier (likely) and Sergi Roberto (unlikely). The rest are either too young (Rafinha, Deulofeu) or just not good enough. Of course, just because a player is promoted, doesn’t mean he will actually play with the first team. Tito will most likely include them in the preseason and then make final decisions on their futures near the end of the summer.
Of the players definitely being promoted, Montoya is the big keeper. He has come up with some big performances when given the chance, and he looks ready to step up. He is a more defensive-minded version of Dani Alves, and can play on the left as well if needed. One thing he does lack is Dani’s killer instinct in going for the goal, but that can improve.
Tello should also be kept. He has proven his worth and earned his chance to be part of the first team. Hopefully he (and Cuenca) will know that the amount of playing time they get will have to be earned through hard work and good attitude in training.
Muniesa, Bartra & JDS: I really don’t know. I like them all as players and can see attributes in each of them that could make them world-class if developed properly. But right now I don’t they are quite at the level of the Barça first team. If Keita stays, there would really be no room for JDS in the midfield. I say he goes, probably on loan. I think we should keep one of the other two. My preference would be for Bartra because I think he is a better all-round player, or would be with the right coach (I’ll be bringing up the topic of Bartra again!). Muniesa probably leaves.
What do we need?
This is the part I hate. I’m not going to start throwing around a lot of names, because I honestly don’t watch enough of other leagues to have any in-depth knowledge of their players. I will just repeat what others are saying: Irrespective of Abidal’s health, we need to sign a LB. We have players who can play in that position, but we need someone permanent there. Jordi Alba is a good option if the price is right.
Graham Hunter has been saying for ages that negotiations with CB Thiago Silva are at an advanced stage. I don’t know if that’s true, but he seems very convinced of it. Others who watch him play more often will be better qualified to comment on that.
I would like to add another squad player in the Adriano mode. Someone who is capable of playing several positions as a winger/wingback/fullback, to give Tito different tactical options.
Lastly, do we need a big man up front? Oh, let’s not start that debate again!
What would you do this offseason?
1. Make sure the preseason is geared towards optimum fitness, not profit.
By deciding not to tour, the board have already made a step in the right direction. As a new, untried manager at this level, Tito needs all the support he can get, and one way to show that support is to make sure he has a good base to build on. The lessons of this past season re: what happens with no proper preseason should be kept in mind, especially since many of the squad will be at the Euros or the Olympics this time around.
2. Buy a defender.
Once again, I believe the lessons of the season just past should be absorbed. We were clearly a defender or two short – in part due to circumstances beyond our control, it’s true, but now we have the chance to change that. The terrible news of Puyol’s knee injury makes strengthening at the back even more important.
No doubt it’s difficult to find players who can play at the back for Barca, given the unique requirements of the role. Zubi and co. should be ready to splash the cash for the right person.
3. Reassure the players who are not being moved on of their place in the squad ASAP.
The inevitable consequence of failing to win one of the two big trophies on offer is a summer of speculation and unrest. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s manufactured at this point, and I would hate to see players unsettled for no reason other than the Spanish sports dailies needing to sell papers. The public and the media don’t necessarily need to be told what’s going on – discretion in transfer dealings is a virtue – but the players themselves should know that they have a place to come back to after the summer, if that is indeed the case.
4. Leave the football decisions to the football men.
Dmytro Chygrynskiy (and yes, I did have to look it up) aside, Guardiola’s status meant that he didn’t have to deal with much interference from the board when making decisions about the team. While Tito has nowhere near the same level of clout, he’s got a fair bit of credit stored up from his part in the successes of the past four years, and he has earned the right to try and do things his way. I don’t want to see the board trying to impose any decisions (or God forbid, players) on him.
5. Keep the faith.
In all my time as a Barca fan I have never seen the fanbase/media behave as rationally in response to large setbacks as they have this past month. Tito will probably need some time to get things going. It’s crucial that our new-found rationality continues while his team are trying to find their way. That means no absurd pronouncements, no institutional crises, no over-the-top transfer sagas. It means transmitting a message of patience.
Remember: we know that our way works.
In thinking about what I would do to our club, the short answer is “Not a lot.” The long answer isn’t much more complicated:
Stop messing about, traveling hither and yon to hoover up dollars. The all-European pre season is a very good start. It is also crucial that the club strives to, as much as possible, replicate the training camp of Guardiola’s first year. Yes, between Internationals, friendlies and other extraneous competitions, it’s very difficult to find free time for our players. But the start of last season canNOT be allowed to happen again. We saw the result this season, with the many injuries and out-of-form players. Tito Vilanova, if he does nothing else as coach, can’t let this happen again.
Reach an understanding with Messi. He can’t play every match. Simple as that. I know that he loves the game, eats, sleeps and drinks football, but I’d rather have an all-pitch, fully involved Messi than have to tell him to dog it on parts of the pitch, so that he can play every match without fatigue or injury. It means that at crucial parts of the match, we’re playing with 10 men, rather than 11.
Get flexible with player rotation. Part of what creates fatigue/injuries is lack of rotation. We have a problem in that we have the best or one of the best players in the world at almost every position. You can’t replace that. But you can adapt the system, using squad players against the teams that you are confident of beating. The same XI started too many matches this season, with the attendant fatigue/form/injury issues. You should be able to beat a relegation side with a midfield of Thiago/Keita/Afellay, frankly.
Shooting practice and emphasis. The same quality that made Samuel Eto’o the scoring machine that he was, also made him a pain in the ass to ultimately deal with: voracious, high-energy selfishness. And not selfishness in a bad way. He treated every chance like it was going to be his last. Yes, he missed some sitters late in his last season with us, for a variety of reasons, but when he got a chance, he was heart-attack serious about it. That quality isn’t evident in any of our attackers, including Messi. Vilanova has to make the players understand that scoring goals is about concentration and execution. There might be other chances, but there might not again be another chance as good as the one that was scuffed/spurned. This is an attitude. The first two Guardiola seasons, it wasn’t like that. Reading your own press reports will do that to you. And shoot the damn ball. Note the number of speculative shots that occurred in the treble season via Henry and Eto’o, shots that sometimes became goals as they were spilled by the keeper, or caromed somewhere that allowed the attack to be reset. Of late, we have been striving to pass the ball into the net, which doesn’t work all the time.
To hell with a Plan B. The incessant discussion of a Plan B wearies me so. Chelsea played the exact same way at the Camp Nou that they did at Stamford Bridge, and we could have buried them there, without a Plan B or big striker running around. Our Plan B is, and always will be finish your damned chances. If Messi isn’t going to play all the time, a traditional striker type might be nice to have on the cheap. But I also wouldn’t mind seeing how Keita does as that striker type. He has excellent strength, mobility, a good shot and is a fine header of the ball. Why not?
Stop acting like the system is broken. You can trace the club’s Liga and Champions League failure to, in effect, three or four goals. One in Chelsea changes that tie immensely. A shot instead of a chip at Villarreal, a better PK vs Sevilla and Chelsea and it’s a very different story. I can’t believe the panic and talk of wholesale change. The system is fine. It created chances, and almost withstood almost Biblical injury plagues to come thisclose to having a shot at the Triplete again. The system works.
Basically, we’re fine. This club had one pressing need this season: A player who would be good for 20+ goals per season. We had that player, until his shin went to hell. then ultimately failed. We can look as long as we want in the transfer market, but in terms of finding a player that fits our system better than David Villa, we won’t find one.
Integrate Tello and Cuenca into the first team. Then let’s see how they are. Based on what happens, a loan decision can be made with one or both of them. They are very different players, each one bringing a dimension to the attack. If one has to go on loan, it will almost certainly be Tello, who isn’t as developed a player as Cuenca, even as he is more dangerous in certain situations. His pace is also very difficult to argue with.
Get Pedro! back. Essentially, I would threaten to fine him if he tried to beat any player off the dribble. Ever. That isn’t his game. If you look at the glory seasons, compared to the Pedro of last season (excluding his injury), Pedro! was essentially point-and-shoot. He would run to a spot, get a ball and shoot. Or he would run into the box when somebody else shot, and capitalize on the ensuing chaos. He plays on the wing, but he isn’t a winger. To my view, Pedro! is more of a roving striker. Pedro is a winger who tries to beat defenders off the dribble, and runs around like a chicken with his head cut off. This doesn’t work.
Make a decision on Afellay. His talent is immense. His playing time will be minimal. He has skills as a winger, ball handler and attacker and is a unique player. The question is whether he is a unique player who will be happy with the playing time scraps that he will be getting from us next season. I am in favor of keeping him, as I think he does things that Cuenca/Tello can’t do. But if we keep him, we are going to have to actually use him, and integrate him into the side so that he isn’t Stranger in a Strange Land when he comes in. You could see him as part of an attacking trident that included Villa and Sanchez, or in midfield with Thiago for Copa matches and the like.
Make fitness a priority. I know that Villa and Fabregas have their own ways of doing things, but Villa had his little pooch for too long into the season, and Fabreagas visibly ran out of steam. The more tired he becomes, the more he disappears. Villa gets offside more. They have to be fit enough to run, run and run some more.
Xavi will be diminished. In part because he should be, but in part because age and injuries will take their toll. This, for me, makes the rumored sale of Keita a silly one. As Busquets becomes more evident in a metronomic role, you need that do-everything player filling in space in front of the defense. Keita is that player, who brings something very special to the club.
Figure out a role for Dos Santos, or get a player we actually CAN use. Dude has disappeared from the radar, in part because there really isn’t a consistent role for him on the club. If Afellay blossoms as he has the potential, then he becomes that “other guy,” platooning with Fabregas. Adding Busquets, Iniesta and Keita to that mix, you suddenly have a glut of talent.
Buy a left back. Who it is, doesn’t matter, but we need a starting left back. I don’t believe that Adriano is that player, as valuable as he is. I don’t believe that this player needs to be expensive. Jordi Alba is the right price, the right profile and would fit the system. His height is a complexity for me and frankly, my preference would be an Abidal type. There are scads of them in Ligue 1. But given what has happened during the last matches, the Alba purchase (or an attacking LB like that) is looking increasingly likely. Euler and I noticed a change in the system, as Montoya was the defensive FB as Adriano charged forward to raise hell. I don’t believe the Alves rumors, but I do believe that if the right offer came along, we would sell him. He wasn’t the player that he is capable of being last season, a trend that I don’t see changing. It happens. But no matter what happens, whether Alves stays or not, we need a starting LB.
Make a center back decision. Puyol will be plenty back from his knee surgery, and he was in brilliant form the last segment of the season. But he isn’t getting any younger or more durable. Promotions have come in the form of Fontas and Muniesa, and both will be first team this season. Are they of sufficient quality to earn places on the bench, and start as need be? Good question. I know that nothing that I have seen from either one makes me believe that they are of starter quality. I just don’t see a Thiago Silva purchase happening. For the same money, I could see the more versatile Javi Martinez happening. But we need to essentially acquire three CBs (a starter-quality and two subs). If Fontas and Muniesa are the Copa/minnows players, a high-quality CB will have to be acquired, one who will also have to get accustomed to not playing as much as he did at whatever club he came from as I think that increasingly, Mascherano is going to become among the first choices on the defensive team sheet.
Or not. If I had to go to war with the exact roster (assuming promotions as well) that we have right now, I’d be okay with that. We have one hell of a football team. That Other Spanish Team had a majestic season to beat a clunky, inconsistent us. We’re still the best team in the world. Period.
Yes, there will be more, like from Euler, who will have his own, separate masterclass.
For now, you can all debate, call us crazy, or agree amd think that we’re geniuses. Either way, have fun.