Just about a half hour ago i saw Manchester United punch their ticket to the Champions League final by defeating Barcelona. What i also was was an end of an era for the most exciting club team in the world over the last half decade. While change is a constant in world soccer, the degree of change required in Catalonia over the summer will not only be undertaken on a grand scale, but completely needed.
Tuesday's game pretty much typified what Barcelona has become over the last year. There were the mind-boggling mistakes on defense that led to goals for the opposition. Despite having world-class defenders such as Gianluca Zambrotta, Carles Puyol and Eric Abidal, it never seems like they can play together and form a cohesive unit that is immune to the critical mistake. I also saw a great deal of possession, but most of it was without a clear direction. While midfield players like Deco and Xavi are excellent at moving the ball around, there just never seems to be the interplay between the forwards and the midfield that used to make the team so dangerous. Barca was at their best when Messi was running at defenders, yet i don't remember quality ball delivered to him from the midfield. Because of this, and despite of a ridiculous array of talented strikers, Barcelona could not score a single goal in their most important game of the season. I remember a few years ago when every moment seemed like a possible goal, yet now it was a struggle to even get a quality shot off at net. And while Manchester surely deserves credit for being a good defensive team, this has been happening for weeks and months to Barcelona which shows that it is a chronic symptom of their failures this season as opposed to a one-time deal.
We have seen eras come and go in club soccer over the last decade. The "Galacticos" of Real Madrid ended quickly when it was realized that none of them played defense. All of the Italian teams were decimated 2 years ago and are now slowly rebuilding. Barcelona has done this before too. They let superstars like Rivaldo and Patrick Kluivert leave the team and decided to rebuild around young talented players like Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o and Deco. Now the time has come for another re-start for the team. Here are the major players that should stay and who should go...
Ronaldinho - This man has been the face of international soccer and FC Barcelona for the last half-decade, but a myriad of events have made their parting inevitable. He doesn't work as hard as he used to, is injured more than he used to be, and is more of an egomaniac than ever before. No one is doubting that he still has skills, but he seems to be going the way of fellow countryman Ronaldo in that his best years are behind him even though he is still relatively young. Barca will try to get some good transfer money out of him with the 'Dinho probably moving on to Italy.
Thierry Henry - Sometimes great players going to great teams never quite works out. Whether it was because of Henry's ego getting in the way of things, or the Barcelona coaching staff not using him on the field properly, this has been a disaster from the get-go. Henry will definitely leave Camp Nou and will probably still be a quality player for another team, but Barca would be well advised to go with a younger, cheaper and less diva-like striker.
Deco - This guy has been one of the best offensive midfielders in the world for many years, but it seems as if his time has come as well. He can't control a game like he used to, and without Ronaldinho up front to link up with, he doesn't provide the service that the strikers up front need. Look for Deco to move to the EPL this summer, or wherever Jose Mourinho goes and coaches at next.
Gianluca Zambrotta - It could be claimed that Zambrotta was the best right fullback in the world after his performance at World Cup 2006. I thought this was an awesome move for Barcelona to pick him up, but it never quite worked out. Even in today's game he never seemed comfortable with his role in the team and with the other players surrounding him. Its evident that he tries really hard, but its sad that he never really worked out with the team. He'll probably move back to AC Milan or Juventus this summer, which will be much more comfortable for him.
With these 4 players gone, who will Barcelona look to rebuild the team with? Up front, they have 3 of the best young strikers in the game in Leo Messi, Bojan Krkic and Giovanni Dos Santos. They probably need a reliable veteran striker to team up with the 3 young kids, because its highly questionable that Eto'o will be back whether they want him to be or not. A possible pick-up could be Freddie Kanoute from FC Sevilla. In the midfield, the team will need a replacement for Deco who will be able to link up with the strikers, such as someone like a Diego on Werder Bremen, as well as a wide midfielder who can provide speed down the flanks like a Jesus Navas on FC Sevilla. Finally on defense, there has been much talk of the team acquiring Dani Alves, but i'm hoping that they go back to defenders who are much more reliable and less prone to costly mistakes similar to how Oleguer and Thuram have been over the years. With a more stable defense, the entire team will be more stable moving forward, which will allow a more consistent effort to be put forth every night.
As it seems, future Barcelona teams may not have as much flash as previous years have possessed. But while the team used to be highly successful, it is painfully evident that its time has come and gone. So while next year's version will not have a Ronaldinho, it will hopefully be much more consistent and successful. And plus with players like Leo Messi around, there will still be plenty of brilliance on display, lets just hope its not as few and far between as it seemed to be this year.