On paper last night’s tie between FC Barcelona and Spartak Moscow should’ve been a fairly straightforward one. On paper. While one was inclined to believe that it was going to be a goal-fest, it was assumed that Spartak Moscow would just play dead and endure a torrid time in Catalunya. Well, the Russian guests didn’t adhere to the unwritten law of not causing Barcelona’s fragile defense any problems. To cut to the chase, the game ended in a flattering 3-2 victory for FC Barcelona, thanks to the genius of Lionel Messi and an inspired performance by Cristian Tello. That’s the good news. The bad news, although one that has been announcing itself for some time is that Gerard Pique, Barcelona’s lone and remaining center-back of any reputation, has been injured.
Process that for a moment. Don’t rush it. Take your time and think real hard. Is there any reliable back-up for Gerard Pique?
Let’s try again. Can FC Barcelona, supposedly the best team in Europe, if not the world, call upon the services of a proven center-back to fill-in the gap left by Gerard Pique’s absence?
The answer is a firm NO. According to the official squad list both, Andreu Fontas and Marc Bartra are available for selection. However, both these youngsters have less first team experience in between them than fellow youngster Cristian Tello. Neither Fontas nor Bartra have featured for Barcelona’s first team this season. Not even as substitutes. It’s safe to assume that there must be a mandatory quota of Catalan-born players registered for the first team squad. It’s a trend that started with Josep “Pep” Guardiola and continues to be endorsed by his successor, Tito Vilanova, the obvious disdain of natural center-backs. Some time ago a center-back must have committed a cardinal sin, or even worse major crime, because even though it is evident they lack a quality center-back Barcelona didn’t buy any. Worse, they weren’t even in the market for center-backs. Is there some virus spreading within the shores of Barcelona that causes some kind of allergic reaction to center-backs? Apparently the solution to fix the issue is to buy midfielders. To provide an analogy, if you have stomachache you don’t visit a neurosurgeon, you go and see a regular physician. In Barcelona the likes of Pep, Tito and the President himself, Sandro Rosell, try their utmost to fix one area with the treatment for another. In real life a doctor would’ve been treated times over for malpractice.
No matter how one slices and dices it, Alex Song will not magically transform into a center-back. Nevertheless, he’s the last one to blame. Song certainly has his qualities but he’s not what FC Barcelona needed in the first place. Barcelona needs a center-back. At this point in time Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy produces enough midfielders to cover their needs in that area. So why buy Alex Song, at a cool 19,000,000 Euro no less?
I can offer two working theories of my own.
A) Tito Vilanova genuinely believes Alex Song has the same characteristics as Yaya Toure
B) Arsenal FC are indeed FC Barcelona’s feeder club and the Blaugrana are contractually-bound to buy at least one Arsenal player per year
In 2011 and 2012, Barcelona have paid Arsenal FC an accumulated 53,000,000 Euro to secure the services of Cesc Fabregas (34,000,000 Euro) and Alex Song (19,000,000 Euro). So while the rest of Europe’s elite, and thus their rivals for the Champions League, added at least one (1) center-back, Chelsea acquired Gary Cahill, Manchester City treated themselves to Stefan Savic and Matija Nastasic, Manchester United snapped up Phil Jones, nouveau-riche PSG went out of their way and bought Thiago Silva for a mind-bending 42,000,000 Euro, Bayern Munich signed Dante while FC Barcelona remain(ed) steadfast in their conviction that defensive midfielders can be retooled and become quality center-backs. The Javier Mascherano experiment must have convinced the executive ranks of FC Barcelona that it is smart business to buy defensive midfielders in order to deploy them as center-backs. Essentially Barcelona expects their expensively signed defensive midfielders to be a 2-in-1 deal.
But football is a funny game. Just as recent as last Sunday FC Barcelona appeared to have advantage over Real Madrid in La Liga and the Champions League. But with Gerard Pique joining Carles Puyol on the treatment table, Barcelona is suddenly robbed of their (nominal) center-backs. El Clasico is on the horizon and judging by Tito Vilanova’s refusal to allocate any game time to Andreu Fontas and Marc Bartra the short- to mid-term outlook for the Blaugrana is reasonably bad. Carles Puyol is definitely out of the Clasico fixture and so is Gerard Pique, probably. So that leaves Javier Mascherano, who has looked bad in recent big games against the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid, to pair with Alex Song. One can be excused if this particular pairing doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in Barcelona’s defense. After all, it’s one short guy and a tall guy playing out of position.
If FC Barcelona finish the season without the La Liga or Champions League trophy (it must be noted that Barcelona have never won the Champions League without winning La Liga too) it’s not because of their lack of attacking prowess, it’s because they refused to buy a quality center-back. The potential failure is largely of its own making. To put things in perspective – Alberto Botia, a Barcelona La Masia youngster and proven La Liga center-back, was available for a cut-price 5,000,000 Euro — hardly a transfer fee beyond the means of FC Barcelona. Now he’s plying his trade in Sevilla who defeated Real Madrid 1-0.
In Barcelona it has become fashionable to turn a blind eye on blatant deficits.
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