Spanish Corner | Is FC Barcelona ready to face FIFA’s transfer ban in times of rebuilding?
Football Club Barcelona can not buy any players in the next two transfer windows due to the transfer ban imposed by FIFA on them for breaking rules on signing international players under-18. How will Luis Enrique’s rebuilding process get impacted by this? Indranath Mukherjee explores by looking at the future prospects.
FC Barcelona reached the pinnacle in terms of footballing excellence during the managerial stint of Pep Guardiola from 2008 to 2012 winning 14 championships including two UEFA Champions League. Following Pep’s departure, his natural successor Francesc “Tito” Vilanova took over and Barca hit the magic mark of 100 points in La Liga although Tito spent large part of the season in New York being treated for cancer. The following season due to Tito’s inability to continue, Barcelona appointed the Argentine Gerardo Daniel “Tata” Martino as their manager. Barca under Tata had started well but by the end of the season looked like a team very different from Pep’s all conquering side. Although it was a trophyless season, the lack of intensity in Barca’s football was a bigger concern for the passionate Barcelona fans. The dazzling football and the resulting success in the football pitch during the Pep-Tito era got a tad maligned with off the field incidents under President Alexandre “Sandro” Rosell.
Having got Luis Enrique Martínez back in Barcelona as the manager of the senior team, this season is somewhat the beginning of rebuilding of the new Barcelona. Luis Enrique is trying to bring the intensity back in Barca’s game that was missing post-Pep era. There are some key changes in the team as well. The talismanic leader in the defence Carles Puyol has retired. The presence of Éric Sylvain Abidal in the left-back was inspiring in more ways than one. There is no Victor Valdes and Xavier “Xavi” Hernández at 34 is clearly not the same player he was during the club’s golden years.
After seven rounds of matches in La Liga, Barcelona is sitting atop of the table with 6 wins and a draw. The only defeat so far this season has come in the UEFA Champions League away match against Paris Saint-Germain. In Spain they are yet to concede a goal. The only draw in the league came with an uninspiring display against Malaga followed by almost a classical Barcelona style football against Granada scoring half a dozen in front of their home crowd. Xavi played full time for the first time this season and his impact on the game was there for everyone to see but Xavi is not expected to play like this throughout the season. Lionel Messi’s first of the two goals against Granada at 61st minute came when he headed a cross from the right from Dani Alves. Dani got the super long ball from Xavi. Xavi’s vision, Dani’s presence and quick cross and Messi’s Midas touch almost made us feel that we were watching Pep‘s Barcelona.
Luis Enrique knows all about Barcelona thanks to his playing days and later as the manager of Barcelona B but the challenge that he faces is that he cannot buy any players in the next two transfer windows because of the ban imposed on them by FIFA for breaking rules on signing of international players under the age of 18. Along with the transfer ban, Barcelona were also fined 450,000 Swiss francs. Without going into the details of the ban and discussing what is right and what is not, let’s try and see if Barcelona is ready to perform with the intensity that made them the greatest team in the world while they cannot buy any footballers in the next two transfer windows.
Barcelona made reasonable use of the summer transfer window which they got thanks to the appeal that they had made after the initial ban imposed by FIFA. They got hold of some players who could prove to be the key members in shaping the future of the club.
Even after a great first half in La Liga last season, Barca could not hold on to their lead till the end. The injury of Valdes was one of the contributory factors for this. For a goalkeeper, 32 is actually the prime age but Valdes was not ready to sign a contract renewal which probably was also because of the fact that everything was not going well at the club. The ever-unreliable José Manuel Pinto was also not offered a contract extension. Oier Olazábal failed to make the cut and was sold to Granada. In the process of completely overhauling the goalkeeping position, Barcelona managed to get the 31-year-old Chilean custodian Claudio Bravo from Real Sociedad. In Marc-André Ter Stegen from Borussia Mönchengladbach, they have probably got their long-term plan sorted. The 22-year-old German keeper is very highly rated and should leave his mark in Spain. Jordi Masip has also been promoted from Barcelona B. Fabrice Ondoa, the 18-year-old Cameroonian goalkeeper at Barcelona B is another one for the future. Barcelona seems to be in a good shape with what they have in the goalkeeping division.
Although Barcelona only conceded goals against PSG this season, the problem with their defence is far from gone. For the last couple of seasons, they are trying to sign centre-backs but ending up getting defensive midfielders and trying to make them makeshift centre-backs. After rounds of rumours of signing the likes of Marquinhos failed, they finally signed Jérémy Mathieu, the 30-year-old French defender from Valencia; Thomas Vermaelen, the 28-year-old Belgian from Arsenal and Douglas Pereira dos Santos, the 24-year-old Brazilian from São Paulo. Mathieu is essentially a left-back who can also play in the middle and that is where Enrique has been playing him so far. He seems to be a hardworking fellow who has limited capability. Vermaelen is still not match-fit and the Brazilian right-back Douglas looked clueless in the match against Malaga. Javier Mascherano showed how brilliant he can be as a defensive midfielder in the World Cup in Brazil but he will still be playing as a centre-back at Barcelona but he is never as reliable in that position as he is in the midfield. Gerard Piqué looks suspect every time he comes to the pitch. The 20-year-old centre back from Senegal, Diawandou Diagne, now playing at Barcelona B may get a nod to play in the senior team next season. At La Masia, Rodrigo Tarin, the 18-year-old Spaniard is touted to be the most promising centre-back at La Masia since Puyol. He should be an exciting prospect for sure. If Pique gets his act together and Vermaelen comes good then along with the talented Marc Bartra and hardworking duo of Mascherano and Mathieu, the centre-back position looks stronger than the right side of the defence where Martín Montoya is far from ready to replace Dani Alves. Sergio Juste Marín, the 22-year-old right-back and captain of Barcelona B has been out injured for almost a year now. While the right-back position is extremely vulnerable, the option of Jordi Alba, Adriano Correia and if needed then Mathieu make the left-back position seems to be the most secured one for Barcelona. The left-back at Barcelona B, Alex Grimaldo has returned from his knee injury and could be promoted in the senior team next season.
With Xavi not getting any younger and Thiago Alcântara moving to Bayern Munich, Barcelona have been struggling to find the right partner for Andrés Iniesta to create music in the midfield. Also Cesc Fàbregas probably did not feature in Enrique’s scheme of things. While Cesc has gone back to England to get his ‘unfinished business in EPL’ done, Barcelona signed Ivan Rakitić from Sevilla. The 26-year-old super Croatian has been a perfect fit in the side playing box to box bringing in the immense intensity that the new manager is striving for. Rakitić has adjusted in the side in no time and his impact is going to be crucial in how Barcelona performs in the coming days. There is a plethora of talents in the midfield in the Barcelona B and Juvenil. Argentine Maxi Rolón, Croatian Alen Halilović and the bunch of Spanish kids Bicho, Sergi Samper, Gerard Deulofeu, Carles Alena and Adama Traoré; all these could be household names in the next few years. The 18-year-old Cameroonian Wilfrid Kaptoum is being touted as the Xavi of the next generation.
Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior this season seems to be settling down at Barcelona and playing well with Messi. He scored his first hat-trick against Granada but his fitness is still a matter of concern. The 19-year-old sensation Munir El Haddadi Mohamed has got a direct call in the senior team form Barcelona Juvenil A and will surely mature soon playing with the likes of Iniesta, Messi and Neymar. Rafinha Alcântara is back after his loan stint at Celta Vigo and has shown that he can be effective in the wing. Pedro Rodríguez looks rather disappointing while the 19-year-old Sandro Ramírez is showing his potential of being a good poacher. Adama Traoré, now 18, could be another bright prospect in wing for the future. Last but not the least, the transfer of the temperamental Uruguayan Luis Suarez from Liverpool means the lethal combination of Messi-Neymar and Suarez at the front will be ready for the season’s first El Clásico. How the trio will work in tandem remains to be seen but the prospect indeed is mouth-watering.
The transfer ban may prove to be the blessing in disguise for Barcelona. Luis Enrique has been trying to instil a strong work ethics in the side and with his background at the club he is not shy to call up players from the youth teams. Historically Barcelona’s scouting network for players in the age group of 18 to 22 has not been great. So relying on La Masia and youth teams can actually prove to be more effective and may help Enrique to build a squad which could win it all, again. The biggest concern is still their defence, which is aged, slow and very injury prone. Their midfield still lacks a genuine playmaker. Barcelona could have potentially tied down with the likes of Marco Reus in the summer and offered them back to their parent clubs for next 12 months since there is no prohibition to bring back loaned out players in transfer ban. But they missed the opportunity. Let’s wait and watch how they manage their rebuilding phase without being active in the next couple of transfer windows.
UEFA Champions League 2012-13: Group Stage Preview
As the excitement and drama returns with the biggest club tournament in football, Debojyoti Chakraborty goes through the groups to see how the teams are shaping up for the contest this year
Barely had the transfer window closed and we had the group stage draw for the UEFA Champions League 2012-13 in Monaco on August 31. It is typically an event which prompts club representatives to take out a pen and a piece of paper, desperate to keep track of who-is-drawing-whom, quite oblivious of the fact that the internet will be flooded with them very shortly. Such is the adrenaline rush for this mega event – hailed as the greatest honour in world football – permutations and combinations dominate to predict which team will be pitted against whom. Like each year, teams were slotted in four pots according to their UEFA coefficients – a ranking system which takes into account the club’s historical and most recent performances in the tournament – with the top eight teams in Pot One and the bottom eight in Pot Four. The ranking system is somewhat dubious as except for one team, all others in Pot Four are domestic league winners. For the first time a team finishing as low as sixth in its domestic league featured in the draw as it was the automatic choice – reigning champions, Chelsea. It was already known that teams in the same pot or from the same country cannot be drawn against each other. But that did not prevent us from having some great matches in the group stage.
Manchester United FC
FC Shakhtar Donetsk
FC BATE Borisov
FC Bayern Munich
FC Zenit St. Petersburg
GNK Dinamo Zagreb
Real Madrid CF
FC Schalke 04
FC Spartak Moscow
CFR 1907 Cluj
Manchester City FC
Paris Saint-Germain FC
Montpellier Hérault SC
FC Porto Dynamo Kyiv Paris Saint-Germain GNK Dinamo Zagreb
FC Porto, the Portuguese champions have done remarkably well in the recent editions of this tournament and Vitor Pereira should be happy to be in a group which looks easy on paper. Being in Pot One helped but they have earned it through strong performances in Estádio do Dragão and away. Even after the departure of Hulk, with João Moutinho in form, this side would cause some problems to their more accomplished opponents in the later stages of Champions League.
After the heartbreak in the qualifying rounds last season, Dynamo Kyiv, runners-up in the Ukranian Premier League, are back in the Champions League following two consecutive gruelling qualifying ties. Manager Yuri Semin would be looking at the brighter side thinking his troops are already prepared for the biggest stage of them all. Following the retirement of Ukraine’s greatest ever player Andriy Shevchenko, there is no such ‘star’ in the team and their hopes will rely heavily on their performances at home in Olimpiyskyi National Sports Complex.
The big spending French club failed to win the Ligue 1 last season but still they enter the Champions League stage as one of the hot favourites. Carlo Ancelotti knows he has to bring some honour to Parc des Princes in his second season in charge. And there is no reason why he cannot achieve that with the backing of oil-rich Qatar Sport Investment group. Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura, Marco Verratti, Ezequiel Lavezzi – there is too much talent everywhere and it only needs to be directed through the right channel.
GNK Dinamo Zagreb:
They are the Croat champions but they bowed out of the Champions League last season finishing bottom of their group. Ante Čačić had a dreadful debut season, but he might just get second-time-lucky as the manager of this hardworking team. Watch out for Duje Čop, who has a thunderbolt but is criticized often for overusing that. He has already showed his knack of goal-scoring in the three qualifying ties. Their other weapon would be Stadion Maksimir which is nothing short of a fortress for them.
Arsenal FC FC Schalke 04 Olympiacos FC Montpellier Hérault SC
Lost 3-4 on aggregate to AC Milan in the ‘Round of 16’ last season. They have qualified for this year’s edition by securing the third and last automatic place from English Premier League. Arsene Wenger, in his 17th season in the club, has a challenge to prove that the Gunners are not a mere feeder club to the best clubs in world football. Any club will find it difficult to cope with the departure of one of the best strikers in the world – Robin van Persie. But with fresh arrivals in the form of Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, there is new hope in the Emirates Stadium.
FC Schalke 04:
Huub Stevens guided Schalke 04 to third place in the Bundesliga en route to automatic qualification for Champions League after a hiatus of two years. The buoyant supporters from Veltins-Arena will pin their hopes on their star striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who was prolific last season with a tally of 48 goals in all competitions. Besides, they have some young and home-grown players who are ready to take centre stage.
Champions of Greek Super League could not progress to the knock-out stages last season and they will have to pull up their socks if they are to do any better this time round. Manager Leonardo Jardim is in his debut season but quite a few in the squad will know a thing or two about the Gunners after hosting them in 2009 and 2011 campaign at Karaiskakis Stadium. Departure of frontman Kevin Mirallas, who netted 20 goals in the league, to Everton will be a major blow and it remains to be seen how well the Greek army cope with this challenge.
Montpellier won their first ever league title last season and they are now ready to debut in this season’s Champions League. René Girard and his troop have shown a rare consistency to overpower their mighty domestic opponents and the same ruthlessness will be required if they want to progress in this year’s competition. But with the departure of their main goal-scorer, Olivier Giroud and their lack of squad depth likely to be exposed during the course of the campaign, Stade de la Mosson may not get much action in its debut season in Europe.
AC Milan FC Zenit St. Petersburg RSC Anderlecht Malaga CF
Lost 1-3 in aggregate to Barcelona in the quarter-finals last season. Qualified for this season being runners-up in Serie A. Manager Massimiliano Allegri is in his third season at San Siro. It is time to rebuild for the Rossoneri. Their long serving soldiers have either retired (Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf) or have been shown the door (Andrea Pirlo, Filippo Inzaghi); their talismanic star players (Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva) have been lured away from the Red and Black. Milan has a young team and their hopes will rely heavily on the new face, Giampaolo Pazzini. Still, being in a relatively easy group should help them.
FC Zenit St. Petersburg:
The Russian champions reached the knock-out stages of the competition last term and they would like to emulate that feat this year. Manager Luciano Spalletti should fancy his chances from this group especially if his side can take full advantage of the home matches in the Petrovsky Stadium. Andrei Arshavin, who was on loan from Arsenal, will be missed big time. Much of the burden will be on the shoulders of Hulk, the marquee signing of the season who is a proven goal-scorer at the continental stage.
The Belgian Champions are coming into the competition through play-off after a year’s absence. It will be an acid test for their new man in charge, John van den Brom. They will play in Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. It is a team full of unknown names and faces. But this is the stage where jewels have been discovered in the past.
The great Malaga story reached its pinnacle as it qualified for the Champions’ League by finishing fourth in the La Liga and came through the qualifying rounds. Or is it only the start from La Rosaleda for Manuel Pellegrini and his boys? Only time will tell, but there is no denying that this Spanish side will not let it go so easily. Their financial problem meant a series of summer exits which has created a dearth in squad depth and that might turn out to be a bit of a downer for them.
Real Madrid CF Manchester City FC AFC Ajax Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid CF:
The most successful club in the history of the competition were eliminated from the semi-final last season but they did win the La Liga quite comfortably. José Mourinho has found his feet at the Santiago Bernabéu. Anything less than a trophy is considered a failure and this is one trophy which they have not won since 2002. So teams beware! Watch out for Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria, Iker Casillas, Sami Khedira, Luka Modric, Karim Benzama, Gonzalo Higuain and Co.
Manchester City FC:
It was nothing short of a horror show for the big spending English champions to finish third in the group stage last season. The City of Manchester faithful will not be as patient as Roberto Mancini if they fail to make much wanted progress this term. This should not be too difficult with the talent and depth Manchester City have, even though they did not bolster their squad in the summer transfer window. Only thing is that they have been drawn against three other major European Champions and this could be another reality check for them.
Bowed out of the competition in the group stages last year but claimed the Dutch Eredivisie. Manager Frank de Boer will expect a better outing in his third season in charge at Amsterdam Arena. It will be interesting to see how much Christian Eriksen can inspire Ajax to progress beyond the Group of Death. He does not seem to have much support apart from an ageing Christian Poulsen and some young lesser known players.
Borussia Dortmund had a contrasting season last time – while they won the German Bundesliga they got the wooden spoon in the Champions League. With some of the finest young talents – Marco Reus, Mario Götze and Robert Lewandowski – at his disposal, Jürgen Klopp would be disappointed if he cannot march his team to the knock-out stages. At least the Westfalenstadion faithful will not accept another failure at the world stage.
Chelsea FC FC Shakhtar Donetsk Juventus FC Nordsjaelland
Current champions. They had to win it to qualify for the Champions League as they failed to finish in the top four in English Premier League. Roberto Di Matteo won it as a care-taker manager and got the job on a permanent basis. That is history now. Following the summer exodus – Didier Drogba, Jose Bosingwa, Solomon Kalou – and induction of fresh blood – Eden Hazard, Victor Moses, Oscar, Marko Marin – Chelsea look a completely new side, and a refreshing one at that. The trophy has found a home at Stamford Bridge and The Blues will be on a mission to retain it.
FC Shakhtar Donetsk:
The Ukrainian champions did not create much of an impression last season as they finished rock bottom in the group. This was unexpected as they reached the last eight in the 2010-11 season only to be eliminated by the eventual winners, Barcelona. But Mircea Lucescu has been in charge at Donbass Arena for close to a decade and he knows how to plug the holes. The job is not easy though and a progress to the next round may just prove his biggest ever achievement.
Leaving their match-fixing scandals behind, the Turin club was crowned the Serie A champions last season. But their manager, Antonio Conte is still suffering from the scar as he is to sit out of the entire campaign and assistant coach Massimo Carrera will take charge for the Champions League matches. This is not an ideal set up, but like the Azzuri adversity might just prove to be an inspiration for the club from Juventus Stadium. With the experience of Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo at hand – especially the latter operating at the fulcrum of an intriguing 3-5-2 system – should see them through to the knock-out stages and beyond.
The Danish champions are making their debut this season. Known as a club dedicated to youth development, 2011-12 was a milestone season for them as they won the domestic title for the first time. Only Andreas Laudrup may draw some attention due to his more illustrious father, the legendary Dane, Michael Laudrup. Kasper Hjulmand has rightly set his sight to embrace the moment and not to overburden his young side with unrealistic expectations. It will be a huge occasion for some 10,000 odd spectators at Farum Park and they should enjoy the moment without thinking too much ahead.
FC Bayern Munich Valencia CF LOSC Lille FC BATE Borisov
FC Bayern Munich:
Last year’s runners-up (runners-up in the German Bundesliga too) have bolstered their squad with some marquee signings – Xherdan Shaqiri, Mario Mandžukić and Javi Martinez. The latter will be expected to set the stage on fire, with his calibre and more so for his $50 million transfer price tag. Jupp Heynckes is back in charge for his third spell at Allianz Arena and he would have set his sight on making three finals in four years.
Valencia qualifies for the tournament finishing third in La Liga. With a new manager, Mauricio Pellegrino at the helm in Mestalla, they will look to do better than last year’s group stage exit. The club have seen a busy summer where star players, like Jordi Alba, have left but they have also ensured that there is no dearth of talent with the inclusion of Sergio Canales, Fernando Gago and Nelson Valdez. Canales, in particular, could be a star in the making if he can shed aside his injury woes and that will do no harm to Valencia’s chances.
Another team to finish rock bottom in the group stages last year, Lille had to see off the rigours of qualifying rounds after finishing third in Ligue 1. With the departure of key player Eden Hazard life will not be easy for Rudi Garcia. Fans in the newly opened Grand Stade Lille Métropole and away will hope this will not deter their hopes. Just for football fans, Lille should progress through to the knock-out stages with their Barcelona-esque style of play where players roam around to create open spaces and finish opposition off with breathtaking passing.
FC BATE Borisov:
They finished fourth in the group last season and their manager Viktor Goncharenko would like to have a better outing this time round. They were crowned with the league title in Belarus and are ready to go with three back-to-back wins en route to the final stage of Champions League. Their City Stadium faithful will be looking up to their own child, Alexander Hleb for inspiration but progressing to the next stage will be a tough ask.
FC Barcelona SL Benfica FC Spartak Moscow Celtic FC
Back in the competition after a disastrous season by their own standards – crashed out of Champions League after losing to Chelsea on 2-3 aggregate and came second best in La Liga. Tito Villanova would like to continue the tradition of tiki-taka with a more or less settled team. If they had any weak points, they have addressed that with the signing of left-back Jordi Alba. Watch out for another great goal feast ahead, at least in Camp Nou.
Although they came second in the domestic league, Benfica topped the group last time which had Manchester United. Their progress was stalled by eventual winners Chelsea in the last eight but Jorge Jesus, their manager would be proud of their achievements. Benfica play their home matches in Estádio da Luz and are known to be the club with most number of supporters worldwide. Nicolás Gaitan impressed one and all last season and it would be him and a bunch of young, lesser known but highly skilful players who would like to carry their good form ahead.
FC Spartak Moscow:
Spartak Moscow finished second in the Russian Premier League and were drawn against the Turkey runners-up Fenerbahçe in the qualifying round. They earned a hard-fought 3-2 win on aggregate to announce their return to the biggest club tournament in the world. Home matches in the freezing conditions of Luzhniki Stadium would be a big plus to Unai Emery and his team. They need to take full advantage of that if they wish to have any hopes of progressing through to the next round.
The Scottish champions appear in the final stages of Champions League after a gap of four years through qualifying round. Neil Lennon will know his side will fight hard for each and every ball but he must be realistic about his team’s chances of progressing through to the knock-out stages. The Bhoys cannot afford to let their guard down at Celtic Park if they hope to salvage anything out of this campaign.
Manchester United FC SC Braga Galatasaray S.K. CFR 1907 Cluj
Manchester United FC:
After a disastrous season where the Red Devils failed to progress to the knock-out stages of Champions League and lost the English Premier League to their city rivals, Sir Alex Ferguson looks to reshuffle his squad with the addition of star striker Robin van Persie and playmaker Shinji Kagawa. Old Trafford is buzzing with renewed hopes with the addition of RVP in particular, who netted 37 goals last season in all competitions. This should be a stroll in the park for them but easy groups do not always guarantee result as the gaffer would second.
Coming to the competition after sealing a third spot in the Portuguese Superliga and then defeating Udinese in the play-offs, manager José Peseiro would like to mark his debut season with a notable performance. They do not have any big names to boast of, but their attacking flair would surely catch the eye. Expect some gripping performances, at least on their home turf in Estádio Municipal.
The Turkish champions are back in contention after last year’s absence. Fatih Terim should be positive about his team’s chances being drawn in an easy group. They have some real good players in Hamit Altintop, Felipe Melo, Emmanuel Eboué and Johan Elmander. It seems their home matches in Turk Telecom Arena will play a big role in their progress to the knock-out stages.
CFR 1907 Cluj:
The Romanian champions made it to the Champions league final stages through two play-off tie wins after a gap of two years. This is a relatively unknown club, who play their home matches in Stadionul Dr. Constantin Rădulescu, are full of young enthusiastic players without any big name and the man in charge, Ioan Andone is also in his first season at the club. But sometimes no expectation serves as a major booster for a team to play to their fullest potential under a relaxed environment.
The power shift in Europe is quite eminent. While three clubs from EPL – barring Manchester City – featured in Pot One, La Liga’s dominance is largely concentrated in Real Madrid and Barcelona. Italy has only two representatives in the finals which is an indication of their domestic turmoil. Two contrasting features dictate the rise of two other nations – France and Portugal. While the former has spent massively to lure the best talents across the globe, the latter has put together some strong performances over the years to climb the ladder. There are 17 nations participating in this year’s edition – no one knows who will emerge victorious, come May in London. To know about all that and much more: Follow Football, Follow us!