Expectations are high for FC Barcelona in 2012. The greatest team of our generation – perhaps the greatest team of all time – will look to continue writing their legacy with goals, wins, and most importantly, with titles.
While it will be tough to top the success Barca had in 2011, the team will look to overcome injuries, a strong Real Madrid for La Liga, and going after their fifth UEFA Champions League title. The summer period will see most of the squad playing in EURO 2012 as some will play South American World Cup Qualifiers. 2012 will be a year that we’ll see some players let go and young players given a shot to earn their stripes going into the 2012-13 season.
Like every year and with every football club, there are some things that are expected to happen and some that are not.
So what can we expect from Pep Guardiola, Lionel Messi, Xavi, and the rest of the squad? Here is my list of 10 things you can expect from FC Barcelona in 2012.
OK, let’s start with the most important question: Will Pep Guardiola stay or leave? It seems as if this has become the question of every offseason. Expect rumors to start buzzing about Pep possibly heading to Chelsea or Inter Milan. Recently, the Madrid-based newspaper AS reported that Barcelona are looking at replacing Pep with Athletic Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa because Pep will be going to England to replace Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Sounds like wishful thinking on behalf of Madridistas and the Madrid media to me.
These are things you should expect to hear, but don’t expect or believe any it will happen. In a recent press conference, Pep said, “People need to be calm about my contract extension; I know what I’m doing. I know when I have to do it and how it needs to be done."
I believe Pep. He finally has the team and the situation that he has always wanted—essentially full control of the team. Expect Pep Guardiola to sign a contract extension in 2012.
One of the other factors contributing to Pep's re-signing is Barcelona club president Sandro Rosell. Rosell was elected in 2010, and since then there have been rumors that Pep and Rosell disagree on many issues. But this past year was an important one for their professional relationship, as Rosell has given in to Pep’s transfer requests, no matter how much they cost the team. Pep is seemingly in charge of the club, which makes staying at Barcelona easier for him.
But why would Rosell let Pep pretty much run the show? In most cases, egos come into play, and Rosell does have a big ego. In a recent interview with Al-Jazeera, this is what Rosell said about Pep and the contract extension:
"We are doing everything possible for Guardiola to continue. For him, the door of our office is always open and the contract is ready.
"He can choose to sign for a year, two, three or four. Or even if he wants, he can sign for one year with an option for another one, or an option for two more.
"The contract is on the table for him to feel happy and comfortable. We hope he will say 'yes' and that he stays with us."
My theory is this: Sandro Rosell does not want to be the club president who loses Pep Guardiola. Who would want to see the best manager of this generation leave? It is the biggest nightmare, because if he does leave it will tarnish Rosell’s legacy as president. Thus, Sandro is doing whatever it takes to avoid having that situation happen. The sad part is that Pep will more than likely leave during Rosell’s presidency, so it’s almost like he’s fighting the inevitable. It will be Rosell’s yearly job to try to keep Pep at Barcelona.
Pep will stay, but who knows for how long. I just know we’ll talk about this again when Bleacher Report does the “10 Things to Expect from Barcelona in 2013.”
A few articles ago, I wrote about how it could be time to let left-back Eric Abidal go in order to let the young defenders on the Barcelona bench get playing time.
Well, I’m going to go against the grain and say to expect Eric Abidal to not be re-signed in order to bring in a younger defender to the back line.
As much as all Barça fans love Abidal, it seems like he is the odd man out to change up the back line.
“But the back line is good. Why does it need to be changed?”
It may not need to be changed, but it will be changed because two of the four players on the line are getting up in age, it’s time to bring fresh defenders to the team, and it has reached the point where Andreu Fontàs and Martin Montoya need more first-team playing time in order to one day be replacements for Abidal and, eventually, Carles Puyol. Just a few days ago, Montoya signed a contract extension, and Fontàs’ contract was extended three more years, with a buyout clause of €70 million.
Abidal has been great for the blaugrana, but his decision not to re-sign this past year has brought the speculation about his departure to an all-time high. Lyon and Olympic Marseille have been rumored to be seeking the services of the Frenchman. It seems like he will be the odd man out.
Pep Guardiola will more than likely be looking to bring up Fontàs to the starting XI. Another scenario that I’m being told is very possible is for Barcelona to bring in Alberto Botia from Sporting Gijon. Botia is a former Barcelona youth product, and the club may look to replicate the success they had in bringing a former youth product back to the club, as they did a few years ago when they brought Gerard Pique back from Manchester United.
As much as we all love Eric Abidal, expect his time to end at Camp Nou.
Rumors surrounding Ibrahim Afellay's departure from Barcelona have been around since last summer. After Afellay required knee surgery early in the preseason that sidelined him for six months, many people began to question if he would ever play for the club again. Afellay was a steal for Barcelona from PSV, costing the club only €3 million. With his quality play for both Barcelona and for the Netherlands national team, Afellay’s value has gone up tremendously. He would bring in a good amount of transfer fee cash that Barcelona, due to their financial situation, needs.
Recently, Juventus has been rumored to be one of the teams looking to buy the Dutch winger. Many have questioned if there will be room for Afellay when he comes back, as Barcelona has Alexis Sanchez, Pedro Rodriguez, Jonathan Dos Santos, and a rising Isaac Cuenca in their arsenal.
With the rise of Isaac Cuenca, most people think that Ibrahim Afellay will be the odd man out of Barcelona at the end of the season. When healthy, Afellay is a far superior player to Cuenca at this point in their careers. So why is Afellay the odd man out?
Doesn’t make sense to me.
As much as the team would profit from selling Afellay, expect him to stay with the blaugrana. According to Catalan media, Pep Guardiola has no intention of selling a player he considers to be valuable in the long term for the club. His talent was very evident in the first half of 2011, and with some of the team’s young wingers like Cuenca and Sergi Roberto still needing more playing time to grow as first-team players, Afellay, at only 25, is a more experienced winger and will be extremely valuable for Barcelona in 2012.
Carles Puyol is the heart and soul of Barcelona, no doubt about it. Since 2003, Puyol has been the captia of the team. But with injuries sidelining him for many games in 2011, including almost all of the UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United (garbage-time substitution).
As much as we all love his aggressiveness on the pitch, it’s that same aggressiveness that has gotten him injuries. No one, including me, is asking him to stop being aggressive, but at age 33 Carles will more than likely continue to miss time on the pitch due to injuries, and Pep will take him out of games earlier instead of playing him a full 90 minutes.
It’s just part of getting older.
Puyol has been a great captain, but injuries may decrease his playing time, and the squad needs a captain who will be on the pitch regularly. Plus, after almost 10 years as captain, it could be time for a change.
In 2012, expect Xavi Hernandez to replace Carles Puyol as full-time captain of Barcelona. Xavi has not had many injuries since Pep became manager, and Xavi is clearly the conductor of Barça’s on-the-pitch symphony.
Xavi has made over 600 appearances for the club, and he deserves to wear the captain’s armband. And who says Pep, a former midfielder, wouldn’t like to have the symbolic leader of his team be Xavi, his former midfield successor? If Xavi wins the Ballon d’Or, becoming capita of Barcelona would essentially be the last honor he’ll need to accomplish in his career.
Just like Ibrahim Afellay, expect “El Guaje” Villa to be named in various transfer rumors this summer. Some of the teams rumored to be looking for Villa’s services include Chelsea and Liverpool. Villa is out with a broken shinbone but don’t expect him to be out of Barcelona in the summer.
Let’s all remember that David Villa was originally the striker that Barcelona wanted in the summer of 2009 when it was clear Samuel Eto’o was on his way out. The club could never reach an agreement with Valencia for Villa, so a desperate Barça made one of the worst deals in club history as they sent Eto’o plus €45 million to Inter Milan for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A year later, David Villa was transferred to the Camp Nou and Ibra was sent back to the city of Milan, this time to AC Milan.
While there have been periods where he has struggled, overall David Villa has played very well for the blaugrana. He needs to be given credit for adjusting to being a left-winger as well. Villa has scored 32 goals in all competitions for Barcelona, and, most important, he fits very well in Barcelona’s system.
Look for La Roja’s all-time goal scorer to go come back strong for both the Spanish national team in EURO 2012 and for Barcelona this summer.
OK, not every expectation has to be about things on the pitch. So let’s lighten things up for a second.
Is it just me, or does Barcelona go from good-looking kit to bad-looking kit every year?
I understand selling jerseys is part of the business, but come on, Barcelona. The 2011-12 home jersey is plain weird. It looks like something from the 1980s attempting to be futuristic. Go to any Barcelona fan blog site and you’ll read how people say these jerseys are just plain ugly. Not to mention that it’s taken a while to get used to Qatar Foundation on the front of the jersey. However, I do love the all-black road jerseys. I do have one of those.
Call me a fashionista, but last year’s home jersey was sharp. The stripes were not too close together, and the yellow piping in the collar and sleeves made it good. 2009-10 was not very good—Ibrahimovic looked even taller in the thin stripes—and the year before that it was the half blau, half grana look. Maybe I’m just too much of a throwback person, as I like the kit Barcelona wore during the 50th year Camp Nou anniversary 2007-08 season, as well as the kit worn during Pep Guardiola's playing years.
But please don’t bring back the creamsicle-colored jerseys of the 80s, or the mint-toothpaste road jersey of last year.
And never bring back the “orange”/salmon-colored jersey they wore during the 2009-10 season. That jersey looked like it smelled like fish.
If the club’s history tells us anything, expect 2012 to see a good-looking jersey for the 2012-13 season.
I’ll have my credit card ready.
Expect Barcelona to be much tighter with the wallet this summer. After spending an estimated €55 million on Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sanchez—which was essentially spending the budget for 2011 and 2012—this offseason will be much quieter for the blaugrana. Most of the players rumored to be on Barça’s possible shopping list are not those with a high transfer fee the way that Fàbregas or Sanchez were.
The financial future of the club is very important, and this is something that both Pep Guardiola and especially Sandro Rosell are going to make sure is not jeopardized.
So don’t believe the “Neymar to Barça” or any other costly transfer rumors.
Expect Seydou Keita and Maxwell to be the odd men out of Camp Nou this summer.
Keita came to the Catalan club in 2008 from Sevilla. In almost four years, Keita has made 170 appearances and scored 19 goals in all competitions. When Yaya Toure was sold to Manchester City, it was believed that Keita would see more playing time.
This did not happen, as the rise of Sergio Busquests played a part in Keita’s time on the bench. Let’s not forget that the signing and excellent play of Javier Mascherano has kept Keita watching games instead of playing.
Maxwell came to Barcelona in 2009, and he has played well for the team. He’s made 57 total appearances for the club, and he has mostly been a utility player along with playing his regular position of left back. But with Adriano joining the club last season, Maxwell has had to battle for playing time against his countryman.
From all reports that have come from Espana, it looks like Keita and Maxwell will not be brought back for the 2012-13 season. Recently, Paris-Saint Germain has been rumored to be interested in Maxwell, while AC Milan has been rumored to be interested in making a move for Keita.
As far as who would replace them, Barcelona look like they will only replace one of them, as the club’s depth at winger—when all are healthy—will require an extra spot on the first squad. The Catalan media, including Sport, have been buzzing about the possibility of Sporting Lisbon’s Joao Pereira coming in this summer. If talks between Valencia and left back Jordi Alba fall through, look for Barça to make a move for the young Catalan.
This may fall under the obvious category, but do expect Barcelona’s chase of Real Madrid for La Liga to be the club’s biggest challenge of the Pep Guardiola era.
It is clear that this Real Madrid team is superior to last year’s Madrid team. Cristiano Ronaldo has continued tp put up his amazing goal-scoring numbers, Karim Benzema has also improved, and Angel Di Maria is leading the league with assists. The team has improved without significant play of two stars, Gonzalo Higuain and Kaká, who seem to be on the move—Real doesn’t need both of them.
Jose Mourinho has helped improve his players, and it is showing. Real Madrid is three points up on Barcelona as of today. This may not seem like a significant lead, but the way Real are crushing most of their opponents, it seems like the only team that can stop them is Barcelona.
That is a problem.
La Liga will be difficult to win, as Barça will need help from other Liga teams to overcome Real. And this is assuming that Barcelona will handle their business against the teams they play. As we have seen so far this season, Barcelona are not invincible—especially on the road—and one slip-up can cost the club their chance at a fourth consecutive Liga title. Add to this the loss of David Villa for the remainder of the season.
Oh, yeah, let’s not forget, they’ll have to beat Real Madrid in April.
It’s going to take near perfection, timely execution, correct coaching strategy, and, as Mourinho would say, luck to win La Liga this spring.
Pep’s greatest challenge is upon him.
Don’t expect Lionel Messi to stop doing what he is doing anytime soon.
Messi has 17 goals in La Liga so far, and he looks to be on his way to being awarded a third consecutive Ballon d’Or. There are no indications that Messi will slow down anytime soon. With no FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for him to participate in until June, Messi will have more time to rest as well.
If Messi needs any more inspiration in 2012 other than trying to secure his spot as the greatest of all time, here are just a few things to inspire him:
Trying to lead his team back and overtake Real Madrid for the La Liga crown.
Beat Real Madrid, period.
Seek redemption in the Copa Del Rey. Messi was shut down in last year’s final, and it was his turnover in extra time that set up Ronaldo’s game-winning header only a few seconds later. Messi took a lot of blame for the loss.
Lead Barcelona to a second straight UEFA Champions League title, which would be their third in four years.
I’m not going to name any individual awards that he will be looking to win because Messi always states he doesn’t care about winning individual awards. He wants titles with Barcelona, and he wants to win a World Cup.
2012 will be a solid year for Messi. We will see how many titles he can lead Barcelona to this year.
Let us know what you expect from FC Barcelona in 2012. Please comment below, and always remember to be respectful to others when commenting.
A special shout out and thank you to Mateo Antunović and the Bosnian Barça website barcabih.com. Thank you for reading the articles and much love to all of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Visca el Barça!