Having just won probably the easiest title in La Liga history, a brand new challenge emerged as Robinho Lazaró looked to address the crippling debt at FC Barcelona in the summer of 2052.
At the end of the campaign, the club’s bank balance was £230 million in the red and it was spending £4.5 million-per-week on wages. But 10 first-team players, including £625,000-per-week Sam Ripley, departed at the end of their contracts, Patrick Goma retired, and eight more were sold for £117 million. Europe’s top clubs then got embroiled in a bidding war for midfielder Ange Tra Bi, who eventually joined Lazaró’s former club Wolfsburg for £100 million.
Those initial dealings saw the bank balance boosted to £150 million and the wage spending slashed to as low as £1.6 million-per-week. In other words, Lazaró had recouped £380 million and saved £2.8 million in excess salary spending. Maybe he’d be better off as the club’s financial director?
The next task was to sensibly reinvest some of that money in exciting young talent to get the Barca squad close to competitive. The first player through the door was exciting Brazilian midfielder Vander Lúcio, who came in for £13 million from América Mineiro. He was swiftly followed by a brilliant-looking goalkeeper in Belgian/Tunisian 18-year-old Zied Aouani, who cost £600,000 from Saudi side Al-Fateh.
The squad had been absolutely decimated from 12 months ago. It now contains only two players over the age of 23 – centre-back Greg Fleming and captain and midfielder Diego Elías, who takes up nearly one-third of the wage bill – and 12 teenagers! And the average age of the Barca squad is just 21.
That puts massive pressure on Aouani and Lúcio as well as Kevin Arroyo, Xavier García, Agustín Benavides and Papa Mbengue as they become first-choice starters. While the likes of striker Sondre Didriksen, who’s been labelled “the next Ole-Gunnar Solskjaer,” centre-back Mislav Grubisic, who’s labelled “the next Slaven Bilic,” midfielders Arnau, Albert Vila, José Ramón Roca, and striker Guy Mpondo, who Lazaró just discovered in the B team, will also have significant responsibility this season.
And this is how Lazaró will look to line up his new-look young Barcelona side:
How do the new-look youthful Barca fair?
The Spanish media expect Barca to finish third at 9/1 to win the league, behind Real Madrid (10/11) and Atlético (10/3). While Lazaró’s massive overhaul saw them go from the highest wage bill to the fourth-highest, spending one-third of Real’s £220 million.
Lazaró’s second season began by welcoming newly-promoted Zarazoga to Camp Nou. They started on the front foot, winning and missing a penalty before Lúcio bagged a debut goal on 17 minutes. Elías doubled the lead and they missed another penalty before Mbengue headed home a third on the verge of half-time. Vila headed home his first senior goal after the break and they eased to a 4-0 win led by three Benavides assists.
Three consecutive away days started with a 0-0 at Celta, before Mbengue’s 93rd-minute strike nicked a 2-1 win at Real Sporting and Elías edged a 1-0 win at Betis. That led into an early-season El Clásico at Camp Nou, which turned out to be a classic. Madrid somehow managed to score three goals from five shots, but Barca responded to every goal with two fantastic Pablo Urrutia strikes and a Fleming header.
The defence seriously sorted itself out after that though as Aouani kept an amazing LaLiga record 11 straight clean sheets, including Vila nicking a 1-0 win at Atlético, Mbengue a 1-0 at Athletic and a 5-0 thumping of Sevilla. That coincided with Real collapsing into a five-game winless streak, sending Barca top against all the odds in mid-November.
And Barca stayed at the top with an eight-point lead over Atlético and a 13-point gap to Real heading into a three-week winter break. After 17 games, they were unbeaten and had only conceded four goals – three of which were in one match!
Champions League challenge
Barca got an interesting group alongside Juventus, Celtic and Sporting. They started well with a 2-0 win over Juve with both goals created by Elías before a 1-0 win in Scotland then consecutive 0-0s with Sporting. And that broke the club record for most consecutive clean sheets with 9 in a row in all competitions. That streak ended with a 3-1 win at home to Celtic, which was enough to send Barca through to the knockouts before a defeat in Turin.
The first knockout round was tricky against Man City. Barca’s young team performed excellently to win the home leg 2-1 thanks to a Mbengue brace, but a 2-0 away defeat sent them out at the first hurdle.
Seeking a LaLiga defence
2053 began with a 1-0 extra-time Supercopa Final defeat to Real Madrid, which Lazaró wasn’t too bothered about as he had a mass of injuries. The league clean sheet streak ended in the first game of 2053 with a 2-1 win at home to Málaga but Aouani was back on the bike with a 0-0 at Alaves as Atlético beat Real 1-0.
Lazaró reached 1,400 matches as a Football Manager as Barca welcomed Celta to Camp Nou. And his players celebrated with a 5-0 thumping led by a García brace. He’d instilled possibly the strongest defence in his career at Barca, which was proven by Aouani breaking the LaLiga record for clean sheets as he kept his 20th in a 1-0 win over Betis in mid-February.
At this point, Barca were still unbeaten after 25 games, which is ridiculous! That continued with a 1-1 draw in El Clásico at a snowy Santiago Bernabéu, which Real rescued in injury-time through Lazaró’s former Colombia midfielder Andrés Posada. They extended their good form with a 3-0 win over Cádiz, through Benavides and a Mbengue double, then a 1-1 draw at Valencia and a 3-1 win over Cádiz to go 14 points clear and still unbeaten with 10 games remaining!
10 games from the title
In truth, this season has probably been even easier than last season, even with the massive transfer window carnage. The good form continued with an easy 3-0 win at relegation-threatened Villarreal and a 4-0 thumping of Huesca led by a Mbengue hat-trick. But a first defeat of the season came at the first opportunity to win the title with a 1-0 loss at home to an even more defensive Athletic side.
However, Atlético had gone on a strong run to reduce Barca’s lead to eight points with five games to go, with the top two playing each other in gameweek 34.
Barca made a flying start to the big title showdown as Elías crossed for Urrutia to nod home at the back post after 17 minutes. Then Urrutia teed up Mbengue, who looked suspiciously offside, to double the lead five minutes before the break. Atlético offered absolutely nothing and didn’t have single highlight in 90 minutes, which shows how rubbish LaLiga is! That basically wrapped up the title, moving Barca 11 points clear with four games to go.
Fittingly, Barca wrapped up the title with their 11th 1-0 win of the season, as Elías scored the only goal at Getafe. They celebrated the title success at Camp Nou with a 2-0 win over Leganés on Lazaró’s 69th birthday, then won the manager’s 100th game at Barca 2-0 at home to Alavés with a brace from the impressive Elías.
Barca eventually won LaLiga by a dominant 17 points, finishing on 95 ahead of Real, as Atlético capitulated to lose three and draw one of their last five games. They only conceded 11 goals all season, which is, frankly, absolutely ridiculous!
Aouani led the way with an outrageous 29 clean sheets, while Elías topped the assists chart with 12, got a league-high nine player of the match awards and the second-highest average rating of 7.51.
The quality of youngsters Lazaró was working with at Barca was proven by Aouani and García being named 1st and 2nd in NxGn 2053, with Arroyo in 9th, midfielder Adam Pedersen 14th, Grubisic 20th, loaned-out striker Almany Sanusie 23rd and Mpondo 33rd. Earlier, Arroyo won European Golden Boy and Elías was named in the FIFA FIFPro Team of the Year. Then Aouani won Spanish League Young Player of the Year.
Barca’s main man has to be goalkeeper Aouani, who got an average rating of 7.24 in 47 appearances, which for a goalkeeper is ridiculous! Pushing him close was captain and key player Elías, who scored 14 and assisted 16 at an average rating of 7.48. He is a truly brilliant midfielder, even at 33.
Mbengue was Barca’s top scorer with 20 goals in 45 games, while Benavides chipped in with eight goals and nine assists in 31 games. Urrutia was excellent, with six goals and four assists having spent most of the season at right-back, and young winger García offered 10 assists plus five goals. But a key performer was centre-back Francesc, who had an average rating of 7.40 from 33 games and his partner Fleming averages 7.29 from 41 games.
Major issues with Barca
The biggest problem with managing Barca was financial, but not just the club’s finances. Every transfer target was overpriced and had outrageous wage demands. For example, a 3-star 22-year-old midfielder was earning £14,000 at Girona and the Barca scouts estimated his wage demand would be around £20,000. But as soon as he entered contract talks, he demanded £100,000 for no reason. A week later, he joined Bologna on £21,500-a-week. So that makes it almost impossible to buy even half-decent players. Also, LaLiga decided to reduce the number of non-EU players from three to two for 2053/54.
So it should be no surprise that, mid-way through March, Lazaró announced his intention to leave Barcelona and look for new options elsewhere. And that resignation, in case you’re not aware, occurs the day after the season finishes so you can’t even view the season review!
Join us next time to discover where Robinho Lazaró ends up next on his journey across Europe in his bid to become the greatest manager of all time!