Frenkie de Jong cost a lot of money, but Barcelona had to pay it if they wanted to secure the services of a young talent seemingly custom-made to play for the Catalans. It’s all a part of replacing a golden generation that is now mostly gone, and even the youngest pieces of it are winding their careers down.
It started with the retirement of Carles Puyol, then Victor Valdés, then Xavi, then Andrés Iniesta, and also the exits of Éric Abidal and Dani Alves. Now, the team has a core of players who formed part of the Catalans’ last UEFA Champions League triumph that are still starting but will need to be replaced in the coming years - Ivan Rakitić, Gerard Piqué, Luis Suárez, Jordi Alba, and yes, even Lionel Messi. We could also add Arturo Vidal to that list, though he is just in his first season.
Let’s look at who Barcelona has for the long run.
Let’s start with the youngest prospects that are commonly thought of having the strongest shot at the first team:
Jean-Clair Todibo (19, joining in the summer)
Riqui Puig (19, part of the B team)
Juan Miranda (19, part of the B team)
Oriol Busquets (20, part of the B team)
Moussa Wagué (20, part of the B team)
Abel Ruiz (20, part of the B team)
Marc Cucurella (20, on loan to Eibar)
Then we can move up to players who are already part of the first team set-up:
Carles Aleñá (21)
Frenkie de Jong (21, joining in the summer)
Ousmane Dembélé (21)
Clément Lenglet (23)
There’s also a core of players that are a tiny bit older but still sure to be playing for a good while:
Samuel Umtiti (25)
Nélson Semedo (25)
Marc-André ter Stegen (26)
Philippe Coutinho (26)
Sergi Roberto (26)
There are a few other names along these age ranges but they are likely to be bound to a new team soon. There’s also a few incorporations that are yet to happen. It’s understood Barcelona are in the hunt for a young striker, and also probably for a fullback and a defender. Regardless, let’s try to imagine what the XI would be 5 years from now, assuming the players over 30 are no longer at the club:
GK - all logic points to Ter Stegen being the goalkeeper
RB - Semedo is probably the most likely to emerge, unless Roberto holds down the spot until he’s past 30. Wagué or a new signing has a chance.
RCB - Todibo could take this spot, or a new signing (Matthjis de Ligt?)
LCB - Lenglet is the starter now but Umtiti could displace him, if his recovery from knee troubles goes well.
LB - Miranda or Cucurella both have the chance, but it could easily be a new signing. Some names tossed around include Alex Grimaldo and José Luis Gayá
DM - Barcelona is spoiled for choice in the midfield area, the question is just who to play and where. This could be De Jong’s spot, or Oriol, or perhaps Arthur. And where does Roberto fit in?
RCM - Same question, I think Aleñá could be favored here but so could Arthur, De Jong, or Puig
LCM - See above
RW - Probably Dembélé unless he is starting on the left (or in the center?)
ST - This will probably end up being a new signing, but let’s not discount Abel Ruiz. Supposedly Luka Jović is the #1 target as things stand.
LW - Is this Coutinho’s permanent spot in the team? Does he move to midfield? Does the formation change entirely to accommodate him? Is he sold and someone else is brought in? Does Malcom have a shot here? Could Dembélé be on the left, with someone else on the right?