Barcelona benefit from summer of international retirements and squad overhaul
Lee Gormley | July 11, 2016
Barca benefiting from summer exploits
In a summer which has produced heartache for Barcelona stars Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Andres Iniesta, among others, the Spanish giants have subsequently benefited from a high-profile international retirement as well as promising new recruits.
The Catalans conquered La Liga for a second successive season and added another Copa del Rey crown to their record tally in 2016, but had to face the misery of watching bitter El Clasico rivals Real Madrid lift an 11th European Cup in Milan.
Although, with Nou Camp talisman Messi having announced his retirement from international football with Argentina after another silverware setback, and fellow clubmates Mascherano and Iniesta potentially set to follow suit, Luis Enrique’s side can reap the rewards.
Adding to experienced internationals being set to call it a day, Barcelona have also moved swiftly in the summer transfer market, snapping up promising signings after several departures, and the Blaugrana are now 3/1 favourites with Coral to clinch their sixth Champions League title this upcoming campaign.
Argentina’s Messi loss is Barca’s gain
While Cristiano Ronaldo ultimately enjoyed a successful summer by helping Portugal claim their maiden major honour at Euro 2016, Messi had to endure further frustration with Argentina, as he suffered a fourth international tournament final defeat.
In the 2016 Copa America final, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner sent his penalty in the shootout sailing over the crossbar, and with it, his hopes of finally lifting a major trophy for his country.
This latest defeat is added to final losses in the 2007 and 2015 Copa America and 2014 World Cup for Barca’s star man, and the heartbreak was enough for him to shockingly call it quits after a national high of 55 goals in 113 caps.
“It’s a hard moment for me and the team, and it’s difficult to say, but its over with the Argentina team,” declared a crestfallen Messi after the shootout loss to back-to-back winners Chile. “I’ve done all I can, I’ve been in four finals and it hurts not to be a champion.”
The 29-year-old does have an Olympic Gold medal from the 2008 Games in China, and helped his nation to the FIFA World Youth Championship in 2005, but such minor honours will not be seen as valuable for arguably the greatest player of all time.
Neymar rues Messi decision
Messi’s fellow Catalan superstar Neymar came out in defence of the former Argentina skipper, claiming his absence will be huge for the international game, but understands how his clubmate feels.
“I respect his decisions, but football without Messi isn’t football, it’s hard to imagine it without him,” stated the Brazil forward.
“If you like football at all, then you can’t help but admire Messi and everything he’s achieved for Argentina and Barcelona.”
La Albiceleste have been undoubtedly dealt a damaging blow from their captain’s retirement, though it could yet prove to be only temporary and Messi is 9/4 to don the famous light blue and white once again, but his club will only benefit from his recent decision to concentrate on domestic duties.
At 29 years of age, without the distraction and chance of getting injured on international duty, Messi will now have full commitment with Barca and could help banish his own personal misery by firing them to further glory in the rest of his career.
Added to the fact Neymar recently penned a new long-term contract at the Nou Camp, while Luis Suarez remains a pivotal player in that South American trio, Barcelona’s prospects for next term and beyond look extremely promising.
Iniesta and Mascherano to follow suit?
It doesn’t stop there either, with Messi’s international decision set to be mirrored by both fellow Argentine star Mascherano and Spain’s long-serving midfield ace Iniesta, as the pair prepare to focus on club commitments too (odds-on 8/11 to win La Liga).
Mascherano has been with Messi throughout those final setbacks, including the most recent disappointment against Chile, while Iniesta, who is joined with Messi for all-time honours at Barca, endured a Euro 2016 quarter-final exit to Italy with Spain.
Now at 32 years of age, Iniesta is no spring chicken and his potential decision to follow in Messi’s footsteps would surely be welcomed with open arms by Barca, with the midfield maestro still holding plenty to help benefit his club for many seasons.
The highly decorated Spaniard has won everything there is to clinch in the sport at both club and international level, and recently become holder of the most ever European Championship man of the match awards for his summer performances.
Out with the old, in with the new
Under the guidance of former player and current coach Enrique, Barcelona will go in search of their third consecutive Spanish league crown next term, and they have made some key squad changes in order to help achieve that feat.
Brazilian full back Dani Alves won six league titles, four Copa del Reys and a trio of European Cups during an illustrious Nou Camp career, but the defender ended his eight-year stay by joining Italian champions Juventus this summer on a Bosnan.
He was joined by fellow defender Marc Bartra, who made the switch to Germany to join Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund, and young attacking misfit Sandro Ramirez, with the 21-year-old moving to Malaga for free.
With room freed up in his squad, Enrique snapped up promising talents Samuel Umtiti and Denis Suarez from Lyon and Villarreal respectively, while also promoting youth starlet Sergi Samper, though the latter will likely leave on loan.
Future looks bright for Barca
Cameroon-born France international Umtiti enjoyed a superb summer at Euro 2016, capitalising on the host nation’s many defensive injuries to become a key player in the heart of their defence, showing maturity and assurance to help them reach the final.
The 22-year-old’s ability on the ball in the rearguard is a key reason for them forking out a reported £24.6m for his signature, as he prepares for what could be a defining season in new surroundings.
Meanwhile, Suarez arrived from the Yellow Submarine to complete what he called a “dream” return to the Nou Camp, having previously featured for their B team after graduating from Manchester City’s youth academy back in 2013.
“I’m very pleased to be back at the club,” stated the one-cap Spain international. “It’s a dream come true because when I left my target was always to come back here and that’s what I’ve fought for. Because of my style of football, Barca is the best team in the world that I could play for.”
With such promising signings being added to an already star-studded squad, as well as the appealing news of talisman Messi’s exit from the international platform, Barcelona are well poised for what could be another prosperous season in Spain and Europe.