Risks and rewards for Barcelona in Spanish league
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Aligning Luis Suarez with Lionel Messi and Neymar to spear Barcelona’s attack looks like a winning formula, if the three can set aside their problems and possible distractions.
The club has turned to former midfielder Luis Enrique, known for his forthright approach, to lead the rebuilding project that will likely have its unique set of challenges.
“Luis Enrique is our most important signing,” Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said. “We expect a lot from him.”
Here are five things you should about Barcelona before it opens the Spanish league against Elche on Sunday.
GOALS OR GORE?
There is no way around it: Barcelona is putting its reputation as a “values first” club at stake by signing Luis Suarez following his biting incident at the World Cup, earning the Uruguay forward a four-month suspension.
Suarez’s chomp into the shoulder of Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini led to his third ban for biting an opponent after similar incidents while at former clubs Liverpool and Ajax. He was also suspended in 2011 for making racist insults during a match.
But Suarez’s knack for scoring and his Premier League-leading 31 goals last season were enough to convince Barcelona that he was needed to re-conquer the league title and was worth an 81 million euro ($108 million) investment.
His ban by FIFA was softened to let him practice and play friendlies. He won’t play a competitive match until Oct. 25.
Suarez has pledged not to bite again.
“I say to all the fans, don’t worry, because I won’t do that anymore,” Suarez said at his presentation.
Oddly enough, Suarez’s ban may not be the biggest problem Barcelona faces this season.
Two major questions are swirling around the team’s all-time leading scorer and the centerpiece of its decade of success.
First, how will Lionel Messi react to Argentina’s loss in the World Cup final? Will he be hungrier than ever to win or continue his off-an-on performances from last season?
And second, will Messi been seen in court facing charges for tax fraud?
In July, a Spanish judge rejected a prosecutor’s request to drop the tax fraud case against Messi also involving his father. That means Messi could be obliged to appear in court if the judge rules the case must go ahead with an indictment.
MORE FROM NEYMAR
Neymar was supposed to be Barcelona’s next star to pave the way for a future, post-Messi era.
In his first season, the Brazil striker showed some flashes of brilliance, while the legal case involving the exact cost of his transfer from Santos brought down Barcelona’s club president.
That investigation continues and will loom over the club this season.
The immediate concern is his health. Neymar has just returned from a fractured vertebra. He looked fine in his first action during a friendly on Monday when he scored twice.
When he is back up to full speed, Barcelona will be expecting more of the verve and command Neymar displays with Brazil’s national team, and less of the deference he paid to Messi in their first season together.
Barcelona spent about 181 million euros ($242 million) to add eight new players after the exit of veterans Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes and the sale of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez.
A big reason why Barcelona was so active is that it may be the last chance it can sign players in quite some time.
Barcelona is appealing a one-year transfer embargo handed to it by FIFA as punishment for signing youth players from overseas in breach of rules designed to prevent child trafficking. That ban was later temporarily lifted to let the club complete its current transfer business.
NEW COACH, OLD FACE
After Gerard Martino lost control of the team midway through last season, Barcelona decided to again bring back a former player as its coach.
Luis Enrique was hired to restore the line that recently included Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova, both former players-turned-coaches who brought the club success.
Considered to be a firmer hand than Martino, Luis Enrique must help his new players mesh with the remaining midfield core of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.
“The coach has to design the team around the squad he has, and we have an incredible squad,” Luis Enrique said. “We have done well to reinforce our team. The club has made a big effort and I have a one-of-a-kind squad.”