Disappointment was felt all over Catalunya on Saturday evening, as FC Barcelona was not able to win La Liga. Culés knew that major changes were coming, but perhaps some didn't expect the FC Barcelona board-known for their lethargic movements-would act so swiftly.
During the post-game press conference, Gerardo "Tata" Martino announced he and the Barça powers that be agreed that it was time for a new manager. In an interview with Canal+ (Spain), Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said "There are a number of players that already know that they won't be back. Others will come in."
The new era of Futbol Club Barcelona was coming.
A few weeks ago, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta told the media he was going to work on rebuild for the following season "as soon as the (2013-14) season ends."
Last week, I kiddingly said on Twitter:
Zubizarreta said movement toward rebuilding FCB will happen "as soon as the Liga season ends." Till next Monday then, Zubi. #SpendWisely— Xoel Càrdenas (@XoelCardenas) May 12, 2014
Either Zubi read my tweet and did it to shut me up, or Andoni is a man of his word because on Monday, he and the FC Barcelona leaders made several moves to begin the new Barça era.
It was no surprise that Luis Enrique was named the new manager for FC Barcelona. Lucho was expected to take over, and now that the speculation is over, the club has a familiar face as a leader. Lucho knows the veteran players and vice versa, he knows the club's playing style, he's familiar with the people in charge of the club, and he even knows some of the younger players-as he coached some of them at Barça B.
Luis Enrique was the best and most realistic option for manager of FC Barcelona. The one thing I am hopeful of with Lucho's arrival is that he will toughen up the squad both physically and mentally. Lucho is a tough guy. He's a triathlete, he demands a lot physically and mentally from his players, he's not afraid to yell at his players, and will whip some of these Barça players into shape-both physically and mentally.
One challenge that Luis Enrique will face is to try and mix things up enough that Barcelona does not repeat the same errors on the pitch that has caused them problems for a few seasons now. One will be the insertion of a true "9" at times, and moving Lionel Messi to the RW position. The defense will be another issue he and Zubi will look to fix. Reports out of Catalunya have stated that Lucho asked Zubi to sign two CBs, and that neither of the two be Chelsea's David Luiz, as the Brazilian is not the traditional CB Luis Enrique desires. Lastly, Luis Enrique needs to manage his team to a good start at the beginning of the season, as generally his teams (Barça B, AS Roma, and Celta Vigo) have started out slow early in the season, but end strong. If Lucho can start next season without any major slip-ups, it's looking good thereafter.
For me, one thing that makes me excited about Lucho's arrival is his emphasis on mental and physical toughness. Let's face facts, some of the players on Barcelona are not as tough as they can be. Lucho will push the returning and new signings this summer. I hope he teaches them some triathlete training workouts-especially the defenders and midfielders.
Lionel Messi sends out a strong letter, then signs his new contract
On Monday, Lionel Messi sent out an open letter to all fans, apologizing for a disappointing season. But the most interesting part of the short-yet-to-the-point letter was his last paragraph.
"It's the people of Barcelona who decide my future, but my choice to stay because I still feel the same affection for them as always. Even if that wasn't the case, I'd still seek a solution, because I always want what is best for this club."
Talk about a true Culé. Always wanting what's best for the team, not necessarily himself. Eres grande, Leo!
For me, I think most people are misinterpreting the intent of the letter. Many are saying it's a message to the FCB board. Come on now. His letter is clearly for the Culés, stating that he'd only leave FC Barcelona if the fans believe and/or desire that he should leave.
I don't believe any Culé would demand nor desire the greatest footballer of all-time to leave, and if a Culé does, he or she is no true Culé and should be ashamed of himself/herself.
Later on Monday, Messi signed his new contract with FC Barcelona, making him the highest-paid footballer in the world. You have earned it and deserve it, Leo. Now go to Brazil, and go lead your Argentina to a World Cup title. Your fans will be cheering you on, and you are the centerpiece of the new era of FC Barcelona.
On Tuesday, Barcelona announced the contract renewal of Gerard Piqué, whose prior contract was to expire next year. Piqué extends his time with El Blaugrana until 2019.
MAtS has finally arrived
As if the day needed more news, Barcelona finally announced what has arguably been one of the worst kept secrets in recent transfer history as Marc-Andre ter Stegen will be joining El Blaugrana on a five-year deal. Terms of the agreement with Borussia Mönchengladbach were not released, but it is rumored to be around 15 million euros. Barcelona also announced that Jose Manuel Pinto will not return to the club in any way. It was previously rumored that Pinto would stay as a goalkeeper coach.
I am very excited at seeing MAtS in a Barcelona kit. I think all fans need to keep expectations realistic during his first season. Remember, MAtS is only 22 years old, and he will have growing pains at Barcelona. I hope the media and fans don't put him to the fire for the slightest errors. Ter Stegen may very well one day become "the next Oliver Kahn." But let's go easy on him for a bit. Constructive criticism is always welcomed, but remember not to cross into deconstructive criticism. Yes, expectations are high, and he will need to prove his merit in big games, but let's be encouraging and support Ter Stegen if and when difficult moments come-not just when he's shutting down teams.
Rafinha and Deulofeu return
Finally, to top off a busy Monday at FC Barcelona, the club also announced that Rafinha and Gerard Deulofeu, both who were on loan at Celta Vigo and Everton respectively, will return to the first squad next season. This is not only great news, but it's greatly needed with the first squad.
The new Barça era needs young, hungry-to-prove-themselves footballers, and Rafinha and Geri will bring much-needed energy, desire, and youth to the squad to go along with ter Stegen and other future signings. Luis Enrique must have made it clear to Zubizarreta that he needed both Rafinha and Geri on his squad. Lucho knows them well from their days at La Masia-a bit more Rafinha-as Lucho managed him at Barça B.
Are the FCB board beginning to redeem themselves?
I know this might sound like a dumb thought, but is it possible that maybe, just maybe, the FC Barcelona board are somewhat redeeming themselves with all of their moves so fast?
It is somewhat possible, right?
As I mentioned in an article I wrote when the transfer ban was suspended, this summer is when the FCB board had to redeem themselves one last time or else it would certainly be the end of their reign. The Barça socios would not forgive them for another mismanaged summer. And on Monday, the FCB board, Bartomeu, and Zubizarreta took the first steps toward smartly rebuilding FC Barcelona.
Within the past four days, FC Barcelona:
- Let go of Tata Martino
- Declared to the world that "major changes" were coming, putting players on warning as well
- Brought in Luis Enrique to manage the squad
- Gave Messi a new contract
- Announced the first summer signing in Marc-Andre ter Stegen
- Let go of Jose Manuel Pinto
- Brought back Rafinha and Gerard Deulofeu
- Extended Gerard Piqué's contract until 2019
Zubi kept his word that changes would come as soon as the season ended. Bartomeu kept his word that major changes would come, and quickly-with more to come.
I'm not saying we should forgive all of the sins this current FCB board has committed, but we must give them credit for a great Monday for the club. As @SoccerByIves nicely said:
Messi re-signs, TerStegen signs, Deulofeu & Rafinha (Thiago’s bro) back from loans on day Lucho hired. Godfather 2-esque tidying up by Barca— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) May 19, 2014
There are more changes coming, including current players leaving and new faces coming on board. Colombian Juan Guillermo Cuadrado is rumored to be Dani Alves' replacement. Recent reports state that Barcelona is looking to bring in Mehdi Benatia of AS Roma as one of the CBs, which in my opinion would be a smart move by Zubi. A true "9" is expect to join as well, as well as another GK, CB, and perhaps a new winger or midfielder. Barça B goalkeeper Jordi Masip is expected to be part of the first squad this coming season as the third GK.
UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, FC Barcelona announced that goalkeeper Jordi Masip has renewed his contract with the club until 2017, with a buyout clause of 35 million euros.
I said it before and I'll say it again: Spend that money, FC Barcelona, but please, spend wisely.
The old era was historic and will always be in our memory, but yesterday is history.
The new era is already here, and more changes are coming.
But one thing that will never change is that Futbol Club Barcelona will continue to be supported and loved by all true Culés, and all of us are excited about the new era, lead by Lionel Messi on the pitch, and Luis "Lucho" Enrique at manager.
The future is here.
Welcome to the new FC Barcelona, and the new Barça era.
Xoel, The Voice of els Culés
Thanks for reading. I'll be away for a bit as far as articles, as I'll be covering the Ecuadorian national team for The Telegraph for their FIFA World Cup coverage. But follow me on Twitter, if you are not already, as I'll continue to talk and tweet all things FC Barcelona during the World Cup. Barça Blaugranes has you covered everyday for all the latest Barça news.