While many had doubts regarding Tata Martino, one thing is clear that the Argentine manager is not afraid to call the shots. His recent substitutions of Messi perhaps showed the strength of character, if not anything else. He expressed his disdain at the amount of money shelled out for Gareth Bale and doesn’t fear to express his mind. From the traditional and extremely coy Guardiola, Barcelona now have a non-conformist – indeed a sea of change.
When teams around Europe decoded the Barcelona mystery, they found it rather easy to stifle and choke the Catalans – so much so, that German powerhouses Bayern Munich scored seven goals over two leg matches, without conceding a single.
“I believe that Barça’s best days are now over,” said the legendary Oliver Kahn.
Yes, the ruthless and devastating Barcelona are now dead. The old war horses have age catching up with them. Injuries too. And this is precisely the time when there is a renaissance. And Martino is perhaps the harbinger of such a change.
Barcelona have had a good start to their season, but are yet to be tested against the top dogs of Europe. Their offence, which was often solely reliant on Lionel Messi, is perhaps shedding the Messi-dependencia. Pedro recently stepped up and got his first hattrick in Barcelona colours and Neymar is gradually getting into the scheme of things. Alexis, one of Martino’s favourite, looks even more confident nowadays. And more importantly, Barcelona do not seem overzealous to compete in terms of possession anymore. They are looking to play more direct football, with long passes, diagonal movement and taking a crack at the goal.
It’s interesting because these subtle changes may not have created news, but they have had the intended influence. The players have a fresher perspective and they monotony of doing the same thing day-in day-out is no longer an issue. However, to a neutral eye, Barcelona still play the way they did last season. The manager had to face his share of criticism, more so at losing the battle of possession against Rayo Vallecano.
“I am upset at nothing. When a team has reached such a level of excellence as Barcelona, you always get these type of situations – even more when you have a coach who is neither from the house nor Dutch. [But] long passes are not something unseen at Barcelona in the last 20 years. I mentioned Rafael Marquez before, and could also go back to Ronald Koeman,” said Martino.
Squad rotation has been a huge beneficiary for the already this squad. Cesc Fabregas isn’t a big fan of the rotation policy, but this keeps the players fit and has them well-rested more often than not. After all, your body can only take so much!
“It looks like he’s doing it with everyone, even the important players. We don’t like it, those of us who want to play every game, but it’s an intelligent approach and we’ll thank him at the end of the season,” said the former Arsenal captain.
Recent news of a bust-up between Lionel Messi and Martino, regarding substituting the former has had little effect on the manager. Martino’s rotation policy looks to be in place and even superstars like Messi won’t be exempted.
In the initial part of his tenure, Martino wasn’t pro-Masia. He wasn’t ready to put his faith on the untested kids of the academy, but the recent spate of injuries changed that and Marc Bartra is now a vital cog in the Barcelona defense alongside Gerard Pique.
“I want to emphasize his character, his desire, his momentum to succeed at Barcelona. That sometimes can play against him. He is young, he will earn tranquility and I am sure that we will see the best of him in the coming years,” said the manager.
For Bartra, these minutes can be determinant of his future. And one can only think of the way the Masia kids were handled in the recent past.
Sergi Roberto (21) has made 3 appearances this season – 8 minutes against Malaga, 2 minutes against Valencia and 11 minutes against Real Sociedad.
Martin Montoya (22), played just once – 90 minutes against Rayo Vallecano.
Christian Tello (22), played 5 times – 15 minutes against Levante, 21 minutes against Valencia, 61 minutes against Sevilla, 10 minutes against Rayo Vallecano and 11 minutes against Almeria.
Jonathan dos Santos (23) played 3 times – 12 minutes against Valencia, 8 minutes against Rayo Vallecano and just a minute against Almeria.
The numbers clearly indicate that the club might have to deal with yet another Thiago Alcantara-situation next summer. The smaller clubs do not need the cutting-edge technique or war-hardened professionals – they just need the right mix of talent and youth who can deliver, on a weekly basis.
Real Sociedad are already touted to have Jonathan Dos Santos as their January target, especially after the ACL injury to Esteban Granero. Moreover, at San Sebastian, Dos Santos will also get much needed Champions League exposure and gain more. While Martino is reportedly reluctant to lose the youngster, it looks to be a matter of time for him to do so now – especially after not allowing even relatively established starlets like Tello, Montoya and Bartra more minutes than they actually got.
Martino may be the right way, but that should not be at the cost of young and potential stars from the academy. The Catalans have to find a way to galvanize the trust that these Masia graduates have seemingly lost. They have to be given more minutes, especially against teams from the lower half of the table. A huge portion of Barcelona circulates around the academy, and it won’t make sense to choose to suffer from Masia-myopia.