The Fall of Barça B – Where did it all go wrong?
Barcelona correspondent Alexandra Jonson takes a look at the dramatic downfall of Barcelona’s B squad, as they stand on the brink of relegation to the Segunda B Division, while their counterparts, comprised of many Barcelona B alumni, are on the verge of winning yet another treble.
This season, FC Barcelona B-team have hit rock bottom. Placed in the bottom of the Spanish second division the Barcelona reserve team last Saturday won their first game in twelve rounds, beating Ponferradina 2-1.
Regulation to the Spanish third division, Segunda Division B, would be a disaster for the Blaugrana club. Although looking at the teams current form and results, despite last weekend’s win, it’s something that soon will become a reality. Segunda Division B, known as ”Hell” in Spain is not a league you want your football team to play in. The league is also often refered to ”The Well” as it resembles one, with it being “very easy to fall down but almost impossible to climb your way back up.”
It has simply become a division no team wants to end up in. And for a reserve team to clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona, it’s even worse. Segunda B is not an ideal spot for young talents to develop. The pitches are often horrible and the opponents tend to play rough and ugly. The teams in Segunda B are full of veteran players who never made it all the way, players who will be resentful towards the youngsters in a Barcelona or Real Madrid reserve team. Players who will be determined to show the kids who’s in charge in this division.
On the outside, the second division, Segunda A, where Barça B currently play is the ideal place for the kids to develop. In Segunda, the football played is way more technical than physical making it easier for the teenagers who are yet to reach the physical standard of professional football to develop their game. While in Segunda B, they will be shoved and kicked so much that they’ll hardly get the chance to play the ball and thus not develop as much as players. And the risks of serious injuries are way bigger. More than that the step up to La Liga will be so big that few, if any of the players in the Barça B team, will be able to take the step direct from the clubs B-team to the first team, as has been seen in previous years.
However, a few wins could drastically change the situation for Barça B as there is only three points separating the bottom five and 21 points still to play for. Even so, that wouldn’t make the problems go away.
So what’s really happened with Barça B? From finishing third in the second division to disaster in just a couple of months. Well, to find the start of the problems we have to go back almost five years and to be able to explain the current situation, we have to go back even further. We have to rewind all the way back to 2007, when the club’s B-team was in their biggest crisis to date.
Guardiola and Vilanova save La Masia
In 2007, FC Barcelona B was, for the first time in 34 years, regulated to the Spanish fourth division, Tercera Division. A young Josep Guardiola with his assistant Tito Vilanova took over a team said to have ”no soul”. They changed the mentality of the team but they did so much more. I won’t go into to great detail but I will explain one thing they did that would transform the team.
One of the main reasons that led to the crisis in 2007, that had seen the B-team fall as far as to Tercera was the fact that the players were too small. The team had been full of promising teenagers but had failed to compete with the other teams when it came to the physical aspect of the game.
It was something that Guardiola’s training-staff realised and they decided to bring in so called ”backbone players”. They were often signed from other teams and would be the ones to hold the team together competitively. In general, they were a bit older, experienced, restrained and without excess, placed by strategic form to maintain the competitive rhythm without holding back the growth of the ’pearls’, which was the nickname given to the talents coming from the clubs youth teams. In order to define the ‘backbone players’ one has to take in to account their age, their type, their player profile, and their durability. They had to be between 21 and 26 years old and should share similar distinct lines, in order to act as a support structure for the younger players. Examples of players Guardiola used as ‘backbone players’ are David Córcoles, Chico Flores, Dimas Delgado, Abraham González, Victor Espasandín, Xavi Torres and Victor Vázquez.
The individual intention for the ’backbone players’ were that they would shine in the ”Barça brand” and later be sold to bigger clubs around Europe. For the system to work, it was vital that they didn’t stay in the B-team for more than two years, thus not being in the way for the youth-players coming up.
It was a system that worked and Barça B would in three years time win promotion to both Segunda B, under Guardiola, and later also to Segunda A, under Luis Enrique. The gap up to the first team decreased immensely and Barça B had gone from being a doomed reserve team to becoming a diamond mine for the first team.
Eusebio gets it right in the wrong ways
However things would change. When Luis Enrique left for AS Roma in 2011, new president Sandro Rosell decided to make Eusebio Sacristán the new head coach for the Barcelona B team. Even if the great results kept coming under Eusebio, the coach would endure a lot of criticism. Especially from those who had followed the clubs B-team since the Guardiola days. The problem was that Eusebio did not understand how to use the system. Under him the ’backbone players’ went from acting as a support system for the youngsters to taking their places.
The primary function of a B team at a club like Barcelona is to develop youth players. However, many following the Barcelona B-team felt that Eusebio sacrificed this development for results. The way the team played didn’t resemble the first team as much as it had in previous years and the arguments stated that this Barça B might play with a 4-3-3 formation but they weren’t playing the Barça style. Something that made the step to the first team bigger and more difficult for the players who did get the chance.
Under Eusebio’s four years coaching the B-team the ’backbone-players’ would get in the way of the clubs own talents. Chasing the results, Eusebio would simply play the best players all the time instead of the players with the biggest potential. As a B-team is a place for the players with potential to develop and learn senior football, a place for them to blossom before – maybe – taking the step to the first team. Going for the results in the way Eusebio did is the wrong way to go.
One can argue that under Eusebio’s time at Barça B more players than ever before got minutes with the first team. But, that being said, very few managed to take a spot in the first team. I’d like to argue that during the last four years, the talents passing through Barça B have been some of the best generations of young footballers the club has ever produced. But while at the B-team, their progress was halted immensely and in the end only Marc Bartra, Martin Montoya, Sergi Roberto, Jordi Masip and Rafinha have made it into the Barcelona first team and stayed.
Bartra, Montoya and Sergi Roberto only played one season under Eusebio and Masip first got the chance when veteran-keepers Oier and Rubén Miño had left the club. Rafinha, who played two seasons under him, got his biggest development while on loan at Celta and not under the leading hands of Eusebio. In my book, all five of the aforementioned players got their biggest football development under Luis Enrique and not under Eusebio.
Of the almost thirty players who got minutes for Barça’s first team, after being coached by Eusebio in the B-team, five are in the first team today and only two, Bartra and Rafinha, looks to have a future at the club.
It has to be said that Eusebio is a great football coach and the success that Barça B-team reached under him shows it. Last season the team finished third in the Spanish second division reaching the best season for a B-team in the club’s history. But what Eusebio wasn’t good at, was coaching a B-team, developing players and understand what players needed to play rather than what players would archive the best results. Obviously, the team also needed results to stay in Segunda A, and that’s why Guardiola introduced the ’backbone-players’ seven years ago.
At the club, they didn’t see the problems at the B-team, even though everyone following the team tried to tell them. The club only saw the results and they were good. However, when the results weren’t good anymore, Eusebio was directly shown the door.
The ‘Greatest Generation’ could soon be the ‘Lost Generation’
Last season, the Barcelona Juvenil A team became the first team in history to win the UEFA Youth League. A new tournament created by UEFA as the Champions League for 19-year olds. The Barça team was full of kids born in 1995 and later making them younger than all their opponents. Still they dominated, like they – the 95’ kids – have done at all levels, always playing against kids older than themselves.
So ahead of this season, one of the best generations in the clubs history, reached the B-team and together with the already talented players in the team, it looks like one unbeatable team on paper.
Containing players like: Sergi Samper, the best talent I have ever seen. Alejandro Grimaldo, who already at 16 was one of the leaders for the Spanish U19 national team. Munir El Hadaddi, the kid who started the season by creating headlines all over Europe. Adama Traoré, who passes opponents like they are cones. Alen Halilovic, who got his senior debut at 16 and was chased by nearly all Europe’s top clubs before he decided to go to Barça B. I could go on all day. Since this Barça B-squad might contain the biggest crop of potential star-players than any B-team at Barcelona ever have before. Sure there is always a lot of talent coming through La Masia, but trust me when I say this team contains an unusual amount of ”super-talents,” even for Barça.
Still, they are at the bottom of Segunda A. With Eusebio continuing to look for the results, every youngster coming up to the B-team has been harmed, their development has halted. And this season Eusebio, didn’t even manage to get the results. Playing the same players in every game, even if results wouldn’t come the rest of the team became unmotivated. Knowing that no matter how hard they worked, they’d still be left on the bench.
There have been technical decisions that the players, and no one else for that matter, could understand. Like when Eusebio benched the team’s two most important players Sergi Samper and Adama Traore in a game against Zaragoza. The reason for the benching was later said to be because Samper and Adama had ”acted like teenagers”. Well newsflash Eusebio, they are teenagers.
In the end, the players started to speak up. After having left the club in the summer of 2014, Jordi Quintillà publicly criticised his old coach. Saying that during his time at the club, Eusebio only talked to him twice in five months and that there didn’t exist any direct player-coach relationship, while reports in Spanish media later announced that the current players of the team had no faith in their coach. Pointing out that the criticism towards Eubsebio was no longer just heard from the outside, but now inside the dressing room as well.
Vinyals fights to rescue Eusebio’s sinking ship
When the club realised this past February that results weren’t coming anymore, Eusebio was fired. The Juvenil A coach Jordi Vinyals took over and it looked to be a good choice considering that he knows the players well and had done wonders in the youth teams earlier. But any change has yet to bee seen.
Sure Vinyals has changed the line-up and played players Eusebio didn’t. But with the team desperate for results to stay up, even Vinyals has been blinded. And the criticism from outside is still the same, the talents are harmed with the focus only being on results. Still the results are lacking.
Watching the Barça B-team play at the moment you will see a team that is lost. They just don’t seem to know how to play together. It’s everyone for themselves. More than that there have been reports in the Spanish media saying that some players just don’t care if the team get regulated since most of the them already have offers waiting for them from other La Liga clubs for next season
This statement got the current youth-director at the club Jordi Roura to go out in media and threatened the players by saying ”If the B-team gets regulated, every single player in the current team will have to stay and play in Segunda B”.
Sadly for Barcelona, the problems at youth-level don’t stop with the B-team. As none of the clubs Juvenil teams are living up to it’s normal standards with the Juvenil A currently fourth in their league, 18 points behind already crowned champions Espanyol. While the Juvenil B team is third in their division.
Taking a closer look and you’ll notice that the entire youth set-up at Barcelona has changed since Sandro Rosell decided to sack youth-director José Ramón Alexanko and his right hand man Albert Benaiges in 2010. When the pair left the club, some of La Masia’s identity went with them.
Neither the replacement Guillermo Amor, who later also was dismissed, nor the current youth director Jordi Roura manage to hold onto the legacy that had been created under Alexanko. Instead, the youth academy has transformed from it’s family like vibe to look more and more like a company where the players are seen as investments rather than students.
Won’t somebody please think of the children!
While the youth academy before consisted of primarily Catalan kids, with a few exceptions, there are now more players than ever coming from outside. Instead of looking at the local talents the club has started to look for talents all over the world.
It all has resulted in the loyalty at the club not being the same anymore. Before most players at the club came from devoted Barça-families where the kids biggest dream was to represent FC Barcelona. Today, there aren’t as many even though they still exist. With more and more players coming from outside, the mentality in the youth teams, especially in the older teams, are shifting. The biggest dream among the players is no longer to succeed at Barça but to succeed anywhere. The loyalty isn’t the same and neither is the sense of security as many players would have no trouble leaving if another club came with a better offer.
Even if Barça B manage to stay up in Segunda A, FC Barcelona and La Masia just isn’t what it once was.
– Alexandra Jonson.