Tuesday, August 01, 2006

March of the young Catalans to England?

For those of you who have never lived in Barcelona, there are two daily sports papers dedicated exclusively to covering every crumb of possible information pertaining to FC Barcelona. They're called Sport and El Mundo Deportivo ( www.sport.es and www.elmundodeportivo.es). The articles are terrible and the commentary is worse, but they're good sources of general information for those of you who obsess over the club as I do.

It boggles the mind how they produce enough content for a daily newspaper, even during the months when Barcelona is not playing. But they do, recycling the same articles and rumors over, over, and over again.

Yet they still miss many of the noteworthy stories about the team.

Despite the heavy press attention, there's one topic I've not heard discussed much. There has been a march of good Catalan talent away from the club. According to most everyone, the two best young Catalan players are Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas. But they are not playing for Barcelona. Pique's rights are owned by ManU (he's now on loan to Zaragoza) and Cesc, of course, plays for Arsenal.

How is it possible that the two best young Catalan players belong to the English? As is typical, both players were developing well in the Barcelona system. Then, when it came time to renegotiate contracts, they were lost to ManU and Arsenal respectively.

I find this a little shocking. With the current level of play, it has become increasingly difficult for local players to make it on the first team. Of those who do, only a few (Xavi, Puyol) probably have the talent to play for Barcelona were it not for their local roots. If they weren't Catalan, Oleguer and Valdes probably would not be playing for FC Barcelona. Valdes is probably the fourth or fifth best Spanish keeper. Oleguer is a solid mid-level defender in La Liga. When he reaches the upper echelon of the Champions league, however, it is clear he is not quite up to snuff.

With Xavi and Puyol progressing in age, there is some question of who will be the next Catalan players to fill in the void. The only problem is, the two most suited for the job are playing in England right now. In general, I am a huge fan of Joan Laporta, and think he has done an excellent job with the team. In my opinion, however, this has been his greatest failure. When the two best young Catalan players are playing in England, Barcelona may see a future where it has one of three options: 1) Play a team without Catalan players; 2) Play with a couple of Catalan players who are clearly not at the same level as the rest of the team; 3) Attempt to buy back Cesc and Pique at a 1000% premium five years down the road.

None of these options is particularly appealing. The first is hard to imagine. Barcelona is a symbol of Catalunya, and it's hard to imagine a Barcelona without Catalans. If the club opts for the second, then it runs the risk of destroying the quality of the club. Part of the attraction for superstars to come to Barcelona is that they play with the best. The attraction is not to play with half great players and half Catalan "Pavones." The third option seems the most likely, the only problem is, they may not be able to do it even if they want to. After bad negotiations that led to their depature in the first place, who knows if they want to come back? And if they come back, they're going to be as expensive as anyone in the world. It's depressing to think that Barcelona may have to fork over $40 million to buy back a player who was once a part the cantera, but that may be their only good option.

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