On Wednesday FIFA confirmed that Barcelona’s appeal over their transfer embargo for breaching the sanctions on the movement of minors was rejected. Barcelona were first given the ban way back in April, but because of the appeal they were able to sign players this window. This has allowed them to prepare, as much as possible at least, a squad that can cope with no additions until January 2016. It should be noted that, however, it is possible that the ban will be reduced to just one window as Barcelona will now take their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
So far Barcelona have signed Luis Suarez, Jeremy Mathieu, Ivan Rakitic, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Claudio Bravo and Thomas Vermaelen, and they still have a week to make any further additions. Last season their squad had some major deficiencies and general issues and so, the question is, have they done enough in this window to have a squad that can compete for all major honours for all of this season and the start of the next one too.
The signings of Mathieu, and to a slightly lesser extent Vermaelen, are amongst the most important that Barcelona have made up to now. The centre of defense has been a problem area for Barcelona since the waning and then retirement of Carles Puyol, and needed significant investment. Mathieu played excellently on his debut against Elche, and adds some much needed height to Barcelona’s side. He is hugely experienced and can provide cover at left-back, as can Vermaelen. In Pique, Mathieu, Bartra, and Vermaelen Barcelona have four centre-backs who, at the top of their games, could all be starters. Importantly, they’ve added a lot of height which should limit Barcelona’s aerial shortcomings.
The other most obvious weakness in Barcelona’s squad last season was in central midfield. Xavi is 34 now and no longer has the mobility to perform the pressing duties that are vital to Barcelona’s system. Fabregas was much too inconsistent during his entire second spell at the Camp Nou, and players such as Song and Sergi Roberto are simply not good enough for one of the giants of world football. Fortunately for Barcelona, they seem to have found their man.
Rakitic is an all-action, box-to-box midfielder with fantastic technical quality. He delivered a very promising debut and provided an assist, all though it was deflected. He also routinely positioned himself in the hole behind Alves as the Brazilian went on his forward runs, which stopped counter-attacks starting down that side. This wasn’t done last season, and that space was exploited countless times by the opposition. Barcelona often struggled against deep defences last year, and Rakitic’s passing range could be a vital part of overcoming teams that are playing for a 0-0.
Luis Suarez would strengthen any squad in the world, and will add unpredictability to an attack that was lacking in that regard last season. It has been suggested that Messi is going to play just behind the Uruguayan and Neymar, and that attack is clearly one that would cause problems for any team in the world. I’m not sure how many trophies Barcelona will win this season, but the quality of the football played should be very, very high.
Barcelona’s squad is in pretty good nick right now as they have vastly improved on last seasons and added in their weakest areas. However, new areas will be highlighted as weaknesses this season, and Barcelona won’t be able to sign anyone to fix them. Fortunately for them, they have La Masia. The famed academy that has been a conveyor belt of prodigious talents has served Barcelona well in the past, and now, with the embargo and Luis Enrique’s wish to introduce youngsters, it could be about to become even more important.
Two La Masia graduates made their debut against Elche, and both of them played well. Rafinha, brother of Thiago Alcantara, is capable of playing in numerous positions and has lightning-quick feet. It was the 18 year-old Munir El Haddadi, however, who stole the show. He thwacked the bar after a great turn with his first shot in the senior team, and when Rakitic played him through he finished with absolute ease. Munir was only introduced to the B side in March, and the youngster’s display has justified the decision to send Gerard Deulofeu out on loan for a season. He was also the top-scorer in last season’s UEFA Youth League, scoring 11 goals – one of which was a sensational effort from the halfway-line against Benfica in the final.
There is no shortage of other youngsters who will see some time either this season or next, the already-mentioned Deulofeu, Denis Suarez, Sergi Samper and Alen Halilovic are possibly the most well-known names who may be introduced to the side in the future. Barcelona would much rather not have their transfer ban, but ultimately it could benefit their academy, which is arguably full of talents on an unprecedented scale.
How badly will Barcelona be impacted by their transfer embargo? Join the discussion in the comment section below, or on Twitter @TBRFootball.