Thursday, May 22, 2008

should they stay or should they go?

All signs point to major changes in the Barcelona squad next season. My (massively long, as it turns out) two cents on who should be staying and who needs to be ushered out the door below.

Keep in mind, though, that I haven't taken any economic considerations (e.g. selling X will get us some cash to spend on Y) into account.


Victor Valdes - had some blunders, but overall a decent season. The problems in defence cannot be entirely attributed to him. Keep.

Albert Jorquera - unfortunate to have missed so much of the season through an ACL injury. To be honest, though, he only ever plays cup matches and has never given Valdes a run for his money. Has signed a recent extension though, so barring any surprises he'll be staying.

Jose Manuel Pinto - Haven't played too many games, but has looked decent when he has been given opportunities, and his impressive record in the Primera before he came to Barca has convinced me that he deserves a chance. But with Jorquera having signed an extension not too long ago, I'm fairly sure he will get sent back to Celta.

Gabi Milito - his ACL injury was a massive blow. Started the season brightly and quickly cemented a leadership role in the team. His form dipped towards the end of the season, but in my opinion he was a solid purchase. Keep. (Get well soon, Gabi!)

Rafael Marquez - Rafa is that endangered species, the cultured centerback who can put in the tackles and pick out a pass. When he's on, he's brilliant. But he's been injured far too much in the last two seasons, and - more importantly - his commitment to the cause has been lacking. (Staying in Madrid to party after the Clasico defeat? Last nail in the coffin.) Sell, much as it pains me, and much as we'll struggle to replace him.

Carles Puyol - Poor old Captain Caveman. As Rijkaard once said, he's often the only man shouting in the desert in this Barca side in recent years. His commitment is unquestionable, and this team cannot do without him. Keep - or there will be rioting in the streets.

Gianluca Zambrotta - has never really hit the heights that he once reached for Juventus and Italy. It's a shame, really, because he is clearly a classy defender who can also go forward intelligently. I would love for him to stay, but all signs point toward him leaving to go back to Italy.

Sylvinho - couldn't get into the team at the start of the season when Abidal was on form, but when he did play he did a decent job. A positive influence on the younger players off the pitch as well, so I'm pleased to hear that he is negotiating a contract extension.

Lilian Thuram - still undeniably classy, but his legs have clearly gone. I would like him to stay if only because of the positive influence he has within the dressing room, much like Henrik Larsson did, but it doesn't seem possible. Will most likely be allowed to walk away.

Eric Abidal - started the season so well and ended it so badly. I'm not quite sure what happened, to be honest. He's clearly a great athlete and a wonderful player when on form, but his head went walkabout during the second half of the season. Keep - let's just hope he can get himself back on track.

Oleguer Presas - has had a horrible season, much of it disrupted by various injuries. Most fans seem to be in favour of booting him out the door, but I think he's a handy guy to have around, even if he gives me hives when he plays at right-back. Remember, he played quite a lot at center-back a couple of seasons back and that worked out okay. No idea what's going to happen to him. It's not like we'd get decent money if we sold him, and I doubt he's on much in terms of wages, so we might as well keep him around. (I confess, part of me is saying this because I want to see the book group him and Guardiola would inevitably end up forming.)


Xavi Hernandez - this season was vice-captain Xavi's tenth at Barca. He is now the player who has appeared the most times for Barca in European competition, and inching up the all-time appearances list as well, having overtaken Pep Guardiola. One more personal record - he has scored 9 goals this season, many of them crucial. Aside from that, his passing was as dependable as ever, although he did not always manage to escape the malaise when the team were slumping. Keep, of course.

Eidur Gudjohnsen - hasn't played as much as he would have liked, and when he has played his performances have been uneven. Has shown his potential as a midfielder in some games, but in others he still looks to be on a different wave length to his team mates. Surely unhappy with being on the bench so often, a good offer would probably persuade him to leave. I'll miss him, but - sell.

Andres Iniesta - one of the most underrated players in all of Europe. I said in my review of last season that he'd come of age then. Well, if last season was his coming of age, then this season has seen him add to his already extensive set of skills and step up as one of the quiet leaders of the team while others floundered. (A minor complaint, but I do wish he'd cut out the blatant diving. It's unbecoming of a player as good as he is.) He's only 24, but has already racked up an astonishing 200 appearances for the club. Keep - he's going to be a club legend.

Edmilson - Poor old Edmilson. I can clearly remember him being a decent holding midfielder who specialised in man-marking creative players out of the game, not too long ago. A series of injuries have meant that he only played a few games this season, and that when he has played he has generally been awful. That combined with a certain ill-timed outburst this season means that he is sure to be off-loaded. Sell.

Deco - ah, Deco. He has always inspired adoration and frustration from me in equal measure. Injury problems have dogged him this season, but when he has been fully fit he has generally played well, and Barca have no other players who can do what he can. But at the same time his off-field problems have been well-documented. The booking that he picked up in the game against Valencia (most likely deliberate), forcing him to miss the Clasico was probably the last nail in his coffin. I would like for him to stay, if only because I can't see how we're going to replace him, but he's clearly going to leave. It's a shame that it has to be on such a bad note, after all he's done for Barca during the good times.

Toure Yaya - a brilliant first season where he won over the fans with his tremendous power, skill, work rate, and above all his commitment to the cause. Not going anywhere unless the Powers That Be have a sudden attack of insanity.


Santiago Ezquerro - also known as '...who?' Poor Santi. His move to Barca pretty much halted his career in its tracks, although he did get some nice silverware, a decent salary and a lot of free time in return. It's probably best for all parties involved that Santi finds a club where he's not stuck behind a 17-year-old in the pecking order. Sell.

Giovani Dos Santos
- a tricky one, this. He's clearly extremely talented, and capable of being a team player. On the other hand, he's a habitual diver (and terrible at it, too, which makes it even more embarrassing), can be frustratingly individualistic, and is reportedly well on the way to diva-dom even before he's gotten good enough or famous enough to earn the attitude. His flirtations with other clubs is also unbecoming for a young player, especially one who comes from the cantera. I'd like to give him another season to impress, but if he's set on the cash being offered elsewhere, then that's just too bad.

Bojan Krkic - phenomenal. Least we all forget, he's just 17 years old. Ten goals and countless fearless performances have made him an idol of the fans, and rightly so. I am wary of too much pressure being put on his shoulders too soon, though. It is entirely unreasonable to expect someone so young and inexperienced to carry the front-line, and we all need to remember that before we criticize him. The only problem I can see is that he's a bit too lightweight right now so defenders can just bully him off the ball. Hopefully there's still a growth spurt in him somewhere - the bulking up can be done easily enough. Do I even need to say it? - Keep.

Leo Messi - worryingly, another injury-ravaged season for poor Leo. He was absolutely amazing from about September to December, when he got injured. We only got to see his brilliance in patches after that. Looked increasingly depressed as the end of the season approached even as he battled on determinedly while many around him faltered or simply gave up - and who can blame him, especially since he's so close to Ronaldinho, Deco and Frank Rijkaard, all of whom are leaving? Keep - unless the board likes the idea of being chased out of the city by an angry mob.

Samuel Eto'o - yet another unfortunately injury-ravaged season for Sammy. That, added to the after-effects of the African Cup of Nations, meant that he really lost form towards the end of the season, but even so his strike rate - 16 goals in 16 league games - is pretty amazing. The way he missed the Clasico, though, really made me angry (even though he's one of my favourite players) and lowered his standing amongst the fans considerably. On the other hand, he's still only 27, and I have faith that he can recover his form. Remember, he scored 71 goals in 100 appearances with us. While his sale would raise some money, how much would it take to buy a striker who could boast the same efficiency? Keep - at least for one more season.

Thierry Henry - while Henry has gotten a lot of abuse for his perceived inadequacies this season, I have actually grown from a sort of half-mocking fondness to quite liking him. His professionalism and refusal to get involved in dressing room infighting in particular has been commendable. (Also, this is not often said, but he sure works far harder in defence than Ronaldinho did.) Sure, some of his comments have been perceived as whining, but think about it - he's new to the league, he's unexpectedly (due to the injury to Eto'o) had to play far more games than his dodgy back is supposed to be able to handle, and he's had to adapt to Barca's way of playing. 19 goals in 39 appearances isn't actually that bad a return, in the end, and he showed some signs of finally starting to adapt towards the end of the season. I think he deserves another chance.

Ronaldinho - I've changed my mind about Ronnie so many times this season. Every time I think 'that's it, that's enough' he comes back and produces something on the pitch to make me think otherwise. I'm sure a lot of Barca fans feel the same way, if the home crowd at the Camp Nou are any indication. But finally, I think that really is enough. No one can deny what he's done for the club, and no one can deny that he's still potentially one of the greatest players ever, but I think the time for an intervention at Barca has passed. If he is to rescue his career, it will have to be somewhere else. It's sad that yet another Brazilian superstar has to exit by the back door (Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo...), but I simply can't see any other way. I'll write a longer tribute to his time at the club when the transfer goes through, but it certainly feels like I've already been saying goodbye to Ronnie for months, if not years.

By the way, most of the spine of the 04-06 side are up for contract renewals next season. Just something to think about.

And it might be a good idea to upgrade Messi's contract, too. He's not going around asking for a contract that matches his present status because he is Cule through and through and because he's not a jerk, but given that his present contract was signed before he became a regular starter, it probably needs an update.

Speaking of which, the board better have a professional contract drafted and ready to be signed by Bojan as soon as he turns 18. No one is snatching him away.

Even by the most conservative estimates (and taking into account possible new promotions from the B team) we are going to need at least 6 or 7 new players. This is going to be an interesting transfer window, that's for sure.

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