The footballing world is changing, and with it, so are Barcelona. The big movement that saw teams around the globe play the sentiment card, appointing ex-players and icons of their respective histories to various positions at the club. Of course, this is not something entirely unheard of.
After all, the widely-perceived notion that only ex-players make for good coaches, and ex-players of specific clubs should be given a headstart when applying for a job for their former colours is still standing strong. Just look at Chelsea and Frank Lampard or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United. Sentiments play a huge role in buying the fans and it works, so who can blame all those clubs trying that model in the first place?
And while there are certain footballing personas like José Mourinho, for example, who practically never kicked a ball properly and yet, they are among the world’s elite coaches with a sea of silverware in their cabinets to back up the claim that, in fact, you don’t have to be a highly experienced footballer to be a highly successful manager. But I digress.
Barcelona are very much headed in that same direction and it comes as no surprise either. The board has very much been the biggest thorn in the fans’ foot for a while. Or rather, ever since Josep Maria Bartomeu was appointed president and ever since the team’s philosophy seemed to have become a thing of the past. And those two were highly intertwined; one causing the other and then finally, both pushing the club over the brink.
But now, whether it’s just a ploy to save his own face or a desperate try to win over the masses, Bartomeu has started a clean up at the club that saw various structural changes being deployed, one after the other. First, Eric Abidal, one of Barcelona’s longstanding icons of the past, was brought back to the club as their new sporting director. This was seen as a breath of fresh air, something no one quite really expected until it was finally made official.
Next came Victor Valdés who assumed the role of a juvenile coach at Barcelona, and will now be guiding the U-19 team just after he officially secured his coaching badges not so long ago. This, too, was seen as a heroic return and a big pat on the back of Bartomeu for being competent, or wise enough to get that deal over the line. Especially since Valdes himself was keeping himself open to other deals, away from the Camp Nou and his beloved Blaugrana.
But Barcelona did not stop there. No, they went even further and just recently announced another appointment that saw another club legend assume a role within their ranks. Patrick Kluivert, the Catalans’ once prolific forward and goalscorer, “returned home”, as he put it, to become Barcelona’s new head of youth – the supervisor of La Masia or formally, “academy manager”.
This was another “transfer” that rallied the fans in a good way. Finally, the board has come to their senses and are doing sensible things. And just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any better, Pep Segura, the now ex-sporting manager, was sacked and given nothing more than a couple of bland lines in a farewell article on the official Barcelona website.
Segura was the guy the club turned to when it came to transfers, and he was the guy claiming physique should be prioritised over technique. Physique. Over technique. At Barça. Madness, the fans roared, and they roared as he left the club, seemingly on bad terms, if his “colourful” farewell message is anything to go by.
So needless to say, this is quite the new dawn for the Catalans. The future looks set to bring about even more changes. Xavi Hernández in the managerial role, Carles Puyol as his training assistant and who knows, maybe even Gerard Piqué as the president of the club. All ex-players, all coming from a single generational crop that once ruled the world.
If nothing, the future certainly looks blue and red for Barcelona, and just that in itself sounds pretty good. At least compared to what it has been in recent years. Many believe the Catalan giant is still relevant largely because of the efforts of one man, and it’s not Bartomeu by any stretch of the imagination.
Lionel Messi has been their saviour ever since he first donned the Blaugrana colours, even if the number on his back was not the iconic number 10. Even back then it was crystal clear that he would lead the team to new heights, heights that were never achieved before and ones that might never be achieved again. Messi’s legacy is already untouchable at Barcelona, safe in the Catalan pantheon and is looking likely to become immortalised even in the eyes of the whole world.
But even though there wouldn’t be Messi without Barcelona, and without a shadow of a doubt, Barcelona wouldn’t be who they are without Messi, they will still have to face the gloomy reality of his retirement and life after the little genius.
For that very reason, changes they make right now will play a big role in the toughest of years which are yet to come into play. The board has been making moves the whole summer, and indeed they have been exceptionally and surprisingly busy with that but were those the right moves to begin with?
It’s a rather difficult question to answer this early, especially considering that most of these changes are still fresh. Valdés and Kluivert have not yet been at their respective positions a full week and Segura flew out of the door mere days ago. Abidal, however, has been making strides as the man in charge of the transfers.
For the most part, the Frenchman got rid of the deadwood players and he also brought in talents that are already a closer fit to the Barcelona philosophy than countless bought before his appointment. In that regard, yes, the Catalans look like they are ready to make amends and make them quickly.
But that’s exactly the other side of this coin. Some of the actions seem a bit rushed, and all these changes are happening at once. Sure, we don’t really have a way of knowing what happens behind the scenes and how long does it take to make a decision as big as sacking Pep Segura or appointing Patrick Kluivert as the academy manager.
However, it does seem like the Catalans are guided by their hearts rather than their minds. Or is it the opposite and Bartomeu is doing this to save himself from the fans’ wrath? Both scenarios are possible, yes. After all, Kluivert arrives with little to show for in his resume to be a justified academy manager.
Valdés also has no history of coaching but he is already with a gig at Barcelona. But that one is slightly easier to digest as he is only leading the juvenile team, which is a good place for any newcomer to the job to start at.
It’s also really easy to be in our place and criticise or compliment the board for this or that decision but the reality is, we have no idea if they will work out or not.
But still, for the first time in many years, Barça seem like they’re being run by people who love and understand the club, Bartomeu aside, of course. And that in itself is a rather beautiful outcome.
Here’s to it also being the best one, as well.