Luis Enrique leading Barca revolution
Luis Enrique is the leader Barcelona so desperately needed.
As a player, his contagious winning nature was so obvious that nobody was surprised when he was given the Catalans' armband after only five seasons at the club. Those who worked under him at Barca B, Roma or Celta Vigo all appreciate his direct, decisive approach.
The Asturian manager knows leading the current revolution at the Camp Nou is the most difficult challenge of his career. Far from being faced by the magnitude of the task ahead, he has decided to take each day as it comes and remain true to the confident, hard-working, ultra-committed attitude which has taken him where he is today.
Based on what we have seen on preseason, it seems clear that Luis Enrique is determined to ensure all his players take every training session as if it was their last. Currently, his main concern is that every squad member reaches optimum fitness as soon as possible, in what is already a clear contrast to the previous season.
It will be interesting to see if such an intense physical focus in training can enhance the team's performances on the pitch.
The strict code of conduct which was so successful under Pep Guardiola has not only been reintroduced, but also strengthened. Matters such as using official clothing during club events, using social networks responsibly or even drinking alcohol during meals are no longer left to chance (as was the case under Gerardo Martino), and offenders are now fined whenever rules are broken -- with Gerard Pique, perhaps unsurprisingly, having the doubtful honour to be first to pay into the pot.
Luis Enrique has also played a major role in the addition of every one of the seven new faces that Barcelona have welcomed this summer.
Despite sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta having already agreed the signing of Marc Andre ter Stegen for 12 million euros before Luis Enrique's arrival, the transfer wasn't completed until the new manager approved it.
The courageous Asturian then insisted on recruiting Claudio Bravo in what many interpreted as an unnecessary expense of a further 12 million euros. However, forcing both goalkeepers to compete for a starting spot on a daily basis will ultimately benefit the team as a whole. Knowing that any slight dip in form will certainly mean warming up the bench in the foreseeable future should be enough to motivate whomever gets picked for the first official match.
While many believe the 20 million euros invested to lure Jeremy Mathieu away from Valencia was excessive, his arrival also responds to a direct request by Luis Enrique. After several years of painfully struggling to defend against set pieces, the Blaugrana now have Europe's second-tallest partnership in their central defence.
Sure, that doesn't necessarily mean they will never concede from a corner again, but it should definitely help to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing goal leakage which lead to the club's failure last season.
Ivan Rakitic, after leading the Sevilla midfield for the past few years, has a magnificent opportunity to become a world-class player next to Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. His hunger for success, ability to combine with nearby teammates, vision when long-range passing and determination to hassle rivals when dispossessed will add many aspects which have been dearly missed since the departure of Seydou Keita back in 2012.
Rafa Alcantara became a much more mature player under Luis Enrique at Celta Vigo and didn't hesitate to accept the offer to be reunited with his coach once again but defending the Blaugrana colours instead this time around.
While nobody really expects Thiago's younger brother to be included in every initial lineup, it wouldn't surprise anyone if the talented, skilled, relentless youngster will grow of importance within the team as the season develops.
Luis Enrique also insisted on bringing both Luis Suarez to the Camp Nou and taking Gerard Deulofeu back after his yearlong loan at Everton. The coach was determined to do whatever it took to have the Premier League's top goal scorer in his squad and, with that in mind, the 80 million euro investment makes perfect sense. The Uruguayan's ability to create opportunities out of nowhere and constantly fight his way into goal-scoring positions will be a huge boost for a team that became far too predictable last season.
From a tactical point of view, the addition of Suarez will allow the manager to experiment up front. A 4-3-1-2 formation with Lionel Messi interchanging positions with either Suarez or Neymar would be an absolute nightmare for rivals to defend against. A 5-2-1-2 formation with both Jordi Alba and Dani Alves (or, better, Juan Cuadrado or even Pedro reconverted as a right-back) constantly overlapping from the wings should also work, especially whenever their opponents decide to just park the bus and wait.
Barcelona have invested 123 million euros and made 77 from selling unwanted players. While Josep Maria Bartomeu's board have already acted on their promise to invest heavily to improve the squad, the general consensus is that Barca still need another centre-back (reportedly Marquinhos from PSG) and a right-back to replace Alves (Cuadrado has been mooted).
Offloading the Brazilian No. 2 makes perfect sense from both an economic and sporting point of view. While Cules will always be grateful for what he has given the club, neither his fitness nor his attitude are as good as they used to be. Having a player sitting on the bench with such a huge salary and only one year left on his contract would be a terrible idea.
Lastly, but certainly not least: Alex Song and Ibrahim Afellay must go. For whatever reason, neither midfielder has managed to consistently show why Barca signed them in the first place, and it is now time for them to further their careers elsewhere. The club could certainly do with reinvesting any money obtained in return for their transfers on the new players mentioned above.
Here's hoping the many decisions taken this summer have the positive impact that Cules expect once the ball starts rolling in La Liga on 24th August, at home against Elche.