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Grading the Zubi Era: Barcelona Under Andoni Zubizarreta

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Zubi was sacked after what many say was an underwhelming rein as sports director. How do you rate his signings?

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Andoni Zubizarreta will not be the director of football for FC Barcelona anymore. Rumors of a replacement are floating. Zubi was criticized for many things, chief among them failing to land a star central defender. How bad was he, really? We take a look...

2010-11

SIGNINGS

Javier Mascherano, Liverpool: €19M

Mascherano's purpose wasn't too obvious. Sergio Busquets was probably going to retain his place as a starting defensive midfielder, and Mascherano is not really a replacement for the departed Yaya Toure. However, Masche's quality and ability to improvise as a central defender has proven quite valuable.

Adriano, Sevilla: €9.5M

Despite recurrent injury problems, Adriano has been a solid piece of the puzzle. His ability to play on either flank with similar quality is great, and he's even featured as a forward or central defender. Solid, if unspectacular signing.

Ibrahim Afellay, PSV: €3M

Afellay, a winter signing, never developed to become a regular contributor due to long-term injuries. But, he'll always be remembered for a crucial assist to Lionel Messi in a 2-0 Champions League win over Real Madrid. Worth it for the low price.

SALES

Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Shakhtar: €15M

Sold too early for Pep Guardiola's taste after just a season at the Camp Nou, but maybe a decent choice in the long term as he never quite became a star. Still, the lack of central defenders starts to become a real issue.

Yaya Touré, Manchester City: €28.5M

Yaya wanted to start, and his exit was probably not a choice. Great player who is still missed by some. Maybe not a great price either.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan: €24

His position was untenable, so he had to go. The price is not good considering what he was bought for, but buying him was not Zubi's fault.

Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls: Free

Maybe Barcelona could have afforded to keep Henry around just one more year, but on the other hand, his salary was maybe not worth it at this stage.

OTHER

Barcelona's previous administrations had already signed David Villa that year before Zubi took over. Daniel Alves was given a renewal, a good decision.

ANALYSIS

A good first year that set up a Champions League and Liga double. In their own way, Mascherano, Afellay, and Adriano worked well for the squad. Some of the sales were perhaps underwhelming in terms of money  in, but they were probably necessary to restructure the team. An auspicious debut.

2011-12

SIGNINGS

Cesc Fàbregas, Arsenal: €34M

Cesc did well on the whole, but the criticism of the signing when it happened seemed to hold: he was not needed and did not fit perfectly. The team already had enough creative midfielders and it needed more defensive cover. Finally sold to Chelsea. A mixed bag.

Alexis Sánchez, Udinese: €26M + variables

Another strange case. Alexis is a good player but his performances were inconsistent (much like Cesc's.) Just when it looked like he may be reaching his potential, Barcelona sold him to Arsenal.

SALES

Martín Cáceres, Sevilla: €3M and Víctor Sánchez, Espanyol: Free

Both already on loan the past season, not really missed.

Jeffrén, Sporting de Portugal: €3.75M and Oriol Romeu, Chelsea: €5M

Both youth players had shown flashes of talent but neither developed into a star. Barcelona cash in.

Bojan Krkić, Roma: €12M

Sold in a weird semi-loan deal, Bojan never fulfilled his promise. Should have just taken the money and ran instead of buying him back as per the agreement that was drawn up.

Gabriel Milito, Independiente: Free

Milito was way past his prime and it was a good call to let him go. The problem is there was no central defender forthcoming as a replacement.

Maxwell, PSG: €4M

Made expandable by Eric Abidal and Adriano.

NOTES

Zubi also starts ridding himself of some of the mistakes of the previous administraation, namely: Henrique (Palmeiras), Keirrison (loaned to Cruzeiro, eventually sold), and Hleb (Wolfsburg).

ANALYSIS

Zubi made good calls in which players to force out, but the players that were brought in are questionable. Cesc and Alexis are great footballers, but are they what Barcelona needed? Their sale just a few years later suggest no.

2012-13

SIGNINGS

Jordi Alba, Valencia: €14M

It's ironic an own goal from Alba would KO Zubi, as the left-back was one of his better signings. Brought in at an affordable price, Alba has had his struggles but also been a consistent starter for Barcelona.

Alex Song, Arsenal: €19M

Zubi's worst signing? Maybe. Song is a decent player but he never fit in at Camp Nou. He was said to be able to play as a central defender, but he was used there once or twice before the manager just abandoned the idea altogether. Barcelona quite obviously needed a centerback for a couple seasons now, instead, they got Song.

SALES

Seydou Keita, Dalian Aerbin: Free

Keita was a calming veteran presence, but Zubi opted to let him go rather than pay more to keep him. On the one hand, not such a bad call considering Keita's advanced age. On the other, did Barcelona improve much by spending a lot more on Song? Would it not have been better to keep Keita for a year and sign a centerback?

OTHER

Andreu Fontàs was loaned to Mallorca, and Isaac Cuenca to Ajax. Tito Vilanova was appointed as manager.

ANALYSIS

Barcelona had two obvious needs and Zubi addressed only one. That was just not good enough.

2013-14

SIGNINGS

Neymar, Santos: 57.1M

There would be endless debacles about this transfer, but in the end, Neymar is proving to be the superstar promise Barcelona expected.

SALES

Thiago Alcántara, Bayern Múnich: €25M

Barcelona lose one of their best young players. This can be traced back to the Cesc signing as Thiago's opportunities in midfield vanish.

Eric Abidal, Monaco: Free

Abidal should not have left. Not just because maybe he still had something left in the tank, but he was promised a spot. Abidal still loves Barcelona, but it left a bad taste in the mouth of all Cules.

David Villa, Atlético de Madrid: €5M

Villa had a huge salary and Barcelona cashed in quickly. One can question the wisdom of selling him to a team that eliminated Barca from the Champions League and the Liga, though.

Andreu Fontàs, Celta: €1M and Marc Muniesa, Stoke: Free

Two young defenders who never lived up to be Barcelona quality.

OTHER

Gerard Deulofeu (Everton) and Rafinha (Celta) would complete successful loan spells. Bojan was still on the team somehow (officially, he was bought back for around the amount of money he was sold for) and was loaned to Ajax. Tata Martino was appointed manager

ANALYSIS

The success of this entire window is ultimately based upon just how much Neymar ends up doing for Barcelona. However, there are serious flaws in the policy of not signing a defender YET AGAIN, and the unpopular sales of Thiago and Abidal.

2014-15

SIGNINGS

Ivan Rakitic, Sevilla: €18M + Denis Suárez loan

The jury's still out on Rakitic, though he has generally made a good impression. Pretty good price, too.

Luis Suárez, Liverpool: €81.25M

Suárez is high-risk, high-reward. He cost a boatload and his character is questionable, but his talent is undeniable. The key question is whether he was enough of an improvement over Alexis Sanchez to be worth the trouble.

Marc Andre Ter Stegen, Gladbach: €12M

Time will tell, but Ter Stegen seems on course to be one of the top keepers in the world. Good signing, though he has not become first choice.

Jérémy Mathieu, Valencia: €20M

Finally a CB! But at a poor price point and not a very young one. Still, Mathieu is a useful player. He didn't look so good recently against Real Sociedad, but he's been solid mostly.

Thomas Vermaelen, Arsenal: €18M

The worst signing of the Zubi era? Worse than Song, even? Vermaelen was probably not worth that price even if healthy, but to take that risk when Verm was already hurt? It's not even that big of a surprise that the Belgian has yet to kick a ball for Barcelona, and he was not good enough based on recent performance to take the chance he'd be healthy. Zubi said Verm would provide "immediate impact." He's done just about nothing so far.

Douglas, Sao Paulo: €4M

Baffling. Douglas is neither particularly good, nor cheap, nor young. He's not shown the level required to even be a backup, and while he is on the younger side, he cannot really be called a prospect. Of course, there's still time and he will surely improve as he settles in. But it doesn't look good.

Claudio Bravo, Real Sociedad: €12M

A bit expensive for what many thought was a second keeper, but upon reflection, a very good buy. Bravo is Barcelona's starter and has looked quite solid between the sticks. Zubi, a former keeper, must know what it takes to play in goal for Barcelona.

SALES

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal: €42.5M

Barcelona needed money so Alexis was expandable after Suárez's arrival. As mentioned earlier, it remains to be seen if the money was worth the upgrade. His sale and Cesc's sale, so soon after their arrival, suggest buying them was a mistake.

Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea: €33M

Cesc never fully fit in tactically at Barcelona, but selling such a talented player will always raise scrutiny. As Fabregas thrives in London, some have even questioned whether Barcelona should have let Andres Iniesta, who is older, go. Blasphemy, I know.

Bojan Krkić, Stoke: €1.8M

Sold at a fraction of what he would have commanded a few years before. At least the team finally took the money.

Victor Valdes, Monaco Manchester United: Free

Valdes wanted to leave. Nothing to do, really.

Isaac Cuenca, Deportivo: Free + Jonathan dos Santos, Villarreal:  €1.5M + Oier Olazábal, Granada: Free + Ibrahim Afellay, Olympiacos: Free and Keirrison, Coritiba: Free

Just cleaning house, finally.

NOTES

Denis Suárez and Gerard Deulofeu were both loaned to Sevilla, though somewhat controversially as people thought they'd be useful. Alex Song was loaned out, though looks to be gone. Cristian Tello was loaned with a buy option. José Manuel Pinto was not given a new contract and is retired, I guess, and Carles Puyol retired. Xavi was given a renewal, and he's been quite useful. However, it's hard not to wonder if long-term, the team could have used that salary money to pick up a younger midfielder (blasphemy, I know.)

ANALYSIS

A total mixed bag. It's still developing, but the signings are mostly good, except few are really homeruns yet (Bravo maybe the only one.) On the other hand, a couple already seem like duds. The rest? We'll see. The same can be said of the sales.

Conclusion

The complaints about Zubi are easy to spot. Most notably, he took too long to address the CB issue, and when he did, it was mostly blunders. Song and Vermaelen were wholly inadequate signings, while Mathieu is probably just a decent one. Zubi did sign good players, such as Macherano and Alba. And this year may ironically prove him right on several others (Bravo, Rakitic, Suárez, Ter Stegen, and Mathieu could make a big impact in a hypothetical trophy push). However, he had proven deeply unpopular and his relatively poor batting average (pardon all the baseball metaphors) illustrates why.