With Barcelona enduring a struggling start to the season with problems extending outside just tactics and management, many have started to fear the downfall in the longer run. The inability of the new expensive signings barring Umtiti to deliver reliable performances has made the situation worse.
Modern day football fans are spoiled and short tempered. Fans of Barcelona even more so. They have the idiosyncratic habit of seeing themselves as the ardent followers of the club’s values and principles and that of the late Johan Cruyff, inarguably the greatest figure of the club. They have many arguments, especially against the board which are legit to an extent. The regular purchasing of questionable high profile players, they feel, is leading to the downfall of the club’s prestigious academy, La Masia. it is true that the Pep Era, which saw homegrown talents like Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and others become world beaters as Pedro and Busquets rose through the youth ranks, has spoilt the fans with sky high expectations from the manager at help helm to give chances to the academy players. The club's board policies haven’t helped either. Their decision to buy and buy players irrespective of the its needs and as a sign of statement has led to huge debts and short-sighted deals. The situation isn’t just related to this season. Barça may still win the treble, but the deeper question lies in how long can the club sustain its success?
Poor planning, short sightedness and lack of patience have led to the downfall of many great sporting teams. Which route Barcelona takes will define which category they fall into in the future. Making big money moves which are usually statement signings and provide needed revenue and publicity along with ensuring instant success is one option. This is the path the club is currently heading towards. It will please a large section of fans and make them forget the problems that lie deep within. But there is also the option of looking up to ethos and to the academy, hire a manager who would like to work on with the kids and take a step back for that great leap ahead. That may lead a few years of drought but when it flourishes, it will be as a beautiful as ever.
As much as Barcelona fans these days exaggerate the emotions and values of being a Cruyffista, a term coined by the fans to describe a person who follows the principles of the club as envisaged by Johan Cruyff, it's only imperative that the club or any club for that matter trusts its academy in the longer run. Having surplus cash and financial backing can prove to be fruitless as history have taught us. Immense dependence on cash to achieve success will lead to unrealistic expectations which will eventually conclude in desperation and depts. At the same time not buying players and giving everyman from the academy a chance would also be unrealistic. “Buying is necessary but only what is necessary should be bought”, a statement contrary to the thinking of most modern day clubs. It’s important to understand the basic necessities of the team as a unit, instead of spending exorbitantly to show superiority of the club over its rivals.
The current situation is not just limited to this season. If Barcelona keep buying players while overlooking their academy products, it destroys not only everything which has defined the club but also the trust in the academy. Talented youngsters might consider moving elsewhere and prefer moves to youth setups such as Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig, Tottenham and Manchester City.
Take the case of Alejandro Grimaldo. Barcelona sold the young left back and bought Lucas Digne. While Digne has enjoyed a slow start to life at Camp Nou, Grimaldo has been fantastic at Benfica and has been heavily linked with an expensive move to Manchester City and their city rivals. Grimaldo was ousted from the club without getting concrete chances. The player showed the desire and will for a long time awaiting his opportunity, yet was let down by the management. A similar situation can be traced to the likes of Thiago, Adama and Deulofeu just to name a few.
While other super clubs have resorted to heavily focus on their academies with huge financial backing and support, Barcelona is heading the other way around. Even Real Madrid, renowned and criticised for their lavish spending, has been giving much importance to their grassroots programs. With the academies of clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City and PSG too flourishing, it remains to be seen how long La Masia can survive solely on reputation. When people say not every generation can produce the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, they forget these aforementioned players are what they are because they got their chances, a luxury today's academy players don't get. Buying players and stars will keep the club going for years with success and trophies. Maybe even for a decade. But by that time the club might completely lose its unique identity.