Out with the old, in with the new.
Barcelona seemed poised for a fresh start as Joan Laporta won March’s election by a landslide to usher in a second tenure as president.
Laporta’s return was a welcome one after months of controversy surrounding former supremo Josep Maria Bartomeu which culminated in his arrest and a Camp Nou raid.
The following month, Barca triumphed in the Copa del Rey and an impressive 19-game unbeaten run saw the Catalans reel in La Liga-leaders Atletico Madrid.
Since then, however, Barcelona’s form has nosedived, with the Blaugrana winning just three of their last eight top-flight games, allowing Atletico and Real Madrid to pull clear in the table.
There was a marked improvement in performances after the turn of the year, but old habits have reared their heads in recent weeks, meaning Barca travel to Eibar on Saturday for their final game of the season knowing they can finish only as high as third.
The progress Ronald Koeman’s side were making has been stopped in its tracks and the good mood last month’s silverware brought to Catalonia has vanished.
A matter of weeks ago, Laporta was eyeing a league-cup double. This Tuesday, he found himself saying “a cycle has come to an end”.
“We are working on a renewal process,” he said at a Diario Sport event. “From next week, you will see several decisions which must be taken.
“We have to work hard to build a competitive team to win league titles and Champions Leagues.
“When I speak of a cycle coming to an end or about renovation work, it’s because it’s what I believe must be done.
“We won the Copa del Rey, which we are proud of, but we were knocked out of the Champions League early and have lost La Liga incomprehensibly from my point of view.”
Laporta explicitly mentioned it will be a busy summer window for his side, while the future of captain Lionel Messi is sure to dominate headlines as he enters the final few weeks of his deal.
But Barcelona cannot allow their pre-season to become the Messi show – as it so often is on the pitch – nor can they fail to act regarding the club’s management.
There must also be changes regarding on-pitch preparation as Barca aim to close the gap on their rivals based in the Spanish capital.
To that end, here are four changes Barcelona must make this summer.
Be decisive on Koeman’s future
Ronald Koeman was appointed Barcelona boss less than a month before the start of this season, giving the Dutchman very little time to get to grips with the role and imprint his own style on the squad.
Not only that, a great deal of pre-season – which was already shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic – was focussed on the Lionel Messi saga whereby the Argentine looked to leave before performing a dramatic late U-turn.
The result of a distracted and truncated pre-season was evident as Barcelona won four, lost four and drew two of their opening 10 La Liga games to leave them ninth in the table.
Fast forward to May 2021 and Koeman’s position is under huge scrutiny after the wheels fell off his side’s title charge.
Catalan outlet RAC1 reports there is a 99 per cent chance Koeman will be dismissed at the end of the season – but there is no room for that one per cent of indecision.
Joan Laporta cannot make the same mistake as his predecessor; he must act decisively to either sack or back Koeman. This will give whoever manages Barcelona next season as much time as possible to prepare for the new season beginning on 13 August.
Strengthen the spine
Joan Laporta talks of “renewal” and “renovation”, but what does that actually entail?
In recent years, Barcelona have spent copious amounts on luxury players who simply haven’t made the grade – Philippe Coutinho and Miralem Pjanic, to name two – all while their once-world-beating spine slowly dismantled.
Barcelona failed to replace Luis Suarez after his switch to Atletico Madrid and their reliance on 34-year-old Gerard Pique has been exposed following the Spaniard’s string of injuries.
They need only look to arch-rivals Real Madrid to see a prime example of how far a fantastic core group of players can take you, even if the quality of those on the periphery is not as formidable.
Even with Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos injured, the timeless midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, and world-class striker Karim Benzema saw Los Blancos reach the semi-finals of the Champions League. Zinedine Zidane’s side are also in with a shot at La Liga glory in what will no-doubt be a thrilling final weekend.
Benzema has struck 28 goals for Real Madrid this season and Casemiro – a defensive midfielder – is joint-second top scorer with seven.
The likes of Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior and Isco have all had underwhelming seasons, but that is compensated for by the quality and grit which runs through the spine of the team.
Like Pique, 32-year-old Sergio Busquets’ days running the show are numbered – and Barcelona must look to strengthen their players in key areas to compete next season, even if it means passing up marquee signings.
Show ruthlessness in the transfer market
Given Barcelona are in £1.1billion of debt, recruitment won’t be easy.
But they can bolster their coffers with some shrewd sales this summer and there is no shortage of players who they could move on.
The likes of Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Miralem Pjanic could all command sizeable fees despite their underwhelming seasons.
As well as generating funds, these sales would pave the way for the latest generation of Barcelona starlets to take centre stage.
Pedri, an 18-year-old midfielder, has been a shining light for the Catalans this season and his tally of four goals and six assists puts 31-year-old Pjanic – who is yet to be involved in a goal for the club – to shame.
Incredibly, no player has made as many appearances as the teenager’s 52 this season, which have earned him comparisons to club legend Andres Iniesta.
Let’s not forget Ansu Fati, either. Considered one of the brightest talents in Europe, the Spain winger has been missing since he suffered a serious knee injury last November.
The 18-year-old had five goals in 10 games up to that point and is expected to return to the fold in time for pre-season.
Keep Messi at all costs
The heart and soul of the club, Barcelona simply must keep hold of Lionel Messi.
At the age of 33 he is showing no signs of letting up and has an astonishing 38 goals and 12 assists in all competitions this season.
Simply put, no one comes close to Messi’s importance for Barca and if Argentine were to join suitors Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City, it is very hard to see where their goals or their impetus would come from.
The psychological impact of losing Messi would arguably be just as great as losing his torrent of goals and assists, which is why it is so important that Laporta convinces him to stay.
The Barcelona president has reportedly tabled an unconventional 10-year deal to convince the six-time Ballon d’Or winner to pen new terms.
And the whole of the footballing world is waiting with bated breath to see what Messi does next.
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