A LOOK AT LA LIGA
Remember those days, not so very long ago, when FC Barcelona was held up as the model for all to follow?
The team was packed with graduates of the famous La Masia academy and complemented with a handful of world superstars. The club had an enviable identity.
It's amazing to discover that the modern reality is that the system is malfunctioning, the conveyor belt of talent is broken and the recruitment policy is ridiculously haphazard.
In a world of blame culture, the easy target is coach Ernesto Valverde, but the problems are more far-reaching than that.
There is no way that the well-structured Barcelona of a decade ago would be trying to bring back Neymar, a player who left such a bad taste. They would have sat back and offered a satisfied smirk as Real Madrid paid over the odds rather than join the exaggerated bidding.
It all smacks of desperation as the signings of recent seasons have been disastrous and no player made it from the youth team to first team regular since Sergi Roberto - who is now 27 years old.
Millions of euros have been wasted on vanity players. Ousmane Dembélé has proven to be an expensive liability and ridiculously high maintenance. Philippe Coutinho's stay has been short; he's now on loan to Bayern Munich with an option to buy for 120 million euros. There's no way that option will ever be exercised!
When Pep Guardiola was manager he insisted on strict discipline and time-keeping. I was told he made an example by fining a senior player in his early days for not being mentally on-time for a session. The player was on the training pitch at the prescribed time but not giving the coach eye contact as he started his 'Pep talk'.
Compare that to Dembélé's situation. Since signing in 2017, the club has often needed to drag him out of his pad to make it to training and this week he was discovered to be sleeping on an airport sofa, exasperating an injury he picked up the day before. Instead of reporting for treatment, he was heading on a seemingly unauthorised trip abroad. The player Pep fined learned to listen, but I doubt the reported 90,000-euro fine dished out to Dembélé will make a ha'porth of difference.
It's too simple to say that Barcelona lost on the opening night because Lionel Messi was missing or the coach used the wrong tactics. It was symptomatic of progressive mismanagement. Valverde did try to employ a home grown talent in Carles Aleñá against Athletic Bilbao, but acted swiftly to withdraw him at half time when the standards were not met.
The problems stem back a decade to when the next generation were being recruited as there is no new Piqué, Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi or Messi coming through the system.
The answer is to invest heavily in supposedly proven talent, hence the move for Neymar. It's like stroking a wasp. They've been stung once and would be foolish to think it won't happen again.