Neymar’s recent five year contract extension has been approached by Barcelona with as much pomp and circumstance as is usually characteristic to new signings. In fact, Neymar will officially sign the papers during an upcoming ceremony, much like the presentation held when he signed for Barcelona, at Camp Nou.
Keeping Neymar is certainly a victory for the Catalan giants. Although the Brazilian did not publicly express any intention to leave the club, he is the kind of player who other European giants are constantly watching, so it is a huge relief to know that, at least for a few more years, Neymar’s departure is unlikely. Nevertheless, the team still must make wise signing throughout this transfer window.
Due to the departure of Dani Alves, there is a huge hole in the squad's defensive line. Some of the prospective targets that Barcelona was said to be considering as a replacement for Alves, such as Eric Bailly, have already been signed by other clubs. The club already has Aleix Vidal in the squad.
Many sources claim that the signing of Samuel Umtiti is completely negotiated between Lyon, Barcelona, and the player. Although both of these players theoretically have the statistical ability to compensate for Alves’ loss, there is no guarantee that either one of them will be able to successfully fill the essential role.
Denis Suárez, a former Barcelona youth player who has recently excelled at Villarreal, will be making a return to the Camp Nou next season. While signings of this calibre could be the start of a new successful generation of Barcelona legends, many doubt it will be enough to propel the club into the next era.
Messi and Mascherano have just controversially retired from international duty. Although this does not mean that the Argentinian duo plans on ending their Blaugrana careers anytime soon, it does mean that two players who are pillars to the Barcelona squad are of an age where retirement is a possibility.
Perhaps more worryingly, there are plenty more players in the same category. Of the twenty-two men currently on the roster, eleven of them (including Messi, Mascherano, Piqué, Rakitic, Turan, Iniesta, Suárez, Bravo, Adriano, Vermaelen and Mathieu) are 28 and over. While it is possible that many of them will continue to play for many years to come, this means that the decline and/or departure of over half of the team is an imminent probability.
Although most of these players are not currently showing signs of slowing, it would be wise to focus on gradually bringing in new talent that can step up as the older generation of players age out of the game. The long-term future of the club is at stake.
There are eleven younger players currently on the roster, and the club seems to be intent on signing more players young enough to contribute to the club for many years to come. Nevertheless, it will not be enough to simply have a number of players of a certain age on the roster.
Most of the eleven players over twenty-eight are included in the usual starting lineup. Without any question, these eleven older players are more than worthy of starting in every game, but this still presents a dilemma. The younger generation, the group of players that the club will rely on in the imminent future, are just not being granted enough playing time by Luis Enrique and their development is therefore in danger.
Lionel Messi is a prime example of why the Asturian manager's recent approach will not work. When the No.10 was younger and new to Barcelona, he was able to train with the first team stars and play with them occasionally. This allowed him to gain priceless gameday experience and to receive mentoring from the likes of Ronaldinho, Deco or Samuel Eto'o. Without all of that valuable experience, Messi would not be the talent that he is today.
In addition to gradually signing a younger squad, Barcelona must integrate their talented young players into the team -- Another year of the majority of youngsters sitting on the bench watching games from the sidelines or even the stands could be end of Barca's successful run in recent years.
By Marissa Blackman, columnist at Barcablog.