Why an Immediate Emphasis on Youth Could Be a Mistake for Luis Enrique

Jason Pettigrove@@jaypetti1971Contributor IMay 31, 2014

Luis Enrique looked relaxed at his first press conference.
Luis Enrique looked relaxed at his first press conference.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

There can be little doubt that Luis Enrique has a big job on his hands, turning around the fortunes of this Barcelona side after a dismal season by their own standards.

The club hierarchy has certainly acted decisively for a change in appointing someone so quickly after Tata Martino's departure, and "Lucho" too has wasted no time in putting down a marker on his old stamping ground.

His first shot over the bows came at the press conference to announce his appointment. In a statement no doubt designed to please cules keen for Barca to continue to mine the talent at La Masia, he said, via the Guardian:

I love to support young players but I demand that they show hunger and ambition. The door is open to all B players, and all the players in the youth teams. We are not getting into all the names now. We do not have to make decisions now, we have time.

Enrique knows all about the youth set-up, of course, having been the Barca B coach once Pep Guardiola moved on to the first team.

He enjoyed great success there too, winning promotion back to the Segunda Division in his second campaign, and then enjoying a record points haul of 71 the following season, per FCBarcelona.com.

For any other club, it would have meant promotion to La Liga, but Spanish football rules are such that a "B" team cannot play in the same division as its more senior counterparts.

Given his record with the youngsters, no one can deny that he was a very capable coach, and a number of his charges back then are pushing for permanent first-team residency now, Sergi Roberto, Marc Bartra and Martin Montoya to name just three.

However, in trying to appease just about everyone, isn't such a heavyweight focus on the youth a little brave of Enrique?

Pep brought through the likes of Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez, and Enrique will have his success stories, of course.

But isn't too much reliance on youngsters making up the core of the squad likely to have an adverse effect?

At various stages already this summer, rumours have been flying around concerning the departures of Dani Alves to Paris Saint Germain (per L'Equipe and Football Espana via Eurosport), Xavi Hernandez to the Premier League (per Paul Hetherington of the Daily Star) and Cesc Fabregas back to England (per Matt Law of the Daily Telegraph).

Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas have both been linked with a move away from Camp Nou.
Xavi Hernandez and Cesc Fabregas have both been linked with a move away from Camp Nou.Stanley Chou/Getty Images

Javier Mascherano to Napoli (per James Willoughby of Goal.com), Alexis Sanchez to Juventus (per Gareth McKnight of Here is the City) and Pedro Rodriguez to Liverpool (per Gordan Tynan of the Independent) are others.

That's a huge number of talented—and potentially unsettled—players with a wealth of club and international experience behind them looking for pastures new, not to mention covering the losses of Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes.

Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes have left. Who will be following them out of the exit door?
Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes have left. Who will be following them out of the exit door?Handout/Getty Images

Such a root-and-branch clearout is unnecessary, and in the unlikely event that all were sold, surely the club need to look for older and more experienced heads than those who have been linked as coming into the club.

Marquinhos of PSG is wanted by Enrique per Mundo Deportivo via Adam Shergold of the Daily Mail, despite the 20-year-old only making 17 Ligue 1 appearances per WhoScored.

Rafinha Alcantara (21) and Gerard Deulofeu (20) have been recalled with a view to becoming part of the first team set-up, and given his previous work experience with Roberto (22), Bartra (23) and Montoya (23), you would imagine Enrique would be keen to call upon their services once more.

There's already a lot of pressure on Marc-Andre ter Stegen (22) to fill Valdes' shoes and with Neymar another youngster at 22, we are looking at a large part of the squad dynamic filled by players in their early 20s.

Throw in the mercurial talents of 17-year-old Alen Halilovic and others such as Denis Suarez, Adama Traore and others who have already been in or around the first-team picture, and the scales fall even more heavily away from experienced heads.

Pep Guardiola's use of the youth players at Barcelona was in a class of it's own.
Pep Guardiola's use of the youth players at Barcelona was in a class of it's own.Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Sir Matt Busby might have said during his time at Manchester United "if they're good enough, they're old enough"—referring to the academy youngsters coming through at Old Trafford—but kids rarely win you trophies.

If Enrique and Barcelona want to enjoy anywhere near the success of either Guardiola or Sir Alex Ferguson, who famously won something with "kids," then the Blaugrana must go back to basics, and it's right that youth must get its chance.

But a policy of gradual introduction is far more likely to reap rewards than a vast swathe of changes.

It feels like this could be the beginning of something big again for Barca. Theirs is a squad that has become tired and in dire need of energy, vibrancy and new beginnings—much like that summer of 2008 actually.

But Rome—and Barca—wasn't built in a day.


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