5 Reasons Barcelona Could Still Struggle in 2013/14, Even with Messi and Neymar
It was the transfer saga that just kept on giving. Whatever the minutiae of the deal, it was—certainly in the latter stages—conducted with a fair degree of objectionableness and vulgarity.
In any event, the player will now ply his trade in Catalonia for the next five years. His procurement can be seen as a statement of intent from Barcelona.
Whilst this term—after the capture of the La Liga title—cannot be deemed a disappointment, many cules will point to the way in which the team was dismantled by eventual Champions League winners Bayern Munich in the competition's semifinal round.
It was as clear an indicator as you are likely to get that suitable regeneration needed to be acquired.
So will Neymar provide Catalonia's finest with the resource required to lift an enveloping gloom around Camp Nou? Or will his signing prove to be a millstone around the neck of President Sandro Rosell?
What else needs to change to ensure a successful 2013/14 campaign? Let's take a look...
Two egos into one doesn't go.
One of the biggest headaches that can be foreseen is that of disharmony within a very tightly knit Barcelona dressing room.
Make no mistake, Lionel Messi is kingpin; anyone trying to usurp his crown is in for a swift wake-up call. Zlatan Ibrahimovich evidently played second fiddle to Barcelona's talisman, as has David Villa to a lesser extent.
Neymar needs to understand very quickly that he is no longer "the man." His star certainly burns brightly, but it will have to do so under the glow of the Argentinian.
Dare it be suggested that the Brazilian has a temperament akin to one Cristiano Ronaldo?
Is Neymar a player of immense quality and unbelievable natural talent, yet one who you feel only produces his best work when the adulation from the terraces is directly focused upon him?
Prone to a little immaturity when things don't go according to plan, there is as much in Neymar's psyche that has to change as well as his game.
In a wider context, the player's arrival—and the gusto with which Sandro Rosell has tracked his prey—may well have put a few noses out of joint despite any noises to the contrary.
Neymar is the face of Brazilian football.
Much more than that, he is already the world's most marketable athlete, according to sportspromedia.com. To suggest that the player has been signed as much for his marketing potential as for his footballing talent is probably not too far from the truth.
Yet such outside influences are already weighing heavily on his young shoulders.
Tired of having to endorse so many products and honour so many commitments, Neymar just wants to get back to playing football again, sans pressure. Whilst he has coped with his promotional work up until this point, it's debatable that Barcelona will allow sponsors and like the access and time which they will require from the player.
Lest we forget that he is still only 21 years of age. Neymar is in real danger of burnout if he doesn't rein in a number of those commitments.
The next 12 months are a particularly tricky minefield to navigate in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup.
Barcelona will demand the player's fullest attention, but so will his country and his people.
It's a tug-of-war in which there is likely to be no winner.
Change of Personnel
In order to accommodate Neymar, Barcelona will need to ship out a few players.
David Villa is the most likely fall guy, as it would appear to be his wide left position that will be the domain of the young Brazilian.
What of the rest of the team? What about the defence and goalkeeping positions?
This next season is likely to be more transitional than the one just concluding, purely on the basis of personnel changes. Any team replacing so many players at one time will surely take a good 12 months or so to fine-tune the tactical master plan of Tito Vilanova.
Barca plays with a certain style, shape and intensity, and to expect all of the summer signings to dovetail seamlessly and immediately into the project is a little fanciful.
The backbone of the team is likely to be changed with a new goalkeeper and central defender—now a priority for Barcelona—and the club would do well to conclude their business early. Doing so would give the new acquisitions time to ease comfortably into their new surroundings well in advance of the 2013/14 season.
One of the reasons Zlatan Ibrahimovich was so quickly dispensed was that he just did not fit into Barca's style—the "tiki taka" as seen in the video. His acquisition was ultimately a project doomed to failure, principally because the team shape had to change to accommodate him.
The same can be said of Neymar's arrival to this Barcelona team. Whilst he's clearly a much different proposition than Zlatan, there are certain elements to Neymar's game that also may not fit the Barca way.
Lionel Messi enjoys a free role across the front end of the pitch. It makes him harder to pick up and track throughout the 90 minutes, and it is precisely this type of role that makes him so dangerous.
It's also much the same role that Neymar has enjoyed at Santos.
To allow two similar talents to play the same roles would be tantamount to handing the three points to their opponents.
Gone are the days of the you-score-three-we'll-score-four mentality. As Bayern Munich have so readily showed, graft and hard work amongst a willing team ethic is the platform for success.
Neymar's primary focus should be less on the showboating and spectacular and more on the incisive delivery and team dynamic. In a league far superior to that which he has been used to, he would be well advised to keep things simple.
The plaudits will be far more readily showered if the player can integrate himself willingly—if he can shoulder a defensive responsibility as much as an attacking thrust.
How Neymar dovetails with Jordi Alba on the left side will give us an early clue as to his suitability into this team.
Tito Vilanova's Illness
Don't let anyone fool you; the absence of Tito Vilanova on the touchline and in training had a major effect on Barcelona's current season.
Whilst no Pep Guardiola, Vilanova is tactically astute and well-respected by the playing staff, and his appointment offered Barcelona the continuity they needed at the time of Guardiola's departure.
Pep would be the first to acknowledge the part that Tito played in the team's outstanding success, per Sid Lowe of The Guardian, over the last few years. Thus, the significance of his illness cannot be downplayed.
You only need witness how disjointed the team became under the tutelage of Jordi Roura—a decent, honourable Barca man, but no first-team coach.
He may not have 26 years of managerial experience, but Vilanova is Barcelona's knowledge base and problem-solver extraordinaire. Away from matters on the pitch, he is—as Guardiola—the father, the confidante, the friend.
Take away that element of this team and you have a problem.
With the manager having just returned from New York after more tests, one can only hope that Tito can look forward to a future with confidence and happiness.
And Barcelona can look forward to not being a rudderless ship for large parts of the forthcoming season.