Barcelona must start planning for life beyond Messi

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Losing the league title to Real Madrid hurt, the 8-2 UEFA Champions league drubbing against Bayern was humiliating, but for Barcelona fans, the prospect of losing superstar Lionel Messi was simply unforgivable.

Incensed supporters stormed Barca HQ demanding the resignation of president Josep Bartomeu, who is now facing his own allegations of corruption.

Barca earned a stay of execution when Messi decided to stay, but it has simply papered over the growing tears beginning to appear in the fabric of the club.

When Messi inevitably leaves, Barcelona faces the seemingly impossible task of replacing the greatest footballer of all-time, but there is hope. The club may have produced the blueprint to solving this conundrum 12 years ago.

When Pep Guardiola took over in 2008, he quickly shipped out established stars like Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o in favour of home-grown talent including Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and Pedro.

It proved to be a masterstroke as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi elevated to new heights while Barcelona went on to enjoy the most decorated period in its history.

Pep

More recently, Barcelona’s attempts to sign its own ‘Galacticos’ have failed miserably, spending a combined $A657 million on Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann in three seasons, with a combined return of 34 league goals.

Granted, new manager Ronald Koeman inherited an ageing squad riddled with big money flops, but Pep’s overhaul in 2008 demonstrates the importance of Barcelona’s fabled La Masia youth academy for long-term success.

The silver lining for fans is that the club appears to be headed in that direction, reverting back to its original blueprint of developing youth like 17 year-old wonder-kid Pedri, who arrived from Las Palmas over the summer.

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Pedri - born and raised on the same island as Barca alumni Pedro - became the youngest goalscorer in Las Palmas history last season. He possesses a remarkable range of passing which has seen him compared to new Barcelona team-mate Frenkie de Jong.

Along with fellow teenage wonder-kid Ansu Fati, the pair bring much-needed youth to Blaugrana's ageing dressing room, giving disillusioned fans a glimmer of hope for the future. 

Those two are poised for game-time under Koeman. There are a few more who might struggle this season, but are destined for greater things at Camp Nou. Take for example midfielder Ilaix Moriba, regarded as the best player at La Masia. 

The 17 year-old is considered 'the new Pogba' and was poised to make his debut last season amid an injury crisis at the club. 

Then there's boom Sao Paulo recruit Gustavo Maia, who the LaLiga club slapped a €300m buyout clause on after signing him in August. Maia is a skllful winger in the Take Kubo mould, who will begin life in Spain as part of Barcelona B. 

Barca drifted from its DNA, tempted by the allure of a Galactico signing, it failed. The club going back to what’s worked in the past and grooming young talent to play the ‘Barcelona way’ could be its best chance to thrive in a post-Messi era.

As with any decorated club, the biggest issue Barcelona faces is balancing the need for a playing group transition with the expectation of instant success. While a generation of talented teenagers comes to maturation in the academy, the club must resolve the glaring gap between the ageing stars and the emerging kids. 


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