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FC Barcelona: Johan Cruyff Column

Even Johan Cruyff was impressed with Javier
Even Johan Cruyff was impressed with Javier
The following is a translation of Johan Cruyff's weekly column in El Periodico. The original article (in Spanish) can be found here.

Courtesy of El Periodico:

Another week is in the books. It has been a slow week, being the off-season and all, but Johan Cruyff has been busy and he has published another article. This week the Barça legend focused on how the team can get even better.

Regular followers have probably noticed that the beautiful Spanish language isn't a strong point of our writers, me included. So, yet again we contacted our resident translator Manuel Traquete, who again did a brilliant job with the translation. Everybody say thanks to Manuel for the translation, mister Cruyff for writing the article and El Periodico for publishing it.

The dilemma of how to improve

Guardiola’s Barcelona has done better than in the past two seasons. Next season will be even tougher, with Real Madrid as the main rival once again.

Barcelona won the two most important titles, La Liga and the Champions League, and they reached the Copa final. In terms of results, this is a fantastic season. Besides, their football was almost perfect; and it’s not because of the number of games where they played at the same level as in the Champions League, but for the general impression they left behind. As far as I’m concerned, this Barcelona side was stronger, more solid and more competitive than in Guardiola’s first two seasons.

They didn’t win the treble because they had to fight with a very strong Madrid side, but they beat several records along the way, including the record for away wins in the league and the longest unbeaten streak in history – records that are worth nothing in themselves, but that strengthen the notion that this year’s side surpasses its predecessors, regardless of the treble or the sextuple. That said, how can this team improve even more? Should Barca sign many players or just a few? And who should they sign? Starters or back-up players? And what about the current squad? Should Barca keep everyone and go into the next season with a larger squad? If the current squad is seen as the core of the team, then no one will need to leave.

Even before the start of next season, Barca already know some of the challenges they’ll face: they start with the Spanish Super Cup against Mourinho’s Real Madrid, which represents a much more demanding challenge than Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla in previous years. The European Super Cup will be against Porto, who is a much stronger side than Shakhtar in 2009. Finally, in December, Barcelona will travel to Japan and play two more games for the Club World Cup. And the rest of the season promises to be a lot like this one: a fierce fight with Real Madrid in La Liga and in the semis or final of the Copa, and another face-off with Madrid in the Champions League. The season should be planned taking all this into account.

Barcelona already have ‘their’ team, but Madrid isn’t far from finding theirs. Their off-field antics left much to be desired this season, but on the pitch they improved a lot: Champions League semifinalists, Copa champions and worthy runner-ups in La Liga, except the slip-ups against Zaragoza and Gijon and the fact that they couldn’t win any of the duels against Barcelona. There are only two Clásicos in La Liga, but they’ll be fundamental again next season.

More core players

We all know that at the business end of the season, there’s a three or four week period where you decide your fate in every competition and where the team is inevitably low on energy due to the long season. No matter how good – and they are very good – Barca players are, at some point the long season will take its toll on them. At that point, the team will have to go from 11-12 core players to 15-16. This means brining in important players, not only to increase the competition for places in the team but to make up for any potential injury problems and guarantee that you can replace/rest one player without a significant drop in the overall quality.

What are the needs of the team? One player for each position? Maybe we don’t need to. This past season, Mascherano and Abidal have proved that they can play as centre-backs. It’s not their natural position, but they both proved they can excel at that position and be happy that they have the chance to play, even if in a position that is not theirs. Puyol is expected to overcome his knee problem and come back strongly and if you add Piqué and Fontás, the list of centre-backs is large. Forwards? It’s not easy to sign one with the likes of Messi in your ranks. Messi does everything, his area of influence on the pitch is huge. Any forward, no matter how good he is, who can’t get along with Messi on the pitch will be a failure. What was an unfortunate accident (Ibrahimovic) is now a lesson learnt. Midfielders? If Cesc comes, there will be four players (Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Cesc) for three positions, meaning that everyone gets to play a lot of games. Mascherano? He’s the lucky one: he gets to play in two different positions.

The key question is: what if the transfer budget isn’t enough to satisfy the manager’s requests? We must take advantage of our excellent youth academy. La Masia exists to feed the first team with talent. The youngsters who are surplus to requirements can also be sold to generate profits and allow them to have a chance elsewhere. In the case of players of the B team who haven’t still had their first team debut, Barca should include a buy-back option in the deal. That way, the player will get a chance to play and develop himself and the club will reap the benefits in the future. Finally, don’t ever sell a youngster unique in his position (like Deulofeu, a pure winger). That said, with the huge number of midfielders Barcelona have at the moment, it’s clear that there isn’t room for all of them (in the first team).

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