Sunday, 15 September 2013

FC Barcelona: Is this Daniel Alves last season for the club?

Biting the last piece of the pie?

A year or two ago, this question was the unthinkable. After all, FC Barcelona struggled for so many years to find the right fullback, spent lot of money and conceded more goals before finding the chosen one. Yet, once found, he proved he worth all the waiting, the trial and error, and the titanic amount of cash spent to get him.

Daniel Alves was – and is- not just a right back for FC Barcelona. His defensive qualities usually get overshadowed and, admittedly, shattered sometimes by his offense drive and priority. But make no mistake, when he is instructed to defend, the man can do it. Ask C. Ronaldo.

Yet, Alves contribution to buildup is his main virtue for FC Barcelona, even more than his input in the offense third. He is a lateral playmaker. You can easily understand why Scolari instruct him sometimes to cut in to center midfield and contribute in the buildup centrally while the wings are securing the width. The guy can.

His partnership and understanding with Messi has always been another joy to watch. Even when Messi used to play on the right, they managed to synchronize perfectly who gets in and who stays wide.

Statistics tells the story of his offense direct contribution since joining the club, with 25 goals and 25 gallons of assists and second passes. It is not like he showed any signs he will slow down this season, starting three games in La Liga, netting a goal and providing two assists.

All, and we don’t need to talk about his impact in the dressing room, his clear positive impact and the “feeling at home” environment he contributes in. So, why is it even a question whether such an amazing player will survive to see another season at FC Barcelona after the current?

It is true that Alves had a great understanding with Messi since they started playing together, but the most perfected partnership was the one he had with Abidal. They perfected each other’s roles. Abidal was the defensive rock that covered Alves back, while Alves was the lethal added value for offense that made Abidal’s conservative nature as a fullback a virtue that everyone appreciated and praised (with time) instead of complaining about it, which is the standard at FC Barcelona.

Since Abidal’s absence as a starter, Alves and the whole defense line suffered. Now Alves has to run forward while looking behind his shoulder concerned about what he is leaving behind. Center backs missed the Abidalic defensive support and had to do the mission impossible of not getting exposed to counters. In fact, the whole structure cracked as Busquets had to play deeper, pulling the whole midfield backward and so as the offense.

In the post FC Barcelona new season: Martino's to do list, we considered solving the defense dilemma as a priority. One of the most likely alternatives is to ask fullbacks to synchronize their runs forward so that one of them stays at the back when the other one runs forward.

But is that an option for Alves and Alba or it opposes their instinct and nature as offense obsessed? That is a big question, because if that is not a doable option, the second alternative is to change one of them for an Abidal. Taking age and market value in consideration, I am not sure the sacrificed one will certainly be Alba.

Is it better to free Alba to do his offense job all the way, so he creates with Neymar a similar partnership as the one we witnessed between Messi and Alves when Messi used to play on the right?

Will such Alba/Alves arrangement provide a defensive stability as good as having a fullback/3rd center back expert in doing the defensive job by nature?

Another factor to take in consideration is lack of height in the squad (or aerial cover to be more specific as Alves is not short). Neither Alba nor Alves proved reliable when it comes to defending set pieces, and Martino already conceded that lack of height is a problem. The team needs to add players in that department. A tall center back, a Keita (or/for Song), and a tall forward (if Pedro leaves next summer) can solve a part of the problem. But we should remember that neither the midfielder nor the forward will be a certain starter in most of the matches, especially the midfielder with Busquets, Iniesta, and Cesc/Xavi playing the most important games as starters. Certainly, fullback position is a spot to look at to contribute in solving this problem.

To wrap this point up, an Ivanović in Alves place provide Martino with the defensive troika he needs at the back to terminate counter attacks threat, release Alba on the left, and offers Busquets a chance to focus more on buildup than covering.  

Adding this new soldier on the right back who is experienced in defending (and help in offense) set pieces to a new tall center back, Pique, Busquets, New forward, new midfielder -when he plays, and even Neymar is a strategic change worth considering. That gets you back to the days of Marquez, Yaya, Henry, Keita, Eto’o, … When the team had what it takes to counter set pieces threat and go fist to fist in any physical battle with the opponent after dominating the technical one. All that may not look good enough for Alves apologists to give up on him, but certainly not a suggestion as crazy as initially thought.

Another factor to take in consideration is that Alves will turn 31 next summer. His market value will still be good enough to cover the cost of a replacement and even save some cash on salary. From that date and forward his market value will start declining so as –predictably – his form, with age. There are many clubs interested in getting his services and a bidding battle is possible if the club plays the cards right.

Alves can defend, but if the role of the right back will be defensive to create balance then why keeping a Ferrari to do a job that a cheaper Volvo can do?

I thought about writing this post right after Alves announced that he will wear number 22 this season. This is not something that the board took with appreciation. Not an information, just a feeling. He was very vocal and voiced his frustration about the way the club handled Abidal’s case. Knowing enough about Rosell who considers everyone an enemy until he decides otherwise, I do believe he will waste no chance to chop that concern off. He feels there is a campaign gaining momentum against him, led by Laporta and Co, a campaign the likes of Cruyff, Pep, and possibly Abidal sympathize with. When dooms day arrive and the battle start, he wants no enemy planted within his troops. Not even Victor Valdes, and certainly not an Alves. As long as he is a player he can get rid of, he will.

Two questions remain unanswered and may decide Alves destiny: Will Messi let it happen? The Alves-Messi friendship is too strong to ignore. And is there a proper replacement that serve the needs mentioned?

Finally, at the age of 31, it will be understandable if Alves himself felt this is the right time to sign a final career contract where the financial return is the priority. This summer was not the right one, taking in consideration the world cup challenge. He already won everything he can possibly win at club level with FC Barcelona, and he knows elsewhere he can earn way more than FC Barcelona will be willing to offer.

Is it a certainty that Daniel Alves will leave? No. But it is not as unlikely as it may look on the surface.

You can always check latest rants on @FootballMood

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