Neymar’s exit has been confirmed and with it, Barça lose the man they hoped would eventually fill Lionel Messi’s shoes. The transfer is staggering and may represent a shift away from La Liga being the dominant force in world football. Phases of clubs’ and leagues’ superiority are often cyclical and as quickly as La Liga rose, the downfall was always coming.
Whether this transfer will be looked back upon as the day the momentum shifted will be seen but what can be sure is Barça now face a crossroads. Do they spend big and look to replace Neymar? Or do they look to within, as they have done on so many occasions, as a chance to welcome La Masia back into the fold?
The excellence of the trident with Luis Suárez, Messi and Neymar has long masked an ever-growing problem at the club. Behind the front three, the depth of the squad has simply become weaker. The recent signings have not all been wise and Barcelona fans have looked enviously towards Real Madrid’s bench as a sign of how a world class squad should line up. Nevertheless, Barcelona kept winning largely through the trident’s goals. Messi’s role changed as he dropped deeper to both accommodate Neymar and Suárez but also to pick up the pieces of a midfield that is not as efficient as it once was.
The departure of Neymar only increases the expectations on Suárez and Messi and it is unreasonable to expect these two to carry the team for another season. Barcelona must look within and while the La Masia players may not be ready, the La Masia way is.
A revert back to a passing, high pressing game is an opportunity to allow the younger generation a way in. Perhaps one of the reasons La Masia graduates have dwindled in recent years is because they arrive at the first team to find them playing a different system to the one they’ve used since their footballing education began.
Buying a player such as Philippe Coutinho would represent Barcelona throwing money at a problem in the hope it goes away. Whereas a revert back to the Johan Cruyff/Pep Guardiola way is a clear signal of intent that the club goes on.
The return to an old philosophy can seem a bit idealistic. One of the main reasons Barça diverged away from this was they had begun to be found out by the elite teams, in particular the heavy defeat to Bayern Munich but with a radical event such as Neymar’s transfer, Barcelona will have to choose which course they want to take.
Right now, Barcelona stand at a fork in the road. Cruyff or cash?