It is sometimes depressing to analyse the way many top clubs across Europe are being run. There is too much emphasis on short-term projects and more attention is given to grabbing the social media spotlight. Many Barcelona fans would certainly identify with this.
The signing of Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid is a clear reflection of that and so are their club’s links with Neymar. While there is little doubt that the Frenchman is a highly accomplished player, his move does not leave Barcelona in a better place in any way. Especially under the current structure and with the current system that Ernesto Valverde has in place.
Barca pipped Roma to sign Malcom last summer and signed Philippe Coutinho in the winter of 2018. They also signed Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017 for what was then a club-record fee following the departure of Neymar.
Coutinho was 25 when he signed. Dembele was 20 and Malcom was 21. It was a combination of signings that represented the future of the club and the present too, with Luis Suarez not getting any younger with age.
That plan has already gone out of the window. Griezmann, who is now 28, will be past his prime soon and will take up a place of one of the three signings that have already arrived. The players who were the future of the club are already a thing of the past. They’re seen as players who Barcelona can do fine without.
That screams of a footballing structure that takes no club forward. Barcelona did win the La Liga convincingly last season but they have won it four times in the last five seasons and five in the last seven. The aim is not La Liga anymore but the Champions League. And this short-term approach takes a club nowhere in that regard.
Liverpool and Tottenham did not reach the Champions League final because they made decisions on-the-go and made signings by living in the moment. It was an accumulation of progress that the club had made under two very impressive managers in Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino. There was a plan the day they stepped into their offices.
The lack of it has costed Barcelona over the last two seasons. That has seen many other clubs pass them by. On paper, they seem like a very good team and that is why they were the favourites for the Champions League crown last season. If only football was played on paper, Valverde might have easily struck other teams out with a pencil.
But Valverde’s incompetency has shone through in blinding fashion many times. It came out in the open against Liverpool in the second leg of the semi-finals. The very purpose that Valverde looks to fulfil through his approach to the game was not achieved. He has taken a more pragmatic route than the traditional Barcelona way but that too hasn’t worked out. That has happened for two years in a row and when he should have been gone, many realised he had signed a new deal back in February. And he has stayed on, despite links to Quique Setien.
Even tactically, Griezmann’s capture makes little sense. Players like Coutinho and the Frenchman thrive on freedom so many times. They want to get on the ball and do the work. They occupy advanced positions and while they are in different quadrants on the pitch, they thrive on having the ball at their feet.
During his Liverpool days, Coutinho’s biggest asset came to the fore when he found himself in space in channels around the centre-back and the full-back when he was slightly deeper than the two defenders. But that hasn’t happened at the Camp Nou. He has had to hug the touchline and play in a rickety system that fails his abilities.
Griezmann occupies the same positions that Lionel Messi does so many times. Where he fits into a 4-4-2 shape is anyone’s guess considering he would not want to play in a deeper right midfielder or a left midfielder role. A player like him will always be better playing closer to goal- or in areas that Messi or Suarez usually take up.
And no matter where Griezmann plays, he would need to have the ball. But a team like Barcelona can’t give him that. The team will not be built around him because of Messi’s presence. He indeed can play in a pragmatic system as evident from France’s 2018 World Cup win and the way Atletico play, but the focus was on his abilities. Not on someone else’s.
Valverde can certainly change his formation to suit Griezmann but it won’t help the other three who were seen as the present and the future of the club since the first one was signed in the summer of 2017. It is high time Barcelona realise that this approach is taking them nowhere in the race for Champions League. It is only increasing the expectations of the fans, who will be let down when they aren’t matched.