Que Pasa Barça? No pressure, no effort.
After FC Barcelona’s triumph in Europe and Spain in 2005-2006, it was
clearly a shock to see them do so badly the following season, and when the trophy drought went on the season after that, it
was clear that some changes had to be made.
Accordingly, Dutch manager Frank Rijkaard was dispatched, and Barça legend and B-team coach at the time Josep
“Pep” Guardiola was called in to take his place.
Pep came, and with him came drastic change. He immediately made clear that
he would tolerate no slacking off from the team, setting whole new boundaries for the players that would keep them in line.
A big change from what the players were used to under Frank, Pep’s rules included:
- The return of monetary fines, to
keep players from arriving late and skipping trainings, something that was going on overlooked under Frank.
- Obligatory team meals and the like, to create a spirit of unity between the players and really bring them
together as a team, as well as to monitor the players’ diets and keep them in shape.
- Longer training sessions with more physicality to keep the players in shape and well trained for each match,
after Rijkaard’s preference of short trainings without much physicality.
- Video review sessions of the trainings with the team to analyze strong points, weak points, see what needs
improvement and work on that.
- Striving for a more total football, more team effort rather than individualistic football.
So, looking at that, Pep seemed to
have things under control as far as disciplining the players and keep them in line, keeping them in shape and most importantly,
uniting the players and building team spirit. Now it was time to turn his attention to the transfer market.
The club sold such unnecessary players
as Edmilson, Zambrotta, and Crosas, as well as Deco, youngster Giovani Dos Santos, who had failed to impress on his first
season on the club, and Ronaldinho, who was too much of an uncommitted slacker to fit in to Pep’s plan. The signings
focused mainly on defense, as Pep was able to secure the phenomenal right back Daniel Alves, Barça youth defender Gerard Pique,
promising center back Martin Caceras, as well the versatile defensive midfielder Seydou Keita. Alexander Hleb was also chosen
to strengthen the midfield, and so the Barça squad was rebuilt.
Pep’s new signings and strategies were put to test in the team’s
first pre-season friendly against Hibernian FC, and the team was nothing but strong all through the match with a crushing
6-0 win. The amazing results kept on coming: 5-1 Dundee united, 3-1 AC Fiorentina, 5-2 Chivas, 6-2 NY Red Bulls… things
were going great. Then the first professional match of the season came, the crucial first leg of the Champions League qualifier,
which was also the first home match so far and Guardiola’s managerial debut on Camp Nou. Not surprisingly, Barça gave
Polish opponents Wisla a 4-0 thrashing, and Pep achieved a higher score in his debut than any manger before him.
In their next match Barça made a sensational
comeback against Boca Juniors and beat them to claim the Gamper Cup once more, before heading out to Wisla’s home ground
for the second leg of the qualifier. The result was surprising, 0-1 to Wisla, but no one really minded as Barça had qualified
on 4-1 aggregate.
Now the main priority was the Spanish League, the very first match against
Numancia, a team newly promoted from the second division. Easy enough, right? Apparently not. Numancia hit Barça’s net
by the thirteenth minute, and after a tedious match for Barça the result ended 1-0 for Numancia.
New coach, new rules, new players,
new strategies—what went wrong? After a preseason of astonishing results, suddenly the tide turns and Barça find themselves
with two consecutive losses to account for. All Pep’s changes had been working according to plan, and then these abrupt
losses come along. Is it the formation? Most of the matches had played with the traditional 4-3-3, which was working fine.
Against Fiorentina Pep first tried a 4-4-2, which also turned out to be functional. That gave him two winning formations to
choose from, and he used 4-4-2 again against Wisla—but that only resulted in the team’s first loss. So he switched
back to 4-3-3 when the team faced Numancia, and again they lost 1-0. We can conclude that formation is not the issue.
What about the players themselves?
Pep can keep them in line, but he can’t inject them with the will to win. That has to come from them. And it seems that
for some of the players, when they aren’t pressured to win, their performance slackens and they don’t do as well.
After they’d beaten Wisla 4-0 at home they’d as good as qualified, so the second leg wasn’t taken seriously,
especially since they were up against a weak side like Wisla.
The same goes for the match against Numancia, as Barça faced a small club not widely known and newly promoted
from the second division, whom they obviously underestimated, and also the fact that it was still the very first match and
they still had the rest of the season ahead caused the players to regard the match as barely significant.
Barça suffered two consecutive losses,
in two cases where there was no pressure, nothing compelling the players to give it all they've got and play their best. And
that is where the problem lies. On another level, while youngsters promoted from the B team and new signings both struggle
to do their best and prove themselves on the team, bigger names and players who have secured their spot on the squad also
have no real motivation to try very hard. A good example is Samuel Eto’o, who while his staying on the squad was still
uncertain, played his best and came out top scorer of the preseason. But once Pep agreed that he could stay, he took a turn
and slackened noticeably.
While Pep tries to hold the team together and keep them in line from one side,
from the other the players aren’t taking things seriously and Barça suffers on the scoreboard. Here’s hoping they
realize that every match is important and give it their all no matter what.