Do FC Barcelona have a looming Manchester City aging problem?

Do FC Barcelona have a looming Manchester City aging problem?

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After a trophyless campaign under Tata Martino that left the club reeling and uncertain of its identity, Barcelona understandably took drastic action. They sacked Martino and spent big in the summer to provide new boss Luis Enrique with all the tools he would need to win. They gave him a powerful creative midfielder in Ivan Rakitic, two new goalkeepers in Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo, a couple defenders in Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen, and, most notably, a world-class forward in Luis Suarez.

Unfortunately, of all those players, only one of them is under age 25. (We’ll exclude Brazilian fullback Douglas Pereira from this discussion.) The trend has continued with this summer’s signings of Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan. So when you look at all of Barcelona’s signings in the past two seasons excluding ter Stegen, the average age of Barcelona’s new signings is 27.85 years old and the average cost is €28.75m.

The net result is that Barcelona’s expected first XI next season once Vidal and Turan are integrated into the lineup looks like this (I have included the player’s current age as of July 2015):

Bravo (32)

Alves (32), Mascherano (31), Pique (28), Alba (26)

Turan (28), Busquets (26), Rakitic (27)

Messi (28), Suarez (28), Neymar (23)

When you look at their bench the situation isn’t any better: ter Stegen (23), Mathieu (31), Vermaelen (29), Bartra (24), Vidal (25), Adriano (30), Iniesta (31), Rafinha (22), Roberto (23) Pedro (27)

Collectively then, when we look at Barcelona’s top 21 senior team players there are a grand total of five under age 25 plus Vidal who is currently 25. There are also 11 players aged 28 or older plus two 27-year-olds.

And to make the problem even worse—La Masia isn’t producing talent like it once did. In fact, Barcelona B was just relegated from the second tier of Spanish football.

If you want to know where this may leave the Catalans in a couple years there is one obvious example: Manchester City. The Citizens are currently stuck in a significant financial rut due to a combination of acquiring too many aging stars with little to no resell value and lacking the ability within existing Financial Fair Play structures to sign younger stars. And when you look at the numbers they really are shocking: Last season 63% of all minutes played by the average Premier League team were played by players under age 29. Manchester City, however, only had 28% of their minutes played coming from players under 29–meaning that a shocking 72.19% of all Premier League minutes played by City players were played by players 29 or older!

As Michael Cox noted last year, Manchester City’s core hasn’t changed at all since the 2010-11 title: It’s still Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva, and Sergio Aguero. But of the five, the only ones still playing at a comparable level to what we saw in 10-11 are Hart and Aguero. Kompany, Toure, and Silva are all past their prime, but their wages and age hang about City’s neck like a millstone, dragging the Citizens down as they attempt to compete with better-run clubs like Chelsea and Arsenal.

There are two things that may help City avoid a fate quite as extreme as City’s: First, the more technical, slower style of La Liga may allow Barcelona’s talent to age a bit more gracefully. Second, there is no analog to Chelsea or even Arsenal in La Liga. Atletico is phenomenally well-run but doesn’t have anything even remotely approaching Barcelona’s resources. Valencia and Sevilla are even further behind. Real Madrid, meanwhile, is much closer to Barcelona on the well-run-organization scale than it is to the genuinely terrifying Blues of west London. For these reasons I don’t expect Barcelona to have anything like the domestic struggles of City last season as their players age.

That said, the real measuring stick for clubs of Barcelona’s size is European success. And this is where the Catalans may have real problems. There are signs that Serie A is ready for a rebound. Bayern Munich isn’t going anywhere. Chelsea should perform better in Europe next season and a healthy, in-form Manchester United is still probably one of Europe’s top six or seven clubs. (They just better pray that Michael Carrick stays healthy this year.) Then there is also PSG and their domestic rivals Real Madrid and Atletico, both of whom could go on a real run in Europe this season. This Barcelona team might have one more good European run in them, but the club is aging quickly and it’s hard to see any way forward once the powers of Messi, Suarez, Rakitic, Turan, Iniesta, Busquets, Alves, and Mascherano begin to fade.

Jake Meador lives in Lincoln, NE in the USA with his wife and daughter. He's an obsessive Spurs supporter whose writing has also been featured in The Run of Play, Just Football, First Things, Front Porch Republic, and Books & Culture.