A new season is upon us, and with it comes plenty of intriguing storylines. From massive traves and superstar uncertainty in the East to a West perhaps the deepest it has ever been, here is an early season NBA Power ranking.
Far-Fetched Friday: Barcelona to Become the Next AC Milan
By: Jake Lofgren
The year is 2006, and it is April 18th. It is a Tuesday night, and 76 thousand people are packed in a sold-out San Siro Arena in Milan, Italy as AC Milan take on Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League Semi-Final. There is hope and expectation in the air. This Milan team is formidable. A Champions League Trophy three years prior and 5 Trophies in the past three seasons makes this one of the greatest Milan teams ever. Boasting the likes of Kaka, Pirlo, Maldini, Seedorf, Cafu, and Shevchenko amongst many other legends of the game, this Milan team is ultra-focused. They are bent on avenging last season's shocking final's collapse where they blew a three-goal half time lead to a Liverpool team that had no hope. The Barcelona team is no joke either, they are the reigning champions of the Spanish league, winning their first trophy since 1999 and beating a Galactico Real Madrid side boasting the likes of Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Figo, Raul, Beckham, and Owen to the trophy. They are led by their legends of the game in Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o, Puyol, Rafael Marquez, and Andres Iniesta, among others. An 18-year-old phenom named Lionel Messi is on the team, but he will miss this game and the rest of the season due to a torn hamstring suffered in the round-of-16. The stage is set, and it takes a vital goal by Guily assisted by Ronaldinho in the 57th minute to break the deadlock between these two teams. It is a vital goal, this Milan team hasn't lost at home all season, and this would be their only home loss of the season. More importantly, it is the only goal in the 180 minutes played over two legs. AC Milan's quest for redemption will have to wait another year. Barcelona is going on to the final.
Barcelona would win that final in 2006, defeating Arsenal, and that would fittingly be followed by an AC Milan championship in 2007. For Milan, that makes it 3 Champions League Finals and Two Trophies in just five years. It is elite level domination, but 2007 would also mark the last time AC Milan has played in a Champions League final.
Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This Far-Fetched Friday concerns perhaps the greatest soccer player ever and his team's potential fall from grace.
Throughout Barcelona's rich history, they have fielded some of the greatest players and teams we have ever seen at the club level. However, after years of mismanagement and their desperation to hold onto their golden generation, the future doesn't look as bright as it should for Barcelona. When Barca was in their prime years with Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and the rest of that generation, Barca failed to plan for the future.
This current Barcelona squad is now paying the price, with extreme pressure placed on some of their most recent transfers. And to make matters worse, the club now appears to be in trouble financially, as they have been trying to sell quite a few players.
A lot of Barcelona's issues began around the time PSG swooped in for Neymar. Barcelona sold Neymar to PSG for 263 million dollars, the highest transfer fee ever recorded, but Barcelona failed to do anything significant with that money. They spent more than that fee in the same window on Phillipe Coutinho, and Ousmane Dembele, who combined, have failed to come close to filling the shoes of Neymar. Coutinho even spent this last year on loan to Bayern Munich and could be another player Barca look to sell this offseason, while Dembele has missed almost half of all games due to injury in his three seasons. Then there is Antoine Griezmann.
The expectations for Griezmann were to come in and create a new dominant front three with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez after missing Neymar for a few seasons, but he has never really settled into the club. And while Dembele has missed a ton of time due to injuries, he is still only 23 with plenty of potential, but Griezmann at 29 means the time for him to start performing is right now.
The mismanagement of transfers and spending has now led to Barcelona looking specifically to sell off some of their first-team players like Arthur to Juventus. This deal didn't make sense to anyone at the time as Barca decided to sell Arthur to Juventus in a deal where they get some money and a 30-year-old Miralem Pjanic. Arthur at only 23 and had already established himself to be a vital part of the first-team squad, so going out of their way to sell him to another top club for a very similar player that is 7-years older, was a strange look. Barcelona is clearly trying to make deals like this to balance the books, but Barca's constant desire to focus on short-term goals is the reason their future now looks uncertain.
Barcelona's failure to plan ahead is now having a direct effect on the end of Lionel Messi's legacy. Messi is still absolutely in his prime and continues to play like he has come here from another planet, but so much of Barcelona's success rides purely on his shoulders now. It is why we have seen Barcelona fail to beat Real Madrid to the title this season after leading for a majority of the time and throw away huge leads to Liverpool and Roma over the past few years of the Champions League. As good as Messi is, even he cannot win trophies for Barcelona by himself. Messi, usually silent, has even uncharacteristically gone public with his disappointment on how the team ended the season and warned them that they could be in for another early Champions League exit if they don't react appropriately. Messi, with one year remaining on his current deal, has stalled contract negotiations with Barcelona, which is leading to growing speculation that Messi's patience with the club's mismanagement is running out.
In these financially troubling times, Barcelona's future is dependent on the development of their academy players. The majority of Barcelona's squad is getting very old, with the majority of its key players around the age of 30. Making swap deals like Arthur for Pjanic isn't helping the squad's average age either. Whether Barca likes it or not, the Lionel Messi era is coming to a close, with players like Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez, and Jordi Alba all playing on borrowed time, too. If finances are at the limit for Barca, then it is all the more reason to start focusing on their academy that is one of the most renowned in the world. The duo of Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig already look destined to become world-class players, and Barcelona seems very high on homegrown goalkeeper Arnau Tenas, which could open up opportunities to cash in on highly coveted but aging first-team players. The time is now for Barcelona to start putting together a new generation built around these players.
But, of course, saying this doesn't mean that a word like "crisis" has to be involved. AC Milan may not be the same AC Milan of the past, but they still have a lot of talented players at the club and are competing for a Europa League place. A little over a decade ago, Milan was one of the top clubs in the world competing for Serie A titles and Champions League trophies. The modern-day Milan has not won a Serie A title since 2010-11 and only sits in 7th place this season. For Milan's standards, maybe this isn't good enough, but even their situation should never be labeled a "crisis." Clubs like Blackpool, Wigan Athletic, and Leyton Orient all laugh when people try to claim clubs like Milan and Barcelona are facing a crisis while being able to sign players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or have Lionel Messi on their team. Barcelona is in trouble, but in no way should it be labeled as a crisis, since the only trouble they have is the potential of losing their dynasty and falling into mediocrity.
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