Saturday, July 07, 2007

Barca 06-07 wrap-up: player by player (3)

Last post in this series, dedicated to Barca's many forwards, the technical staff and club management.


Name: Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen
Age: 28
Evaluation: It's hard to say that Gudjohnsen has had a successful season, but at the same time it's hard for me to blame him for his inability to completely step into the quite large shoes of Samuel Eto'o. After all, the technical staff were misguided in signing someone who seems fundamentally incompatible with Barca's style - especially when deployed at center forward, the position he was bought to fill. Gudjohnsen's a good player, who can provide a telling pass, hold up the ball with his back to goal and - extremely rare for a Barca player - head the ball, but Henrik Larsson he ain't.

For Barca supporters, watching his displays when replacing Samuel Eto'o were a study in frustration as he worked extremely hard but missed important chances due to either a lack of pace, difficulty integrating into the Barca system or a plain lack of predator's instinct. Gudjohnsen can't be faulted for his exemplary attitude, but I still have my doubts about him as a center striker in the Barca system.
Probability of transfer: low if you listen to his father and agent, but the club have yet to speak publicly about their plans for him and I wouldn't be surprised if he did leave. It would be a shame, but better that than sitting on the bench except when a Copa del Rey tie comes up.

Name: Samuel Eto'o Fils
Age: 26
Evaluation: Unfortunately, Eto'o's season was defined by the knee injury that ruled him out of action for 5 months. This was his 7th season in La Liga, and the first major injury of his career. You could say he's been extremely lucky up to this point, but he's still quite young and that disastrous night in Bremen practically sealed Barca's fate this season. Aside from the direct impact him missing 5 months worth of games had, the furore over it had a ripple effect that eventually led to the dressing room unrest that was the final nail in the coffin.

That's not even mentioning the fact that he's never looked the same since coming back from that injury. Apparently medical experts estimate that it may take up to a year for him to recover his form fully, or he may never be the same player again. Happens to a lot of people. Hopefully it won't happen to Eto'o, who always gives 100% in every game and managed to score some important goals either side of the season.
Probability of transfer: practically none, despite what every big club in need of a striker and rumour-mongering tabloid likes to think. He wants to stay, the president is mates with him and wants him to stay, and that's that.

Name: Javier Pedro Saviola
Age: 25
Evaluation: It's hard to believe El Conejo is still so young, partially because he's already had so many low points and revivals in his career. Opting to stay at Barca this season was a curious decision, especially given Barca's offer to him of letting him leave on a free transfer, and it divided the supporters into those who sympathized with his lack of playing time given his obvious talents and those who dismissed him as merely there to earn his huge wages for another season.

By the middle of the season, however, most supporters had joined a growing chorus of voices calling for him to start games ahead of Gudjohnsen. He was obviously more compatible with Barca's system, despite the complete lack of aerial presence that would result from fielding him alongside the rest of Barca's height-challenged attackers.

When he did play, he mostly did very well and scored some great goals, although there were occasions in which he found it difficult to lead the line against teams with large defenders. On the field, I'd say he's done right by Barca this season, and while I'm sad to see him depart, it is for the best. Like Gudjohnsen, he doesn't quite fit our requirements for a center forward.
Probability of transfer: already gone. Saviola's contract expired on the 30th of June. I'm surprised he doesn't have a club already.

Name: Santiago Ezquerro Marín
Age: 30
Evaluation: Poor old Santi. He used to know what playing regular football was like, but that was before he moved to Barca - or more precisely, the Barca bench. Most of his starts are in the Copa del Rey and Rijkaard doesn't really field him unless he's truly out of options. It's hard to say what kind of season he's had (other than a very restful one) given the above. He's not a bad player, but I wouldn't field him before Ronaldinho, Messi and Eto'o either.
Probability of transfer: now that Henry has been added to be above list, and with the two young maestros Gio Dos Santos and Bojan Krkic joining the first team next season, there is a possibility that Ezquerro will be sold. On the one hand, he's handy to have around, on the other, let's face it, being at Barca is destroying his career. If he does go, I hope it's a return to Athletic Bilbao, because they could use some help over there, and he'd be just the man to add some offensive spark.

Name: Ludovic Giuly
Age: 30
Evaluation: Ludo found it difficult to get a game whenever Messi was fit, but stepped up when the Argentinean was injured and did fairly well in those 3 months. His goalscoring return wasn't very good this season, but he was fairly consistent when he did play, bringing his usual skills - pace, a great work rate, decent crosses and actual width - to the team in most games.
Probability of transfer: high. Giuly wants to play a few more full seasons before the end of his career, and who can blame him, having borne being stuck behind a kid 10 years younger for 2 seasons without much complaint.

Name: Lionel Andrés Messi
Age: 20
Evaluation: Yet another player whose season could have been defined by injury, as he had several shorter lay-offs earlier in the season before the big one, in which he broke his metatarsal and had to take 3 months out. Only it wasn't. Instead, it was defined by an improvement upon his performances of last season, more goals, some wondrous, some controversial, and by him becoming at several times during the latter half of the season the only one of the attacking trio who was afforded any respect by the fans.

His attitude placed a major part in that, but the fact that starting with that hat-trick in El Clasico, he scored 14 goals in the last 15 games of the season (only one of which he wasn't involved in - the 4-0 drubbing by Getafe, of course), accounting for roughly 40% of the goals Barca scored in that period might have helped too. And the fact that he was Barca's best player for many of the aftementioned games. So the story of his season is instead: got injured, came back stronger and a better player. As you might have guessed by now, he's my third candidate for Barca player of the season.
Probability of transfer: zero. Maybe if someone shells out for his buy-out clause - and I only say that because said clause is an astonishing 150 million euros. Barca aren't actually asking anyone to pay that much money for a football player, because that would be ridiculous. What they are saying is that he's not going anywhere. The future of the club, along with Iniesta, Dos Santos, and Bojan.

Name: Ronaldo 'Ronaldinho' de Assis Moreira
Age: 27
Evaluation: Ronnie's been criticized a lot this season by the fans, me amongst them. His lack of discipline is pretty appalling. Having said that, I'd like to buck the trend and point out that he's had a good season by some standards. Maybe not his best season since coming to Spain - that's probably the first season (03-04), despite him being injured for a bit and Barca not winning anything.

He has scored a hell of a lot of goals for someone who isn't a natural striker, though, accounting for 32% of Barca's total with his 21 strikes. So many of those were match-winners, too. There's quite a few lovely goals amongst those, notably the wonderfully struck freekick against Zaragoza and that overhead kick against Villarreal. Then there are the assists, of which there have been many, some of them sublime and inspired.

The biggest criticism I have of Ronnie's behaviour on the pitch is that he seemed tired, sometimes disinterested and unfit this season. He's not the young, hungry genius full of pace, strength and stamina that we remember anymore. I don't know if that's fixable. I hope so.
Probability of transfer: low. A lot of the transfer speculation revolved around Ronnie's brother and agent's attempt to get him a better, longer contract at Barca, and having realized that's not a wise thing to do when he's just had a below-par season, they've stopped - for now. I still don't think Milan would shell out the amounts Barca would ask for Ronnie, and plus, as Laporta told Galliani, if he sold Ronaldinho he'd probably have to leave the city.

Technical and support staff

Frank Rijkaard, coach: he's had a rough season, plagued by all the possible problems that could beset a coach at a big club - infighting, ennui amongst the players, lack of power, major injuries, stupid scheduling (all the extra tournaments that Champions League winners have to play, plus all the commerical crap) and a poor pre-season forced upon him by the club. To compound it all, his experiment with 3-4-3 turned out to be a bit of a disaster despite starting well.

I have enormous sympathy for the difficulties he has faced and will continue to face and an almost irrational faith in his ability to turn things around. We'll see.

Txiki Beguiristáin, Director of Football: he got Gudjohnsen's signing wrong, for starters. Then he handled the Saviola affair terribly. I'm not convinced by Beguiristain's eye for players, since our last batch of really good signings were when Rossell was still around - he may be annoying with that agenda against Eto'o and Rijkaard, but he was damn good at getting the right players. We'll have to hope he's improved since the latest batch of signings were probably all mooted by him.

Joan Laporta, president: if I were scoring everybody out of 10, he'd get a 0. I suppose that goes for anybody else who was involved in the planning of this season, although Laporta bears the brunt of my anger because he also opens his mouth before the press and inserts his foot in it on a regular basis. The most important blunder though was made in the boardroom. I veru much appreciate the way Soriano and Laporta have stabilized our finances, but that's not the be all and end all of a football club. Just ask Real Madrid.

All the gratuitous tours and random trips half way around the world to play exhibition games may have paid well both directly and long term, but in a season which was preceded by a World Cup and in which we had to play tons of games thanks to UEFA saddling extra obligations on the winners of the Champions League it proved disastrous.

Barca may be more than a club, but it's certain not a travelling circus, and he'd do well to remember that.

Interesting sidenote: the Barca offical site has taken down the squad page in preparation for the new season. Are there going to be more leaving announcements soon?

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