Soccer’s silly season officially opens July 1 and, in the absence of any real competitive games, fans and the media are spending all their time discussing transfers and ways to improve their teams for next season. As a Barça fan, this discussion is increasingly about balancing prospects from La Masia with big-name signings.
I generally prefer a “trust the youth” approach. This is especially true when (like this year), the team has no real holes in the starting lineup and so the primary “need” is squad depth. It’s also financially prudent given the current economics of the game.
But that’s not how soccer appears to work. Soccer consists of selling clubs and buying clubs. Selling clubs develop talent and then sell that talent to buying clubs.* Despite Barça’s success with La Masia, most buying clubs (including Barça) spend the transfer window chasing the same hot prospects from the selling clubs.
*In general. Though in South America, the local buying clubs are the international selling clubs.
The concept that teams are replenished each year by a few big signings has always struck me as being somewhat odd. I find it much more interesting to pay attention to the cantera and think about the prospects we have coming up.
When I read the Pitchers and Poets article about Baseball in the Age of Potential, it started to make sense.
It used to be that the team on the major league field was a fan’s primary concern. Twenty-five players and a few coaches made for plenty to talk about and pore over, not to mention every other team’s twenty-five. The arduous, tedious process of raising another one hundred ducklings in the farm leagues, the five-year planning, developing, and drafting were not considered a part of the entertainment.
I grew up as a baseball fan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I followed college ball and got autographs from the best players who came through town. I followed minor league ball and got what autographs I could get there too. I paid attention to see how those players did and whether they ever made it to the big leagues. Some did. A few of those had a couple good seasons and decent careers. Only one (Mike Mussina) turned out to be great.
I developed the habit.
Doing the same thing with Barça, I’ve watched players like Puyol, Valdes, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, and Busquets grow up as prospects and become stars for the club. And I’ve watched others like Assulin and Dos Santos* fail to live up to their potential.
*Gio. Though his brother’s off-field partying issues are a cause for concern.
In this silly season, while all the rumors and news concern multi-million Euro transfers, I’m more interested in who from the youth team is to be promoted and whether we’re going to keep faith with still-young players like Bojan and Jeffren—two players who are examples of youth being promoted too quickly with the wrong expectations. It’s always a dicey issue. On one hand, you have to give youth the opportunity to succeed. On the other, you need to shield them from too much pressure.
We’ll see how thing play out over the summer.