Luis Enrique was unveiled as the new Barcelona coach on Wednesday and after just two seasons coaching at the top level will have a massive job on his hands to reinvigorate a club that floundered, while losing their identity both on and off the pitch over the past year. His task, though, is less daunting than it appeared it might be just a few weeks ago.
In April, Barcelona were found guilty of breaking FIFA rules regarding the signing of players under the age of 18. While players can be signed by clubs of that age, they must come under one of the following criteria: if the player is moving within the European Union and is aged between 16 and 18, the player’s parents moved to the country for non-footballing reasons, or they live within 100 kilometers of the club. FIFA determined that Barcelona fell foul of these stipulations in 10 cases between 2009 and 2013. Along with a fine, the punishment was a transfer ban for two transfer windows.
It would have meant a squad in greater need of surgery than it had been in several years would have to be depended on for the whole of next season. Instead, Barcelona appealed and FIFA decided that, due to the complexities of the case, to put the ban on hold. It gives Barcelona valuable time this summer to address their need in the transfer market, in the in the knowledge that they could well be prevented from doing so again until January 2016.
Luis Enrique has a number of issues he will surely want to address and was questioned about the futures of several players at his first press conference. On Xavi, who it has been suggested might move on at the age of 34, the man who played at Barcelona between 1996 and 2004 and coached the B team for three years said: “He’s a friend and former team-mate,” according to Spanish sports daily AS. “I could say great things about him. The time will come to sit down and talk and assess what we all want. We’ll wait before deciding things.”
The future of Javier Mascherano has also been called into doubt. The 29-year-old has played at center-back with Barcelona but was previously a holding midfielder and still plays in that position for Argentina. Barcelona are likely to target a strengthening of their long-neglected defense, and Mascherano, who has been linked to Napoli and former club Liverpool, may move on.
“This is a bit like [the question about] Xavi,” Enrique said. “They’re very important footballers, not just on the field. You see how he manages himself, like a captain. There’ll be time to make decisions.”
Perhaps the player most likely to exit, though, is Cesc Fabregas. A target for Manchester United last summer, he could well be again this close season, and was a main focus of criticism as Barcelona’s season hit the skids. Enrique was non-committal.
“We shouldn’t make any decisions, there’s time for everything,” he said.
Barcelona will need to raise some transfer revenue and ease their wage bill if they are refresh a squad that has not been significantly altered since their period of unparalleled success under Pep Guardiola. Much of the blame for that must go the club’s sporting director, Andoni Zubizarreta, who will be working with his former teammate this summer, and must now get things right.
The signing of Alex Song two years ago sums up how the club have erred in recent years. Needing a center-back, as well as a more physical midfielder to the replace the recently departed Seydou Keita, Barcelona spent £17 million on a player they hoped could do both but has been unable to fulfill either role successfully. A specialist center-back and perhaps even two must now be sought, especially after Carles Puyol announced his retirement.
In a dream scenario, Barcelona would finally get their long-time target Thiago Silva. Yet, with the man widely regarded as the world’s best center-back thus far unwilling to rock the boat at Paris Saint-Germain, the Catalans are likely to have to turn their attentions elsewhere. That could well be to Thiago Silva’s Brazil teammate David Luiz. The Chelsea man could well be available this summer and has the ability on the ball to fit seamlessly into Barcelona’s system, although whether he has the solidity that Barcelona’s fragile defense needs is a bigger question mark. Other options are thought to include Mats Hummels, who is unlikely to be prized away from Borussia Dortmund, Athletic Bilbao 19-year-old Aymeric Laporte and Villarreal’s Mateo Musacchio.
Barcelona have already moved to address their vacancies in goal created by the impending departures of Victor Valdes and Jose Manuel Pinto. Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s long anticipated signing from Borussia Monchengladbach has been confirmed this week. Still, his inexperience means that Barcelona could well be looking for another goalkeeper who represents more than simply a backup. While hugely promising, the 22-year-old has made some high-profile errors in his early appearances for Germany and was not included in his country’s provisional squad for the World Cup. Former Barcelona goalkeeper Pepe Reina has long been linked with a return to his former club and, after a loan spell with Napoli, could be targeted again. Keeping both goalkeepers happy, however, would be a significant challenge.
While there wasn’t a need for a “plan B” when Barcelona were arguably the best club team of all time, they now could benefit from another option in attacking areas. Even Guardiola has got on board with the idea of a natural No. 9 by signing Robert Lewandowski at Bayern Munich and his former club could do well to follow suit. Since the short-lived experiment with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Barcelona have not had a typical striker. There are limited options for who they could sign, with the caliber of the player sought dependent on whether a striker is seen as simply an option in reserve or a more permanent feature in the first-choice lineup.
It will be one of the many decisions that Enrique and Zubizarreta will be faced with this summer, knowing that if they get things wrong there may be no cause for redress for almost 18 months.