Earlier today, Antoine Griezmann announced that he will be leaving Atletico Madrid this summer. In the past five seasons, the French forward has developed into one of the deadliest attacking forces in Europe. Shortly after his announcement, rumors of his move to Barcelona began to swirl around twitter and across the headlines of football sites throughout Europe.
Most importantly, however, Griezmann has the potential to complete Barcelona’s rebuilding process. The club’s zealous commitment to Messi has seen them amass numerous trophies in past seasons, but they can procrastinate no longer. Messi needs help, desperately. With de Jong secured and de Ligt on the way, Griezmann will complete the lethal spine that Barcelona fans will enjoy for the next decade.
Barcelona is not the team it once was. When Pep Guardiola took the reins of the club over a decade ago, the young squad blistered with talent. Along with possessing arguably the most excellent midfield duo in the history of the sport in Iniesta and Xavi, Barcelona had a lethal attack force of Samuel Eto’o and David Villa. Oh, yeah, and they also had Lionel Messi. Guardiola’s first squad and the variations that followed won the league numerous times and added three Champions League trophies to the Barcelona trophy cabinet. The additions of Luis Suarez and Neymar softened the losses of the initial role players critical to this once in a generation. When Divock Origi scored the fourth goal against Barcelona at Anfield Tuesday, however, he simultaneously knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League and drove the final stake into the heart of this once great side.
Following the final whistle, many articles and tweets flurried around the internet, slandering Messi for choking on the biggest stage. Messi is the last person to blame for the death of Barcelona. At the age of 31, Messi has had perhaps the greatest season of his statistically insane career. Along with becoming a legitimate sniper threat from free kicks of all distances, he has sustained his absurd goal scoring contributions. In Europe and in Spain, Messi has scored 48 goals and racked up 22 assists in 48 appearances. Messi has performed better than any player in the world this year, and it’s not even close. Also, Messi scored twice and should have assisted another goal in Barcelona’s first leg win over Liverpool, singlehandedly dragging them to a goal total that should have been enough to get them to the final. Leave Messi alone. Got it?
Without Messi, Barcelona’s season would resemble the dumpster fire of a season currently being enjoyed by Real Madrid. Luis Suarez is halfway over the cliff of descent that marks the end of his pinnacle. With Xavi and Iniesta playing out their final days in Japan, Barcelona’s current midfield consists of the 30-year-old Sergio Busquets and the 31-year-old Ivan Rakitic. Though these players regularly produce quality performances, they lack the spark and desire to choke out their opponents.
Barcelona realizes that their team is entering an overdue evolution that they must address as soon as possible. Though they have remained a force at home and abroad this season, they have slowly begun to rebuild their club from the ground up.
Last summer, Barcelona made their first attempt to remedy their aging problems, signing the 22-year-old Arthur from Gremio in Brazil and Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund. Though both players have had bright moments throughout the season, both have shown severe growing pains as they adjust to football at the highest level. If these talents can shrug their injury problems and deliver on their potential, they may very well be Ballon d’Or contenders within five seasons. The problem is, Barcelona does not have five seasons. They have the greatest player of all time playing at his peak efficiency and ruthlessness. If they want to win the Champions League, it must come in the next two or three seasons.
In January, Barcelona secured the signature of the most promising midfielder to emerge in the last decade, Frenkie de Jong for $85 million. Playing at the heart of Ajax’s midfield this season, de Jong served as a tireless engine. Running matches with his quick short passing and pinpoint positioning, the 22-year-old drew comparisons to Iniesta, Xavi, and even Johan Cruyff. Though de Jong does not provide a goal-scoring threat, he has the potential to serve as the ticking heart at the center of Barcelona’s iconic fluid, high pressing, and possession based tactical philosophy for the next decade.
When Johan Cruyff and his manager, Rinus Michels, left Ajax for Barcelona in the mid-‘70s, they brought something with them – total football. Since the beginning of these clubs relationship, they have mirrored each other’s tactics. So, it makes sense for Barcelona to be so interested in signing Ajax’s young talents who already understand the concepts that fuel the Catalan’s success.
The next Ajax boy to follow de Jong to Spain will be Mathijs de Ligt. The 19-year-old defender became the first defender ever to receive the heralded “Golden Boy” award for the best young player last season for his phenomenal breakout. This season, even while he was emerging as one of the top defenders in Europe, his leadership and enthusiasm outshone his skill. This kid captained Ajax to the semi-final of the Champions League, leading them past Juventus and Real Madrid as they marched across Europe. De Ligt is perhaps the most excellent prospect of his generation. When Barcelona pay nearly $100 million for his signature this summer, they will be making the bargain of the century.
With de Ligt and de Jong securing the Barcelona backline and midfield, there remains an Antoine Griezmann sized hole in their attack that is waiting to be filled. Griezmann provides the perfect utility to Barcelona’s squad. His ability to play across a front three will allow him to play alongside Suarez on the wing or in the center forward role himself. His friendship with his French compatriot Ousmane Dembele that resulted in a World Cup last summer would work wonders at the club level. Also, with Messi effortlessly traversing the pitch beneath him, Griezmann would have plenty of options to assist and score as a fundamental force within Barcelona’s fluid attack.
For Barcelona to complete their rebuild, they must still secure the transfers of de Ligt and Griezmann. Currently, Barcelona stands as the definitive contender for both players. With their disastrous Champions League exit barely a week old, however, Barcelona should fully understand how unpredictable this sport can be.
If Barcelona locks down both of these players, they will possess perhaps the most frightening line up of the decade. It may not bring them immediate success – hell, it may not even get them past the semi-final of the Champions League – but it should frighten the fans of every other club in Europe.
The old Barcelona died years ago. The new regime arrives this summer.