FC Barcelona won the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup this past Sunday night against Sevilla after Luis Suarez gave Barça the lead and Munir El Haddadi rounded off the score to give Barça a 2-0 cushion heading into the second leg. It was Barcelona’s first competitive game of the season and even though the majority of the senior players had an extended holiday, Luis Enrique still opted to start eight of the Barcelona Gala XI.
The game had a fast start, with both teams having a substantial amount of possession and Sevilla applying a lot of pressure on the Barcelona players. A few chances were created early in the match with the best chance being a low curled effort from Luis Suarez that was saved by Sergio Rico. Jeremy Mathieu and Andres Iniesta were then replaced in the first half due to sustained injuries by Lucas Digne and Denis Suarez, respectively. The second half was more entertaining and the goals finally came after Denis Suarez lobbed the ball to Arda Turan who chested it down to the oncoming Luis Suarez who then passed the ball to the back of the net. Munir replaced Arda Turan in the 77th minute and got on the scoresheet shortly afterwards with a cool finish after Lionel Messi set him up with a brilliant pass.
There is no doubt that Luis Enrique saw this as an important game, that is why he started the senior players. But not only did he start them because of their experience, but also to show the new signings how it’s done. All four new and young signings started the game on the bench, watching, observing and learning from the best. Although Digne and Denis Suarez did not have an all-round excellent performance when they were brought in to the match, they played really well and did as they were asked. Munir – another youngster – came on in the second half to score the second goal and is starting to make Barcelona fans wonder if another forward is needed in the squad to be the ‘MSN’ backup. So why is Luis Enrique only starting to bring in young players to the squad now?
When Luis Enrique arrived in the summer before the 2014-15 season, he brought in a bunch of players that were above the age of 25 years and were already ‘complete’ products. Players such as Thomas Vermaelen, Claudio Bravo and Jeremy Mathieu were already nearing the end of their careers. A few fans around the world criticized this decision, seeing it as a waste of money. Little did they know that this was a short term project. Barcelona were handed a transfer ban that would prevent them from signing players in the following two transfer windows. So not only did Luis Enrique have to urgently sign a lot of players, but he had to bring in players that were already mature and would be good enough to guarantee success over the period of at least two seasons. Keeping Dani Alves for another season was also key to the success of the project. It eventually paid off, as Barça won seven trophies during that period, including a treble in the 2014-15 season.
Now that the transfer ban is over, a new long term project has begun. Older members like Dani Alves, Adriano and Vermaelen have already left the squad and Luis Enrique has brought in players that are 23 years old or younger. He has brought in players that are capable of helping the team to glory in the current season and players that are willing to learn from the stars to become better and bring success to Barcelona in the future when the current spine of the team will no longer be available. These new players will not start the majority of this season’s matches but they will gradually be integrated into the team’s core.
Part of the reason is of course due to Barça’s strict budget this season (with the ‘MSN’ trio’s wages reportedly making up more than half of the wage budget), and also due to the financial power of Premier League teams. The new Premier League TV deal has allowed teams like AFC Bournemouth the ability to pay a reported amount of £15 million to sign Jordan Ibe. Something they were unable to do until now. Manchester United have also become the first English team to break the transfer record since Alan Shearer’s £15 million move from Blackburn Rovers to Newcastle United in 1996, by signing Paul Pogba for an alleged £89 million. Many players will be attracted to the Premier League and it will be more difficult to lure them to La Liga because the Premier League teams are setting a new standard of player prices and offering ludicrous amount of wages. It is therefore ideal to bring in youngsters that are less expensive and are able to develop into better players.
Just like the beginning of the 2008-09 season when Pep Guardiola revamped the squad by letting stars like Ronaldinho and Deco leave and promoting Sergio Busquets and Pedro into the first team, Luis Enrique is doing something similar. He has brought in Digne, Umtiti, André Gomes, Denis Suarez and has shown faith in La Masia graduates Munir, Sergi Roberto and Sergi Samper – young blood that will carry Barça in the future. Luis Enrique is slowly transitioning from Pep Guardiola’s successful era to an uncertain and potentially exciting era. It is something worth looking forward to.