With the 2013-14 season all but mathematically over for FC Barcelona, everyone involved with the club knows they need to bounce back next season. Now that the transfer ban has been lifted temporarily, the management needs to analyse the current situation, and consider what needs an overhaul and what needs to be scrapped completely.
Here are three things I would change if I was the Director of Football at the club:
1. A new manager
Tata Martino started off well enough, but lately it seems he has lost the plot a little bit.
With his tactics failing, he seems out of new ideas. The insistence on preferring an out-of-form Neymar over Alexis or Pedro, forcing Iniesta wide by starting Fabregas in big matches, the general lack of the intense pressing that defined Barca, and a deep defensive line with vertically challenged defenders like Mascherano are all been signs that Martino is not the man for the job.
He lacks the charisma and motivation skills of Pep Guardiola, as proven by three back-to-back losses in three different competitions. The result- Barcelona finishing the season trophy-less for the first time in 6 years.
The answer – Frank de Boer
The Ajax manager would be a perfect fit for Barca. Drawing inspiration from Johan Cryuff and Louis van Gaal, De Boer’s system at Ajax is very similar to Guardiola’s tiki-taka.
His side have taken the Eridivisie by storm with their fast-paced, high intensity attacking football. Having appeared over 140 times for the Catalans also helps.
2. Get rid of the dead-wood
There are quite a few players in the squad who are just not good enough to play for Barcelona. There are some who are developing to reach that level, but aren’t there yet. Then there are those who have faded out, their performances not justifying their massive wages.
Not good enough – Alex Song, Javier Mascherano, Jonathan Dos Santos, Ibrahim Affelay, Bojan Krkic
Developing – Isaac Cuenca, Gerrard Deulofeu(loan), Rafinha(loan)
Fading stars – Dani Alves – This season’s Dani Alves was a very different player from the man who was arguably the world’s best fullback since 2007. He is past his prime – losing pace, concentration and stamina – and Barca should sell him while he is still in demand.
3. New signings
This season has provided conclusive proof that Barcelona need reinforcements in virtually every area of the pitch. The Catalan outfit needs to bolster the ranks with new players to give the manager fresh tactical options, and the fans something to shout about. The mentioned players should be made top priority for the upcoming transfer window.
Goalkeeper – Marc Andre Ter Stegen – There has been a lot of speculation about Ter Stegen, with his overly enthusiastic agent adding fuel to the fire. Counted among the top young goalkeepers in the world, he has what it takes to fill the boots of Victor Valdez, who leaves as a free agent at the end of the season.
Central Defence – Mats Hummels and Eder Alvarez Balanta
One established center back, and one wonder kid. Hummels has the required qualities of a top defender and should easily fit into Barca’s playing style. Balanta is a rather unknown but exotic defender with good ball-playing skills, too.
In my opinion, Mascherano can never be your most consistent center back if you want to be world beaters. At least one signing is needed.
Full Back – Juan Cuadrado
The Colombian speedster has been making waves in the Serie A with Fiorentina this season. Able to slot in as a winger or a fullback, he should fill the void left by the sale of a sub-par Dani Alves. However, the full back spot is not a top priority, with players like Montoya and Adriano ready to step up.
Striker – Mario Mandzukic
The Croatian hitman could be available in the summer due to the arrival of Robert Lewandowski at Bayern Munich, and could be the perfect Plan ‘B’ for Barca.
When the magic of Messi runs dry and the buses have been parked, lofting crosses towards one of the best headers of the ball in Europe could be a great option. His intense pressing and never-give-up attitude always gives defenders something to think about and would fit in with Barcelona’s pressing style (which, by the way, has been drastically reduced under Martino).