There will always be transfer speculation surrounding a club such as Barcelona, and even more so now, with so many players out injured. This is my opinion on the team's short term and long term needs and how they may best be fulfilled.
Most obviously, with the current injury list, we seem to need some striking cover. Reportedly the club are considering their options on this front. As the technical staff have pointed out, however, signing a player in January would leave the unlikely result of the squad being far too overloaded with strikers once the injured players return to fitness. So that leaves out the likes of Albert Luque, especially since he wants more playing time. As much as I love the idea of having another Catalan player in the squad, it doesn't seem practical. We already have a winger who doesn't get nearly enough playing time in Santi Ezquerro.
Moving on, I have to say, regardless of the credibility of the reports, I'm attracted by the idea of getting Henrik Larsson back on loan for 3 months. It appeals to the sentiments of Barca fans who love him, and works in a practical sense because he knows the club and the system. Besides, the Swedish season has just finished, and doesn't start back up in another 4 months. That said, as his current club have said, while a loan deal would appeal to them financially, at the age of 35 Larsson could probably use a long break between seasons, instead of spending it playing, especially since he essentially hasn't stopped playing since the beginning of the 05-06 season, going straight from Barca to the World Cup, and then from that straight back into club football in Sweden. In the end, though, much of it will depend on what Henke thinks about it. I wouldn't be surprised if he refused, even if the club decides to ask. After all, he'd left in the perfect way. No need to risk changing that.
Whatever happens, I hope the club proceed with caution, since our last couple of emergency signings in January haven't exactly worked out. While I'll always be grateful to Maxi Lopez for that Chelsea game, and Albertini for answering our distress call at no great gain to himself, their impact hasn't been that great. In our last majorly injury-ridden season, it was actually the players we already had who really dug deep and pulled through together. Maybe there's a lesson in there.
I'm a firm believer in evolution rather than revolution when it comes to improving the squad. As far as I can see, there are two positions that might prove problematic in the next couple of seasons - left-back, holding midfield and the right wing.
Left-back first. This is an obvious one, given that both our left-backs are over 30 and have their share of critics. Sylvinho is a wonderful wing-back, but has his defensive problems and I don't know how many more years his legs can take of running up and down the left flank all game. Gio is better balanced, but still easily exposed by fast, nimble wingers, and at 31 the second oldest member of the squad. Again, the physical demands placed upon the full-backs in the 4-3-3 system could take its toll.
I'd prefer the coach promoting a young left-back from the youth system to gain some experience with the senior players with a view to taking over, if a suitable candidate exists. If not, it would be nice if we could sign someone young. The current technical staff seem to prefer players who are already used to a European league, especially those from the 'smaller' leagues like Holland, Portugal and France, which seems like a good approach to take. In any case, there's no hurry, so any decision should be taken with caution, which means hopefully no splashing out of large amounts of cash on a 'star' player (by which I am indeed alluding to the Abidal rumours).
Moving on to holding midfield. Barca have had problems in this position for years. Our holding midfielders - Edmilson, Gerard and Motta - seem to be desperately unlucky with injuries. We spent most of 04-05 with all 3 unavailable. Motta missed at least half of 05-06 with various niggling injuries, when not in danger of getting sent off. Edmilson has been somewhat lacking in form this season when not injured. Motta has had one good game. With 2 players covering one position, you don't except to have to draft in less defensive midfielders (Xavi, Iniesta) or a center-back (Marquez) to fill the position effectively.
Furthermore, Edmilson isn't getting any younger at 30. He's been plagued by injury for the last couple of seasons, an alarming trend that doesn't look like going away. Motta, 23, is one of the youngest players in the squad, so he has a lot of room to grow. It's interesting to note that he's been in the first team on and off from 2002, and yet he's still got the same problems with clumsy tackling and more importantly his unstable temperament. I think a lot of this is due to the many lengthy injury lay-offs that have stunted his development as a player - he's never played more than 20 games in a single season. 2005 was almost a complete write-off. Rijkaard really likes Motta because he thinks the Brazilian is a player in his own image, and I sure hope that is the case. When he has a good game, one can see what Rijkaard means. He's better going forward than Edmilson, holds possession well and takes a great freekick too. And of course even a team like Barca need a physical player.
Having said all that, even if Motta does develop into a player who can do the job, I think there's a case for reinforcements in this position. Not necessarily by buying from other clubs, since it's not quite an urgent problem. As always, my preference is for a youth team player to get a chance to come up and establish himself. If that's not possible, then perhaps signing a young player used to European football who won't cost insane amounts of money. Sadly, that last bit rules out players such as Argentinean Javier Mascherano, languishing at West Ham. Someone like, say, fellow Argentinean Lucas Biglia, now of Anderlecht - just as an example - would fit the description. He's just as good as the far more lauded Fernando Gago - who is now seemingly headed to Real Madrid - and would come far cheaper.
Lastly, there's the right wing. I know this sounds a little crazy, given that Barca have Leo Messi in that position, but given how injury-prone he's proven to be, and the fact that Ludovic Giuly, while excellent, is not getting any younger, we should be looking at future prospects - leisurely browsing, really, given the lack of urgency, but still browsing. Giuly is 30 right now, and given both the demands of the position and his physical condition can hardly play 75 minutes without running out of gas. He's still working his ass off and putting in vital performances for now, but what about 2 or 3 years down the line?
Encouragingly, there are quite a few impressive youngsters coming through from the youth teams who can play in the forward positions. 2005 U17 World Cup Silver Ball winner Giovani Dos Santos looks like a good prospect, if only Barca can hold on to him. Unfortunately one of the methods Barca are employing to ensure that Dos Santos doesn't leave involves not pushing to get him Spanish nationality, as an EU passport would make it much easier for other clubs to snatch him. I say unfortunately because this lack of an EU passport works both ways - he can't play for the first team, at least not this season, even if one of the non-EU slots on the team is freed up by his Mexican compatriot Marquez finally getting Spanish citizenship. Even so, this position looks alright for the future, unless - going by track record - Arsenal suddenly take an interest.
In conclusion, I don't think big spending is the answer to any problems the team may have right now. Barca already did that 2 season ago, when we bought in 7 players in the transfer window and made the current squad what it is. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. At least not yet.