Barcelona rarely has a hard time finding a player to fill a void. Between the team's incredible depth and strong pull in the transfer market, it can usually find a solution quickly.
That won't be the case as Barca attempts to replace Seydou Keita.
The longtime Blaugrana star announced he won't be returning to Camp Nou next season as he heads for China, according to the BBC. Finding another player to take Keita's place will be a challenge for new manager Tito Vilanova.
Keita spent a total of four seasons with Barcelona. The 32-year-old midfielder played nearly 200 games for the club, scoring 22 goals and providing a steadying influence in the middle even when the team was going through a rare lull.
Players like him don't come around often, which is why Barca was so lucky to have him for his prime years. It probably won't be until the team plays a couple of games without him that his impact will really be fully understood.
Barcelona won 14 titles during Keita's stay, including three La Liga championships and two Champions League triumphs. He was a major reason the Blaugrana were able to remain so consistent and dominant in recent years.
This isn't just another situation where they can plug anybody in and expect to receive the same level of overall production. It's going to become a longer process to identify a rising star who can grow into the key midfield role just like Keita did.
It also adds another hurdle as Barcelona attempts to regain its spot atop the league after finishing nine points behind rival Real Madrid last season.
Barca still has plenty of talent, of course. Lionel Messi, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas will once again lead a powerful attack, and the team's back line should once again be a formidable group.
But there will be something missing without Keita in the middle. Whether he was in the starting lineup or playing the role of super sub, he always found a way to make an impact and earned the respect of the club and its fans.
Now the search to replace him begins in earnest, but don't expect a quick fix. It will take some time to find another player with the same qualities as Keita, making life tough on Vilanova right out of the gate.
In the end, the manager might not be able to find another player just like him.
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