Time ticking for crucial Barca rebuild
Barcelona are well and truly involved in the summer transfer frenzy after a season in which no significant silverware was achieved. The many underperforming players within the squad left fans and, for the first time in years, the board calling for drastic changes in order to rebuild and bring the club back to its winning ways.
Luis "Lucho" Enrique was appointed as soon as one of the poorest seasons in recent Blaugrana history ended. Having the former captain in charge of the new project is certainly the right decision due to his enthusiastic personality, unquestionable leadership abilities and in-depth knowledge of what it takes to succeed at the Camp Nou.
Lucho's experience at Barca B working alongside most of the current first-team youngsters and his working relationships with Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova at the time will certainly come in handy moving forward. Managing the Catalans involves much more than deciding on a given formation and picking XI players to start games, so having a leader who can handle the off-field pressure and not crumble under the spotlight is a must.
Sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta has been given the overall responsibility of giving the first-team squad a much-needed facelift. Fortunately, it looks as if current president Josep Maria Bartomeu won't interfere much in terms of the transfer of players, leaving Zubizarreta to take whatever decisions he feels necessary to improve the squad -- a wise decision if we look back at the many below-par signings made during Sandro Rosell's hands-on era.
While the overall impact of Zubi's time at Barca is far from positive, all Cules can do at this point is hope that he finally manages to attract the players the squad so desperately needs this summer. Let's trust he takes on board Enrique's preferences when choosing new targets and manages to add the sort of world-class players the team needs in order to rebuild successfully.
The squad needs at least four new starters: A reliable goalkeeper who won't crumble under Victor Valdes' shadow; an experienced, taller centre-back to partner Gerard Pique; a dynamic, fresh playmaker who can make transitions into attack faster and a reference striker who can partner Lionel Messi upfront.
Marc Andre Ter Stegen has already been confirmed as the Catalans' first choice between the goalposts. While the 21-year-old German has the potential for greatness, his lack of experience at the highest level could be a handicap, especially when adapting to a new league. The signing of a second, more experienced keeper is now a must as the healthy competition between them would definitely benefit the team in the long run. Real Sociedad's Claudio Bravo seems to be the preferred choice for that role.
Central defenders Marquinhos (PSG), Jeremy Mathieu (Valencia) and Miranda (Atletico Madrid) have all been linked with Barca in recent days. It's quite hard to get excited about any of those names as, at this moment in time, only Miranda would be able to truly compete with Marc Bartra for a starting spot as soon as the new season starts.
Koke, the dynamic playmaker that impressed at Atletico Madrid and made Spain's World Cup squad despite only being 22 years old, has been heavily linked with a move to Barcelona this week. While his 60 million-euro buyout clause may initially seem extortionate for such a young player, his stellar performances leading Diego Simeone's attack ensure that his signing would be worth every penny; he will only get better in the next decade.
By bringing Rafinha back from his loan at Celta Vigo and blocking the departure of Sergi Roberto, Luis Enrique has already proven his determination to add much-needed youth and fresh legs into the Blaugrana midfield. It's great to see the very successful La Masia model growing in importance after a couple of years where promising youngsters weren't given enough opportunities to grow and were only used as emergency back-ups whenever more experienced players were unavailable.
On that same note, Barca fans will be delighted to welcome relentless winger Gerard Deulofeu back home after his adventure at Everton. Sure, he probably didn't feature as much as Barca would have liked in the Premier League but, ultimately, the many learning experiences gained under Roberto Martinez and at a personal level should give him an extra boost when competing for a starting spot at the Camp Nou.
Unfortunately, the Catalans haven't been linked with any major strikers yet this summer. Despite names such as Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Fernando Llorente being briefly mentioned in passing, there doesn't seem to be a clear target at this moment in time. Let's hope that Zubizarreta has already started negotiations in the background as any striker who excels at the World Cup will likely see their price immediately double.
Bartomeu promised in-depth changes as soon as the season ended. For now, there have been several steps in the right direction but nothing extraordinary to be hugely excited about. Considering the Barca directors also have the sale of unwanted players to worry about, it would be wise to remind under-pressure Zubizarreta that time is certainly ticking -- not a positive sign when there are so many negotiations to close.
The Quote: "I have a lot of faith in Zubizarreta, who has done a wonderful job. People who criticise him should know that he's not the only one responsible for signings. The club has a major overhaul in mind and has the finances to make it happen" -- Bartomeu.