Josep Maria Bartomeu to edge Joan Laporta, Agusti Benedito in Barcelona election


Despite the vast majority of football clubs being owned by either pretentious millionaires or a consortium of rich shareholders with a visible leader, Barcelona is a club in which the future is decided by its 144,000 members.

Given the institution’s democratic nature, a new president is granted a mandate of six years to lead the club’s fortunes. Having said that, the president has the power to call for an early election if he so wishes -- which is exactly what happened this time round, with Josep Maria Bartomeu anticipating the election a whole year due to the crisis that exploded in his hands in early January 2015 and resulted in the sacking of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, who was to blame for many controversial signings and strange decisions.

Having already collected at least 2534 signatures in their favour at this point, it has been confirmed that Josep Maria Bartomeu, Joan Laporta, Toni Freixa, Agustí Benedito and Joan Batiste have now officially become candidates for the presidential election which will be held at the Camp Nou on July 18th -- and they are not just talking about big transfersthey have also made La Masia an absolute priority.

READ my full "Bartomeu to edge Laporta, Benedito in race for Barcelona presidency" column for Weloba here.

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Barcelona's La Masia in crisis as production shows signs of decline

Barcelona supporters have spent the couple of decades boasting about the seemingly endless torrent of talent being carefully nurtured at their renowned La Masia academy. Household names such as Lionel Messi, Carles Puyol, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, all products of the Catalan side's youth system, played a decisive role in the unprecedented collective success that the Camp Nou faithful have been spoiled with in recent years.

Perhaps more importantly, such impressive achievements came as a result of playing beautiful attacking football that generated admiration all around the planet.

However, the last La Masia graduate to truly cement his place at the first team was Sergio Busquets, promoted back in 2008. The likes of Marc Bartra, Sergi Roberto and Rafinha have joined the first team squad since but without fail, they have been assigned to a secondary role and forced to watch their teammates from the bench or, more disappointingly, the stands -- making way for the next big signing on a yearly basis instead.

READ my full "Barcelona's La Masia in relative crisis as production shows signs of decline" for ESPN here.

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Cesc Fabregas, Alexis Sanchez failed miserably at Barcelona


In football, talent is not all. Continuity, discipline, attitude and one team’s reaction to criticism all work in conjunction to make a team successful. Clubs often like to spew out boatloads of money to talented egomaniacs to form super teams that more often than not leave fan bases aghast.

Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City are prime examples. Barcelona has built their reputation on taking calculated risks when it comes to incoming transfers. Rarely do you see players struggle for extended periods of time. One thing upper management doesn’t get enough credit for is bringing in system players, players that understand the intricacies of the Barca tiki-taka style. Despite the impeccable record of bringing on worthwhile players, there have been two formalities in players that never lived up to their expectation. 

Summer 2011: Tough decisions awaited the board as the summer transfer window began. Barcelona wanted to add depth in the midfield due to the grueling amount of minutes logged by the trio in the middle, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets, along with more quality on the wing to coexist with Lionel Messi in the middle. Players available? Juan Mata, Samir Nasri, Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and former La Masia standout Cesc Fabregas. 

Former Arsenal extraordinaire Fabregas joined Barcelona that summer, a transfer that seemed apropos for the type of player they wanted, one who understood the Barca system. It looked to be the perfect reunion for the two parties. According to football talk, statistics showed that during the five years prior to joining the blaugrana, Cesc created more chances for teammates and scored more goals than Xavi and Iniesta in that same time span. 

Along with Cesc came a young Chilean boy by the name of Alexis Sanchez. The blooming wing player was considered by many to be the star of the transfer window rounded out the summer for Barcelona leaving cules drooling for the start of the new season.

During Fabregas’ inaugural season with the blaugrana he contributed significantly scoring 15 goals, which was ahead of Xavi and Iniesta along with 20 assists second most on the team, capping a stellar campaign.

Alexis on the other hand received high acclaim by his manager prior to the start of the season "Sánchez is very young," said manager Pep Guardiola "He can play in all three attacking positions, he shows intense defensive skills, he's direct and from what I've been told, he's a very nice kid." Despite the praise, Alexis was mired with short-term injuries for most of his first season not being able to prove his worth to the aficionados.

Despite the impressive numbers put forth by Fabregas, the biggest con to his play were his inconsistent starts. More often than not his form would dip significantly in the second half of games. Whether it was for a lack of focus or just poor fitness and a shortage of stamina Cesc could rarely leave his stamp on a full 90. 

Much could be contributed to the fact Cesc had to deal with managerial changes, different systems but he only has himself to blame for not taking a strangle hold of the false center forward position. I must admit, I did view Cesc as an integral part of this team for many years but a lot should be made for the three-headed monster Barcelona already had established in the midfield which did just enough to keep Fabregas grounded. Fabregas just saw himself losing ground in the pecking order of the Barca midfield and simply wanted a one-way trip back to London.

As for Alexis Sanchez, even though he had a rather solid start to his campaign with the Blaugrana with 16 goals and seven assists his form would always be bogged down with terrible play, often doing too much on his own rather than allowing his midfield to play him open. He would miss way too many clear chances causing fans to lose patience sooner rather than later with the outside forward. 

The experiment just never worked out for Barca and Alexis, especially as the club noticed a glaring absence at the forward position. As a result, they brought in Luis Suarez, moved Lionel Messi over to the right flank. 

The rest, as they say, is history.

It often takes more than talent to thrive at Barcelona. Sometimes players are unable to fill a mold that is available to satisfy. Nothing should be taken away from these two world-class talents in Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas. 

Barcelona is a cutthroat club and if you aren’t working to the required standard, only one thing is inevitable: You will be replaced.

Let's hope Paul Pogba and Arda Turan are ready for the challenge should they complete their move to the Camp Nou.

Published by Alexander Del Valle. Follow him on Twitter @AlexanderDelV

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Did you miss Cesc Fabregas last season? Should Barcelona have sold Pedro and kept Alexis Sanchez instead? I'd love to hear your views. Share your comments with our community in the box below.

Paul Pogba, Arda Turan represent midfield evolution at Barcelona

After years of Barcelona's approach being based on endless sequences that had to inevitably pass though the boots of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the Asturian manager slowly but surely moved toward a more direct, less speculative system. Horizontal passing was replaced by a mixture of quicker combinations from the wings and longer diagonal balls into space, meaning that the role of Barca's creative midfielder also had to evolve to adapt to the new manager's philosophy.

The experiments of Luis Enrique's first year as manager can be personalised in Ivan Rakitic. The Croatian international may not have Iniesta's magical touch or the mesmerising peripheral vision of Xavi, but he secured a starting spot at the Camp Nou thanks to his defensive discipline, generous effort and ability to balance his team's attack by reading his teammates' movements and moving into position accordingly.

READ my full column "Pogba, Turan signings would represent midfield evolution at Barcelona" for ESPN here.

It's your turn

What do you think? Do you agree with investing heavily on Paul Pogba now so he can join in the future? Would the arrival of Arda Turan improve the current Barcelona squad? I'd love to hear your views. Share your thoughts with our fellow Blaugranas in the comment box below.

Neymar, Carles Puyol, Lionel Messi, Denis Suarez, Martin Montoya | Barca Top 5


PSG will target Barcelona's Neymar in 2016, according to reports in France

In France there is speculation surrounding the future of Neymar. According to Le 10 Sport, French champions PSG are preparing a deal to take Neymar from Barcelona. This would occur in summer 2016, when PSG are free of Financial Fair Play and are able to make some big signings.

The speculation comes as a result of the belief that Neymar has had a disagreement with manager Luis Enrique, and therefore the Spaniard's recent contract extension could indicate that the Blaugrana are willing to negotiate with PSG.

Denis Suarez's Barcelona block could be a blessing in disguise

Though he signed for Barca two years ago now, Denis Suarez's relationship with his parent club has been a convoluted one. He joined from Manchester City on the understanding that after one season he would move up from Barca B to Barca proper, yet when contractually obliged to promote the midfielder to their first team last summer, the Catalans instead decided to use him as a makeweight in the negotiations that brought Ivan Rakitic to the Camp Nou, concocting what they believed to be a mutually beneficial two-year loan agreement.


'Unstoppable alien' Lionel Messi would humiliate me – Carles Puyol

Carles Puyol has revealed the humiliation he would suffer at the hands of an ‘unstoppable’ Lionel Messi during training sessions in their time at Barcelona. The former Barca captain retired from the game in 2014 after he and Messi shared six league titles and three Champions League crowns with the Catalan club.

"In a mini one-on-one match, I told myself: 'I'm going to see if I can stop him’. It was humiliating,” Puyol explained. Pep Guardiola told me: 'Carles, don't injure him’ I told Pep: ‘If you don't want anything to happen, stop the session.’ I tried everything but he always got past me at his own pace.”

Martin Montoya's agent confirms Barcelona right-back is off to Inter on two-year loan

Juan Carrasco explained that all that remains is for Barcelona to agree to the final details: "We can say that we are waiting for Barça to give the all clear for Montoya to Inter to become 100 percent. We already have an agreement. It's a matter of days. The initial deal will be a two-year loan, but I can not talk about numbers."


Xavi: "This year nobody believed in us Barcelona or Luis Enrique"

Xavi explained before joining the Qatari league: "I don't know if this year's treble is better than the first one, but it was harder to reach. For sure. Nobody believed in us or the coach. If in January we had been talking about the treble, we would have been called crazy. The way of playing football was different, but Messi, Neymar and Suarez make it work."

"Signings? I would sign Koke, he is a player who can be perfectly at the club because he has talent and organizes the game very well. In fact, I think that it will be very difficult to do it because he is deeply rooted at At. Madrid."

It's your turn

What do you think? Should Barcelona offer Neymar a new contract to avoid his departure? Do you agree with Xavi when he says Koke is his natural replacement at the Camp Nou? I'd love to hear your views. Share your thoughts with our fellow Blaugranas in the comment box below.

Arda Turan, Pedro, Marc Bartra, Jordi Alba, Martin Montoya | Barca Top 5


Arda Turan's agent in talks Barcelona, amongst others

Paul Pogba may not be Barcelona's only midfield target. Arda Turan has confirmed that he is on his way out of Atletico, telling followers on his official Twitter page: “The transfer rumors are not entirely correct. My agent is currently in touch with 3-4 clubs. I will update you all if a deal is made.”

Previously his agent Bulut told: “His intention is to leave Spain this summer. His will is to leave and to play in the Premier League, that is the path he would like to take to continue his career. We are currently in talks with three teams but I cannot reveal the names of the clubs. However, I can tell you that they are the best in England and in European football."


Marc Bartra posts enigmatic Twitter message ahead of talks over his future

Marc Bartra's professional future has still not been clarified, although recent developments indicate he is very likely to still be wearing the Blaugrana next season. The FC Barcelona defender, though, has taken to Twitter to post an enigmatic message. "No force will knock down your dreams, because they feed on your own light, your own passion...," he wrote. 

Despite having three teams ready and waiting to pay his release clause -- which is currently at 12 million euros until July -- and the fact he would get more minutes at those clubs to develop, his feelings are blaugrana. 

Barcelona's Martin Montoya in talks with Inter Milan - agent

A two-year loan deal -- after which they will have an option to buy him for €8 million -- is reportedly being discussed and Juan De Dios Carrasco has explained he is optimistic about an agreement being reached. 

"We're talking to Inter about Montoya," Carrasco said. "Let's hope there could be a good conclusion to these negotiations. We're working on it. Montoya feels that Inter are a great club and this would represent a great opportunity."

Manchester United and Arsenal join race for Pedro Rodriguez

Barcelona winger Pedro Rodriguez recently signed a new four-year contract extension but is still open to leaving should a inticing offer come along with Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool joining Inter Milan as clubs expressing interest in the treble-winner. 

Pedro signed his contract extension with the club and player fully aware that if his situation doesn’t change and a lucrative offer for both parties comes along, with a team meeting his €30 million release clause, he could leave the club this summer.


Louis van Gaal's Manchester United eye an unlikely move for Barcelona's Alba

Manchester United are keen on Barcelona left-back Jordi Alba. Louis van Gaal's side want to sign Alba this summer, according to reports in England, even though it is highly unlikely, even impossible, that the player from L'Hospitalet de Llobregat will leave the Catalan club. 

Jordi Alba, an undisputed starter on the left in Luis Enrique's treble winning team, is not thinking about leaving the club after an impressive season. He has only recently signed a new contract which keeps him at Barça until 2020.

It's your turn

What do you think? Would Arda Turan improve the current squad at Barcelona? Should Pedro leave to get more playing time elsewhere? I'd love to hear your views. Share your thoughts with our fellow Blaugranas in the comment box below.

Paul Pogba needed at Barcelona to boost weakened midfield


Barcelona have already shifted their focus toward finding ways to improve a squad already boasting quality players such as Lionel Messi, Neymar and Ivan Rakitic. Despite the Blaugranas' being banned from signing any players until January 2016, due to their breaching the rules on the transfer of U18 players, they are continuing as planned and treating the current period as an ordinary transfer window -- the only difference being newcomers won't be registered until the ban expires.

Paul Pogba is the chosen one -- and rightly so. Unsurprisingly, the Catalans' presidential candidates are competing against one another for a photograph of them shaking the hand of the 22-year-old while wearing the Blaugrana colours. For a team already boasting some of the most talented midfielders in football history, only the addition of a slightly different kind of player makes sense, especially given Luis Enrique's eagerness to make Barcelona's game more incisive, physical and direct.

READ my full column "Paul Pogba is Barcelona's most logical signing this transfer season" for ESPN here.

It's your turn

What do you think? Does treble-winning Barcelona need Paul Pogba? How much would you pay Juventus as a transfer fee? I'd love to hear your views. Share your thoughts with our fellow Blaugranas in the comment box below.

Six reasons why Lionel Messi is the world's best


Lionel Messi celebrated another milestone -- his 28th birthday -- on Wednesday. To mark the occasions, here are the six things that make the Barcelona and Argentina star the best player on the planet, by a long distance.

Messi is pretty much infallible in front of goal and even on the rare occasion when he is off his game, he isn't afraid to continue attempting shots until he finally gets his reward -- as proved by the 261 shots he needed to score his 56 goals last season.

READ my full ESPN column "Six reasons why Lionel Messi is the world's best" here.

It's your turn

What do you think? Is the Messi-Ronaldo comparison still worth considering given Leo's impressive year? Were Diego Maradona and Pele truly better than Messi? I'd love to hear your views. Share your thoughts with our fellow Blaugranas in the comment box below.

Eric Abidal, Angel Di Maria, Isco, Koke, Adriano | Barca Top 5

Joan Laporta launches Barcelona campaign with Eric Abidal as assistant

Abidal, 35, played for Barça between 2007 and 2013 and made a successful return after undergoing a liver transplant in 2012. “Barça is more than a club and I wanted to carry on working and maintain a link to that,” Abidal, who would help oversee their transfer market dealings, said. Another of his tasks would be to ensure Barça’s La Masia academy, which produced Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, remained the centre of excellence.

Has Josep Maria Bartomeu agreed a deal to bring Isco to Barcelona?

Josep Maria Bartomeu insinuated that one of his trump cards in the election campaign was a top level Spanish midfielder, a player who is currently at a Spanish club in a transfer which would be announced in the run up to the Barcelona elections in July. Names quicky came out, with Koke, Vicente Iborra and Dani Parejo put on the table... but reports indicate Bartomeu is talking about none other than a player who plays for Barça's eternal rival: Real Madrid's Isco.

Barcelona could offer Manchester United's Angel Di Maria a return to La Liga

Angel Di Maria still doesn't know which shirt he will be wearing next season. Currently playing in the Copa America, the Argentine only knows two things. The first, is that he still has a contract with Manchester United. The second, is that he would like to leave Old Trafford as soon as possible. And in this scenario, both the player and his agent have spent weeks looking for clubs at the top level prepared to pay what it would cost to do a deal with United. Barça are one of the clubs interested in a possible deal, with the response from Di Maria and his agent positive.

Koke to stay at Atletico Madrid despite Barcelona link - agent

"We are not surprised but flattered," Koke's agent Inaki Espizua said. "It's great to hear these kinds of things, especially from a club like Barca, but right now the player's position is very clear. He feels he is a key part of Atletico de Madrid's plans for the future and I therefore have very little else to add."

Adriano could leave Barcelona, admits agent

Paulo Afonso, the Brazilian's representative, explained: "Adriano is very happy at Barcelona, he gets along well with everyone and has written true history there. But he wants to play, he wants more minutes, and that's the only thing that could see him leave Barca. We are listening to offers and, when we meet with the player, we will get together with the club and find the best solution for both parties. He wants to have more minutes and to play for a Champions League team."

It's your turn

What do you think? Would you welcome ex-Real Madrid winger Di Maria at Barcelona? Do you trust Abidal as Barca's new sporting director? I'd love to hear your views. Share your thoughts with our fellow Blaugranas in the comment box below.

Barcelona's balance, not only Messi, Neymar, Suarez trident, key to recent success


Pep Guardiola’s achievements as head coach at FC Barcelona were always bound to pile the pressure on any of his successors. How do you follow the man who assembled a squad which has been hailed, in some quarters, as the greatest club side that soccer has ever seen?

Luis Enrique is a former teammate of Guardiola’s at Barcelona and well versed in the history and traditions of the club. He took charge of the Barcelona “B” team from 2008 and also had stints as head coach in Italy with AS Roma and back in La Liga with Celta Vigo. Last summer, he became the latest man to try and follow in Pep’s footsteps.

By Christmas 2014, according to the Spanish media, Barcelona appeared to be in “crisis”.


That term is relative, of course. The Catalans are giants of the modern game. Playing to 100,000 at every home fixture—to take your seat among them, click here—the stakes are always bound to be high. Failure is not a word to be tolerated at Camp Nou.

Barca’s eternal battle with Real Madrid now extends beyond the boundaries of La Liga. Following their 2014 UEFA Champions League triumph, Madrid can now boast that they have been Champions of Europe ten times. That will bristle with the Barcelona elite. It may take some time to catch them, but you can be sure that the mission has been accepted.

It is therefore not beyond the realms of possibility that the 1-0 defeat to relegation-threatened Real Sociedad at the beginning of January pushed Luis Enrique right to the edge of the precipice. The sight of Lionel Messi warming the substitute’s bench while the team on the pitch stuttered cannot have been a welcome one.

Messi also missed a training session following the defeat—”gastroenteritis” was cited as the reason. Whispered rumours of unrest became a media frenzy.

The fact that it was mid-season, and that there were few alternatives available, probably saved him. Instead, one week into the new year and club legend Andoni Zubizarreta—the man who purportedly recommended Enrique for the job—was dismissed from his post as Sporting Director for “transfer mistakes”. His assistant, former club captain Carles Puyol, also left.

According to Spanish football expert Sid Lowe, writing in the Guardian, said that presidential elections were called, to “reduce the tension.” Luis Enrique, however, stated that it was more simple than that: “Victories are the only things that can calm this wave.”


Eventually, those victories came—and they kept on coming. Messi’s form blossomed again: the mutual understanding between the Argentine, Neymar and Luis Suarez improved and began to realize its potential.

By the end of the UCL final in Berlin—in which Barcelona defeated Juventus 3-1—they had managed to achieve what appeared to be unthinkable just six months earlier.

Barcelona’s recent “triplete” of UEFA Champions League, La Liga title, and Copa del Rey can be attributed to head coach Luis Enrique finding the right balance in his side, according to ex-blaugrana defender Lilian Thuram.

“Barça were fair winners because they outplayed their opponent. They are a more balanced team than they were before...They defend better and their attack is less predictable.”

If Barcelona can repeat their end of season performances from the beginning of next season, there will be no stopping them once again.

Guest post via Andre.

It's your turn

What do you think? Can Barca repeat their treble next season? Should Luis Enrique continue as coach even if a new president comes in? I'd love to hear your views. Share your thoughts with our fellow Blaugranas in the comment box below.