When Eric Abidal spoke, his recent words echoed loud and clear last weekend. They showed what Barcelona are planning to do and suggested that at least, the club has a plan going forward. After all, a club legend would know what’s best for the team.
But a lot of what Abidal said may not have pleased too many Barca fans. That isn’t a means to discredit the legendary Frenchman, but it shows that the club has been doing a lot of things wrong in recent years.
One pleasing thing was Abidal’s comments on Luis Suarez and potential target Lautaro Martinez.
He told Mundo Deportivo: “I am transparent with the players, Luis can tell you because last year I already told him it was going to be like that, we were going to look for an offensive player and I don’t say he didn’t accept it, he accepted it because he wants the best for the team.
Today I can tell you that there is no priority, the planning will always be done, no matter the position in the field, the only change will be the decision.”
With Suarez now approaching the last few years of his career, it makes sense. The Uruguayan’s goals output has reduced since the 2016-17 season. He has scored only seven goals in the last four Champions League campaigns too.
He scored 40 times in the 2015-16 season. His numbers per season since then have been 29,25 and 21.
On Martinez, Abidal said: “Yes, he is a complete player, I think he is performing at a great level. He is a player we know, there are other players who also have a lot of quality.”
That is probably an encouraging sign, considering how Lautaro is a workhorse striker. That is why Antonio Conte has brought the best out of him at Inter.
The Argentine has already scored eight goals in all competitions this season. That is more than he did in the whole of last season. He has played with Romelu Lukaku in a 3-5-2 shape, with the Belgian playing as the target man.
But what left Barca fans disappointed was Abidal’s comments on youth and Ernesto Valverde.
On the current Barca manager, Abidal told Sport:
“There’s always a debate about Valverde. The same thing that happened in Rome happened in Liverpool. Because of one result, you can end up thinking that it’s been a bad season. And for the way that it happened.
“In these situations, you can think that the coach is to blame, but you have to analyse everything. What does the coach bring to the team and vice-versa? We support the coach and we give him all the information, although the day-to-day is his. There are clubs that change coaches after bad results, but you always have to look at the wider situation.
“If the coach sees that it can be improved, you have to back him.”
Calling the Champions League results against Roma and Liverpool a ‘fluke’ won’t go down well with anyone. Especially considering how both games screamed for how Valverde struggles to manage games in between intervals of big occasions.
The club has won the La Liga under Valverde, but last season’s triumph was more down to Real Madrid’s transition period. The same goes for the 2017-18 campaign, when the Los Blancos were more focused on their European aspirations.
Last season, the club scored 90 goals. Lionel Messi was directly involved in 49 of them. They scored 99 times in the 2017-18 season, with Messi contributing to 46 of them. The over-reliance on the Argentine after the sale of Neymar has been concerning. The club has failed to get big money signings to work.
Abidal’s comments on some younger players would have hurt some fans too. He didn’t regard Carlos Alena’s lack of playing time as concerning and called Riqui Puig ‘a total gamble’.
On Puig, he said: “Riqui is a total gamble from the club and his representatives and the boy knows it. We know the matches with the youth team are hard, but they play with the Barcelona philosophy and it’ll do us good”
For a club that has been proud of playing their La Masia graduates, it wasn’t a good thing to hear.
Puig is one of the most promising players in the club’s B team. He has played 12 times for that side this season, scoring twice and assisting just as many times. Alena made 27 appearances in all competitions last season, scoring twice.
In the 2017-18 campaign, he had played 38 times for Barca B. He scored 11 times, assisting four times. That quality has always been there. It is the opportunities that are lacking.
What Abidal said about the club sticking to Neymar’s chase says a lot. Neymar has missed as many games due to injury as Ousmane Dembele has- 46. But the club wants to replace the replacement by the one replaced. And that confusing phrase isn’t a good sign. Not for a club like Barcelona.