The summer transfer window is coming to a premature close due to the World Cup in South Africa, yet the question of who's going where still looms. The team making the most noise in the past three weeks is FC Barcelona with their big name capture of ex-Valencia hitman David Villa, and their connections with Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas.
Since Guardiola was given the nod in 2008, Barcelona has brought in a number of players for Pep's system, some flops, some becoming intricate linked with the silky football Barcelona has once again come to typify. Along with his sharp sense of style, Pep has demonstrated an erudite ability to judge players of how they will perform under his system with current players. To demonstrate Pep's worth, let's examine his transfer record over the past two seasons.
2008 -- Out
RONALDINHO - Soon after taking control, Pep announced that, among other players, Ronaldinho would not be included in his team. Barcelona soon found a buyer in AC Milan, who shelled out €21 million for the former Balon d'Or winner. At Milan, Ronaldinho's fitness issues continued briefly, and his bouts of laziness hampered some of his game.
It appears, however, that his transfer away from the soon-to-be crowned greatest team in the World was enough of a wakeup call. He has since gone on to regain much of his old form, but the Brazilian is still only a shell of his former spectacular self, showing all-too brief flashes of brilliance, while both Ronaldinho and his teammates are still struggling to produce on a consistent basis.
Pep's score: 1-0
ZAMBROTTA - Gianluca Zambrotta, after a short, two-year spell with Barcelona, was sold along with Ronaldinho to AC Milan.
Zambrotta joined Barcelona after a stout seven year performance with the Italian giant Juventus. His defending abilities drew the attention of numerous clubs, but the Catalans signed him in 2006. However, Zambrotta failed to live up to his potential, and his Italian form is just one example in a long line of players from Serie A who fail to perform in La Liga.
By his own admission, Zambrotta underperformed while in the capital of Catalunya. He has gone on to feature regularly for AC Milan, but his age has taken a notch out of his former speed and agility. He has since become a rather average defender at best.
Pep's score: 2-0
DECO - Deco's transfer into Barça confused many due in part to his sharing a position with Ronaldinho. Many considered him to be backup, and that he would sit the bench more often than not.
Rijkaard had different plans and played him in midfield, where he not only produced well, but became a pivot, much akin to Guardiola a decade prior. Guardiola didn't figure Deco into the system he wanted to implement, so he sold him to Chelsea, a club who had attempted to sign the player years earlier, only to be beaten to the punch by Barcelona.
Deco started well, but has since seen very little playing time because of poor performances and Scolari's firing.
Pep's score: 3-0
CROSAS & GIOVANI - Two Barcelona youth products failed to break fully into the first team, falling behind fellow youngsters Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, and stars Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Deco and Edmilson. Both had been on loan spurts before, but had likewise been featured sparingly, being second or even third options for their respective teams.
Crosas was sold to Celtic, with a Barcelona buyback option in effect. He has become a starter, but has not yet quite dazzled. But because of his young age and the buyback clause in his contract, he very well may find his path leading back to Camp Nou. He would have huge boots to fill in the Midfield with Xavi and Iniesta, but if rumors are true, Cesc Fabregas will be featured for Barça.
Giovani dos Santos, brother of still-contracted Barcelona forward Jonathan dos Santos, was another youth product who didn't see much time on the pitch. He was gifted with great finishing ability, but due perhaps to his age, his decision making was not always as sharp as preferred. Tottenham Hotspur expressed interest in the promising youth. But with Barcelona flush with attacking options, he was considered extra, and sold.
Dos Santos has since been loaned out to separate clubs twice, hardly being given the green light. His age, however, is a factor working to his benefit, and he should have a good decade left in his career.
Because of these two players' youth, to gauge whether or not these transfers were positive or negative would be hard to do. The retention of a buyback clause on Crosas, however, must be chalked up, so we will count these transfers as a positive 1/2.
Pep's score: 3.5-0
Other Transfers - Edmílson's contract expired and he was given a free transfer to Villareal. He was featured very sparingly, and has since moved to two other clubs. +1
Ezquerro's contract also expired and he moved to Osasuna. He played only a few games and retired shortly after. +1
Oleguer hailed from a Barcelona suburb, and joined a satellite club before signing for Barcelona in 2001. He performed well in 127 appearances over five years at the first team level, but with the influx of foreign talent, an unfortunate injury sidelining him for at least 6 weeks, and the ascension of Carles Puyol, lost his position. He was sold to Ajax where, in 2 years, he has made 33 appearances. +1
Age and injury precluded these three players from figuring regularly in previous squads, and Pep saw them as chaff. They have also done very little with their following clubs. We'll mark this as another .5 for Pep.
Pep's score: 4-0
ETO'O - Pep also revealed that Eto'o wasn't in his plans for the future, and he was shopped around. However, when clubs failed to meet the asking price Barcelona wanted, he was retained for another year, in which he would go on to be the highest scorer in La Liga for the Catalans, and second-highest in all leagues. He also figured as a regular for the historic treble season, and was the hitman at the top of the attacking trident composed of Henry, Eto'o, and Messi.
Pep's score: 4-1
2008 -- In
KEITA i PIQUE - Keita was primarily Txiki's signing, as he signed a month before Pep officially took over the position. Keita was part of a rotation at the MF position, sharing it with Toure, Xavi, and Iniesta. He was a high-scoring playmaker that was an integral part of the treble success.
Pique belongs in the same class, signing before Pep took over. However, both players were officially on Pep's wish list, and Pique joined after his season ended in May. His size and strength, Catalan status, and skill alongside fellow Catalan Carles Puyol allowed him to take over as a starter.
Pique also has a penchant for moving forward when the attack appears to be stifled. His instincts in front of the net appear to be a wonderful mixture of defender and striker, and he has scored several key goals for Barcelona.
Pep's score: 6-1
ALVES - Alves, however, officially signed with Barcelona two weeks after Pep officially took over, and a month after Pep turned in his wish list. Over the course of the season, Pep successfully turned Alves into an attacking fullback. He showed a steely resolve, fighting through injuries, and was one of the most prominently featured Barcelona players, playing more often even than Puyol.
His deadly crosses, pace, and chemistry with Lionel Messi made him a deadly attacking option. He is also a fantastic defender, but is occasionally lazy in the box.
Pep's score: 7-1
CÁCERES - Cáceres joined from Villareal, where he played no matches, having been loaned out twice. His performances, however, for Recreativo endeared him to Pep, and was officially signed in June.
Due to injury, lack of performance, and the superiority of Pique, Puyol, and Rafa Marquez, Cáceres played only 13 matches. His laziness in defending, tendency to accumulate red cards, and frustrating bad decisions in front of a shaky Valdés proved his demise, as he was loaned out at the beginning of the 2009 season to Juventus, where he has made a total of 15 appearances.
Pep's score: 7-2
HLEB - Hleb looked like a fantastic addition for the Catalan side after watching his eye-popping performances at the Emirates. The Belorussian's internal engine appeared to never stop and he demonstrated a real attacking creativity.
However, his tenure at the Camp Nou proved rocky, as his underperformance led to an increased reliance on the Messi-Alves tandem. His playing style didn't quite seem to fit in with how Guardiola had envisioned it, leading to a lack of success for Hleb. He was loaned to Stuttgart, one of his former clubs, at the beginning of the 2009 season.
Pep's score: 7-3
PINTO - Anybody who remembers the lackadaisical defending and the poor performance from Valdés in the crushing loss at the Bernabéu in 2008 will acknowledge that Barcelona needed additional options in front of the pipes. This competition came in the form of Pinto, who signed with Barcelona at the end of May.
Pinto has shown himself to be a worthy challenger to Valdés' starter status, which left Valdés with two options: improve or sit.
Pinto was also featured regularly in Copa del Rey and Champions League competitions, as part of a rotation to give much-needed respite to Valdés. Even though he is relatively old, Pinto is still humble, showing delight at being in a regular rotation with Valdés, and is wonderful as a last line. He can also play as sweeper.
Pep's score: 8-3
PEDRO i BUSQUETS - Pep brought in Pedrito and Sergi Busquets. The overt intention was to give the two young players first team experience to better hone their skills.
However, Busquets made his presence felt when he quickly supplanted Toure, playing a stout defensive midfield. Even though Busquets has a penchant for dropping at the touch of a feather, he is also a gifted midfielder who has developed into a first team mainstay.
Pedro's play would pick up considerably the following season where, in the rotation, he scored six goals in six different competitions, becoming, at 22, the first player in football history to accomplish this feat. He scores clutch goals, has a great sense of the game, and is wonderfully selfless, focused on team success rather than individual, all of which make up for his relative lack of pace.
Pep's score: 10-3
At the end of his first season as coach, Pep had won the first treble in La Liga history with a restructured squad, employing rising stars (Messi) with homegrown talent and a well-documented transfer list. With only three negatives on his sterling transfer record, Pep's first season proved quite successful.
With success both domestically and throughout all of Europe, Pep's transfers and homegrown players fired a warning shot at all possible challengers that read We are Legion .
2009 -- Out
ETO'O - Despite his glowing performances in La Liga and the Champions League, his temperament still proved his downfall, and his talent was simply unable to surmount the problems he caused in the locker room. After five years of service, he became the third highest scorer in Barcelona history. The Cameroonian was offloaded to Inter on a swap-plus-cash deal, which saw Ibrahimovic trade the Nerazzurri for the Blaugrana.
Eto'o still proved a strong striker, though he often played second fiddle to an on-form Diego Milito. Eto'o only netted 12 goals in 32 appearances, but still served as a playmaker for Milito when he struggled to find form in the Italian league. The strife he created dissipated with his departure and his form was statistically on par with Ibrahimovic. Thus, I feel his transfer out is a plus.
Pep's score: 11-3
SYLVINHO - After five long years, it was time to say goodbye to the gifted Brazilian left back. His swan song came in a game at the end of 2009 that saw him alone create a brace for young Bojan, through his final performance was in the Champions League final victory. He and the club respectfully refused to renew his contract, and Sylvinho was given a free transfer away from the Camp Nou.
His age abrogates his being featured regularly at his new club in Manchester, and it is likely he will retire soon anyway, as he has only played 10 games in his first season with The Citizens.
Pep's score: 12-3
GUÐ JOHNSEN - Eidur's performances at Chelsea won him the admiration of Rijkaard (who probably confused Sweden with Iceland). However, he performed poorly for Barcelona in his three seasons at the club, often missing open nets, selfishly shooting first time on ball, and being a soft critic of Pep's rotation system.
He was sold for a substantial loss, but he was rarely featured and would continue his poor performances for his two future clubs. It wasn't the best piece of business, but he unfortunately needed to leave.
Pep's score: 13-3
LOANS - The 2009 season also saw a spate of loans from Barcelona, the most vociferous being Hleb.
The off-season however also saw rising Brazilian star Keirrison move to Catalunya. He was loaned out in order to acquaint him with European play.
Botía, Henrique, Cáceres, and Sánchez also headed out on loan. I cannot rate their worth because I haven't watched much, if any of their performances.
2009 -- In
IBRAHIMOVIC - In perhaps the most controversial transfer of the off-season, Ibra moved from Italian giants Inter Milan for a transfer fee of Samuel Eto'o and €45 million.
Ibra's late transfer precluded his preseason training with his future teammates, and despite early dazzling --scoring 5 goals in his first 5 games-- his lack of sync with the rest of the team caught up to him. He quickly fell out of form, but holding strong to his principles of rotation football and wanting to encourage the player as much as possible, Pep continued to start the Swede ahead of Bojan.
His poor form continued until Pep finally decided to start Bojan, who almost pulled Barcelona out of the fire of defeat if not for a possibly spurious handball call, ahead of the Swedish international. His performance can best be described as lackluster, leading to many Culers calling for his head.
At this point in time, I will have to count Ibrahimovic as a flop. He will be given at least another year to prove himself and hopefully his preseason training with the squad will lead to much better performances in 2010.
Pep's score: 13-4
MAXWELL - Maxwell was the first official first team transfer of the offseason, predating Ibra's big transfer by several weeks.
Pep chose on many occasions to use Eric Abidal ahead of Maxwell in starting positions, and using Maxwell only as utility and rotation. But when Abidal was injured mid-season, Maxwell was tasked with filling the starting roll.
His initial performances were shaky at first and he didn't appear to be the strongest with an attacker coming right at him, but his attacking capabilities were second to none. His defending quickly improved and he became an all-around left back much akin to his fellow countryman Sylvinho in his prime.
Maxwell has proven to be great for the blaugrana.
Pep's score: 14-4
CHYGRYNSKIY - Like Ibrahimovic, Chygrynskiy's transfer came extremely late in the offseason. Barcelona played in the European Supercup against his former squad, Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk while Chygrynskiy played his last game there. A few days later, he officially signed for Barcelona.
Due to the same reasons as Ibrahimovic, Chygrynskiy looked out of sorts for the Catalan club, and his decision-making seemed to suffer. However, he is only 22 and with the offseason to prepare again, he should prove better the following season. But because of his lazy defending (which led to several goals) and confusing five yard back passes, which made the defender appear unsure of himself, he must be considered at this time as a flop.
Pep's score: 14-5
Guardiola's current transfer record is impressive, and his trophy haul is unrivaled in Barcelona history (and in football history). If it weren't for slow decision-making and uncontrollable factors, his transfer record could very well have been at least 17-3, or even better. His trophy count could have been even higher.
With reinforcements being added this off-season, and the room for improvement left for Ibra and Chygrynskiy, Barcelona's future in domestic and continental competitions looks bright.
My only hope is that Pep is not denied the power he currently has with the coming regime change. If favorite-to-win Sandro Rosell's rhetoric is anything to judge by, Pep's (and Txiki's) influence on transfer policy could very well diminish, if not deteriorate completely, despite Sandro's proposals being illegal in accordance with the FC Barcelona statutes.
Speculation and hope aside, using the above as evidence to his abilities, allow me to be the first to officially echo the Arsenal mantra with one modification: In Pep I Trust.