Evolution, not revolution, needed at Barcelona

Posted by Francesc Tomas

After an incredibly euphoric evening when the Blaugranas shared the well-deserved Liga trophy with more than 500,000 Cules around the streets of the Catalan capital, it was back to the drawing board for president Sandro Rosell, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta and manager Tito Vilanova on Wednesday morning.

While the satisfaction of winning a fourth domestic league title in five years was evident during Barcelona's victory parade, the general underlying feeling is that this golden generation of players should have posed a stronger challenge on the European stage.

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Losing in the Champions League semifinals with an adverse aggregate scoreline of 0-7 is simply unacceptable, especially when you consider the overall quality within the squad.

Several lessons must be learned at every level. Next year, the coach should ensure his team reaches optimum fitness in May, rather than at the beginning of the season, by rotating his players more regularly. Footballers themselves must regain their defensive intensity and take more risks upfront on an individual basis rather than overly relying on Lionel Messi to always come up with the goods. Last, but certainly not least, the board must realise that heavy investment on signing world-class players is crucial to ensure long-term success.

Luckily, all of the above points can be improved upon or implemented in the near future with a few specific, decisive tweaks. Vilanova has already admitted that he perhaps would have acted differently in some key moments this year, which shows a positive degree of maturity and self-assessment ahead of his second season in charge. A firmer managerial approach will certainly improve the players' commitment towards defending -- not losing their coach halfway through the season due to unexpected adversity also would help.

As for the arrival of new signings, Barca spokesperson Toni Freixa explained on Wednesday: "Next season we will have the best possible team to compete in all competitions. Everyone needs to be calm. We're working hard and the planning for next season is optimal. We won't explain how much money we have to spend because then the market will know."

Wise, reassuring words from the board of directors, but fans should stick with the "I'll believe it when I see it" approach.

Based on experience from previous years and since Sandro Rosell's arrival at the Camp Nou, it is commonly believed that Barcelona have budgeted their usual €50 million, despite the obvious need to reinforce the squad. While the president believes sporting success is important, he is obviously equally committed to reducing the mammoth €320 million debt the club has accumulated after years of overspending. It's a sensible approach.

However, no how good the Barcelona transfer negotiators are, it seems obvious that those €50 million will not stretch far enough to sign players of the caliber the team needs. Signing goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, central defender Thiago Silva and Brazilian wonder-kid Neymar (all of whom seem to be priorities at their respective positions) certainly will be an impossible task unless some extra cash is thrown into the mix.

As a result, the only way Barcelona can raise the required funds is by selling off members of the current squad, players who are returning from loan or even upcoming youngsters who have very little chance of succeeding at the Camp Nou in the near future.

However harsh this may sound, the truth is that at least a third of the 32 footballers Vilanova will have at his disposal July 1 should be looking to further their careers elsewhere.

As I explained in this previous article, crucial decisions must be taken regardless of how unpopular they may be. While the Catalan media reports that David Villa (€15 million), Victor Valdes (€12 million), Adriano (€10 million), Bojan Krkic (€5 million), Ibrahim Afellay (€3 million), Jonathan Dos Santos (€4 million), Isaac Cuenca (€4 million) and Andreu Fontas (€3 million) are all for sale, whether any buying clubs would be prepared to pay such asking prices remains to be seen.

Barcelona are heading into an incredibly busy transfer window and must ensure that next season, the team not only can retain the La Liga title, but also succeed on the biggest stage at the European level.

The level of the current squad is remarkable, but nothing lasts forever. Many difficult decisions must be taken in order to rejuvenate, improve and ultimately prolong the winning cycle this team has enjoyed in recent times.

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