Will the Terrific Trio Become the Fantastic Four?
September 7, 2007
When Barcelona wrapped up arguably the coup of the transfer window by picking up the world class Thierry Henry for just over £16 million pounds, football fans were both puzzled and ecstatic about the transfer. Yes, they would be able to finally see four of the most formidable attacking players play together for one team- but on the other hand did Barcelona really need Henry? Already possessing Ronaldinho Gaucho, Leo Messi and Samuel Eto’o up front, Barcelona had three players that any team in the world would be happy to have one of- let alone three. Those that watched last season’s title race would surely argue that their defensive needs needed improving much more than their attacking ones, which is why the purchase of Henry was seen as unneeded by many top football pundits around the world (Gabriele Marcotti stated that “where else but La Liga would their [Real Madrid] closest rivals sign one of the greatest attacking weapons in footballing history at great expense despite already boasting three of the best strikers in the world?”). Although Barcelona scored more goals and conceded fewer goals than any other team in La Liga, they finished second, not winning the title due to their inferior head to head record against champions Real Madrid.
Barcelona scored 78 goals in their 38 league games, meaning they scored an average of around 2 goals a game. Their 33 goals conceded meant they conceded an average of just below 0.9 goals a game. If you take these two figures into account, this means that should have (on average) won every game 2-1, so why didn’t they win the title? Obviously in football you cannot win all your games- you will draw some, and yes you will lose some. However, given the fact that Barcelona scored 12 more goals and conceded 7 goals less than champions Real Madrid, this shows that they should have not even let the Bernabeu side close enough to let the head to head results have any meaning on the title race. The conclusion we can draw from these facts is that when Barcelona won games, they won them well yet when they conceded in games, they often lacked the impetus to claw their way back into a winning position. Most would argue that a striker of Henry’s calibre would only help them do this- here I will reason whether Henry’s signing was as needed or not.
While Barcelona definitely do not need help scoring goals in La Liga, it could be argued that Henry will help them dominate the prize they won in 2005/06- the Champions League. Although Barcelona disposed of mediocre Bulgarian side Levski Sofia with relative ease, they struggled against the top sides- failing to beat Chelsea both home and away, not managing to get the all important second goal at Anfield when they needed it as well as dropping two points in Germany against Werder Bremen. With three of Ronaldinho, Henry, Messi and Eto’o on the pitch as well as one of them on the bench, this Barcelona attack should find even the toughest defence in the world only slightly hard to breach. While Henry has never won the Champions League before, he has scored a total of fifty goals in European competitions- as well as spearheading a youthful Arsenal side into the final of the competition that they ironically lost against his present employers.
As Barcelona won nothing last season, most would agree it is obvious that they need strengthening. They have done so- bringing in Yaya Toure to play in midfield as well as Eric Abidal to play in defence. While perhaps a fully fit Barcelona squad would not need Thierry Henry, the realities of the modern game are that players will pick up injuries, and when they do it is priceless to have someone like Henry waiting to come in and play in their role up front. This became a reality when Samuel Eto’o was recently ruled out for at eight weeks at the very least following a thigh injury. He will also be missing at least a month of the season during December/January due to the African Cup of Nations (ACoN)- how happy will Barcelona fans be to have Henry come in and play up front instead of the erratic Eidur Gudjohnsen or the ageing Santi Ezquerro?
Since adding too many big names to a squad can cause huge problems with so many large egos in the dressing room (as the Galacticos of Real Madrid found out during their unsuccessful spell between 2003-2007), Barcelona head coach Frank Rijkaard will have a difficult task on his hands handling the four superstars up front, but it is probable that injuries, suspensions and international events like the ACoN will make his task easier in deciding who to play up front. If Rijkaard is able to successfully integrate all four players as well as the new arrivals into a team unit that plays together coherently, Barcelona will definitely be in contention for not just domestic honours, but European ones as well.