Barcelona's current squad is no question one of the best in the world, and is going to lead them to at least another league title this year. But nothing lasts forever...
Barcelona’s squad is great — but Barcelona’s squad is also old. The current starting XI at Camp Nou will soon need to be replaced, and so this is a Barcelona fan’s view of how the team should line up in five years.
Having already established himself as one of the world’s best keepers, ter Stegen is the most obvious option to still be manning the sticks at the Camp Nou in five year’s time. The 25-year-old German has steadily improved over his time in Barcelona, and is nearly ready to take the No. 1 gloves from Manuel Neuer for the national team as well. In addition to his brilliant shot-stopping skills, ter Stegen is as capable of playing with the ball at his feet as most outfielders — a trait highly coveted by Barca.
Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy has produced stellar left-backs over the years, from Jordi Alba to Alejandro Grimaldo (who, had the board not sold him to Benfica for peanuts, would surely feature in this XI.) However, young Marc Cucurella is nearly ready to make the step-up from Barca B to replace Lucas Digne as Jordi Alba’s backup. Although Alba’s place in the team is secure for now, he’s 28, and Cucurella’s young age — only 19 — makes him the perfect candidate to shadow Alba for a couple years before taking over as first-choice left-back. His attacking flair as well as sturdy defensive play will help get him there.
At 25 million euros, Samuel Umtiti may end up becoming one of the biggest bargains in Barcelona’s history. Though he arrived from Lyon fresh off a brilliant Euro 2016 campaign with France, there were still doubts as to whether the Cameroonian-born center-back would be able to cope with the pressures of the Camp Nou. A year-and-a-half later, however, Umtiti has fully dispelled all these rumors; his calm presence on the ball, along with his brilliant tackling and play-making abilities, make him the perfect Barca center-back. And he’s only 24, which means that Umtiti still – frighteningly – has his best years ahead of him, and it’s not impossible to see him at the Camp Nou for another decade let alone another 5 years.
Barcelona and Ajax’s famed connection has seen many players grace both the Camp Nou and the Johan Cruyff Arena (fittingly named after the man who started this relationship). From Kluivert to Koeman to — of course — Cruyff, the two clubs have had an incredibly fruitful relationship, and Matthijs de Ligt could easily be the next great Ajax player to make the switch to Catalunya. He is essentially a younger version of Gerard Pique: an elite defender who is superb with the ball at his feet. Constantly showing maturity and a calm presence under pressure well ahead of his young 18 years, it would be brilliant if the Blaugrana were to purchase de Ligt this summer, have him shadow Pique and Umtiti for a year or two and wait for his time to come.
There was plenty of excitement this summer around the Portuguese right-back’s arrival from Benfica for 35 million euros. Although Semedo has not seen too much playing time in his first season with Barcelona, it still seems as if the club sees him as the long-term heir to the departed Dani Alves. A speedy wing-back who provides defensive solidity as well as a superb attacking threat — and at only 24 years old — Semedo still has time to turn his Barca career around.
The clear heir to Sergio Busquets, Oriol not only shares a name with the Barca legend but also style of play and high football IQ. The young Busquets made his first-team debut in a 5-0 defeat of Real Murcia and showed his superb ability to read the game and dictate the tempo. Although he recently suffered a knee injury and has been ruled out for the rest of the season, 19-year-old Oriol has the ability to start truly cementing his place in the first team next season.
Yet another potential Barca-Ajax connection, 20-year-old de Jong is a superb young midfielder who has clear Barca DNA. Like a superb mix of Sergio Busquets and Xavi, de Jong has an uncanny ability to slice open a defense with a perfect through ball; and like the young Busquets, de Jong has shown an unbelievable ability to control the tempo of a match, especially for such a young player.
The perfect candidate to play next to de Jong, Alena shows shades of Xavi and Iniesta. The Catalan midfielder made his debut in La Liga last April, and was quickly signed to his first professional contract with Barca — complete with a 75 million Euro release clause, testament to the Blaugrana’s confidence in the 20 year-old. Like the rest of the midfielders named here, in Barcelona style, Alena has the superb ability to control the game while exhibiting brilliant playmaking abilities.
Just a month into his Barcelona career, Coutinho is already showing the skills to succeed at the Camp Nou. His mesmerizing dribbling skills, coupled with his elite playmaking ability, clearly show a player built for Barca. In 5 years, Coutinho will be 30 years old — but where some players might be winding down at that age, a player like Coutinho will most likely still at the peak of his powers.
Dembele, like expected, has had a rocky first year at the Camp Nou. Although it usually takes about a season for a player to become truly familiar with Barca’s unique style of play, Dembele’s injury problems – most likely a consequence of both the pressure from his massive transfer and his skipping training for his final few weeks at Dortmund to force through the move – were not as expected. That said, when fit, Dembele has shown that he possesses the ability to star for Barca for over a decade. With his world-class dribbling skills, superb playmaking and finishing, it may not be long until the Frenchman is on the Ballon D’or podium.
This position definitely proved the hardest choice. Although Luis Suarez will most likely be gone in five years, there is every chance a 35 year-old Lionel Messi could still be starting. However, in the spirit of promoting youth in this lineup, he will have to lose his spot. That left three choices: Pablo Moreno, the La Masia wonderkid who is breaking all of the academy’s goalscoring records; Abel Ruiz; and Paulo Dybala.
Although in all likelihood Moreno will eventually be leading the line at the Camp Nou, he will still be just 20 years old in 5 years. Ruiz, another brilliant young striker from La Masia, has shown elite potential, but his struggles with Barca B this year have hurt his stock. There will never be another Lionel Messi, but Dybala — style-wise, at least — may be the closest thing we see for a long time. His goalscoring ability, while superb on its own, doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story; he can drop deep and create like his countryman, before beating five opponents with a magnificent dribble. In 5 years, Dybala will be 29, probably the best player in the world, and hopefully starting up front for the Blaugrana.