Carles Alena: The Catalan Crossroads and the Moment of Truth

Carles Alena appears to be at a crossroads at Barcelona. The Hard Tackle assesses the situation of the midfielder, who has played just 45 minutes this season.

He has often been touted as the ‘next big thing’ to have come out of La Masia in recent years, a generational talent. Over the years, he has also drawn comparisons with an all-time great like Xavi. And so, it has been clear for some time that Carles Alena is destined for big things, a rare academy graduate who might just make it big at the Barcelona.

But, a third of the way into his first full season with the first-team and Alena is nowhere to be seen in the scheme of things. The Hard Tackle takes a look at the youngster’s predicament and what his options might be.

A Difficult Exile

Regular game time is what Alena needs right now. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
Regular game time is what Alena needs right now. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

You could be forgiven for thinking that when Alena started the season-opening game against Athletic Bilbao back in August, he was on his way to fulfilling the prophecy. Indeed, many would have believed that this was to be the season when he became a regular for Barcelona.

But, after a difficult first 45 minutes of the game, Alena was taken off at half-time and he is yet to return to the field since then. In fact, Neto and Moussa Wague are the only players who have had fewer minutes under their belt than the youngster, which is a damning indictment of his current status in the squad.

Mind you, there was barely any player who managed to cover himself in glory on that fateful night, as Bilbao handed a shock 1-0 win to Barcelona. However, it is Alena who, for an outsider, seems to be bearing the brunt of a dreadful team performance. So difficult is his situation that the 21-year-old has not even been a part of the matchday squad in 11 of the 15 games that Barcelona have played since then.

The treatment meted out to him by Ernesto Valverde is inexplicable to say the least, what with Ivan Rakitic also being out of favour, while Sergio Busquets has blown hot and cold this season. Even in the six games that Arthur has not started since the season opener, one would reckon that Alena is a natural replacement with his creative outlet.

But, Alena has not even been considered for an appearance as a substitute, which has left fans perplexed and the player himself scratching his head. Alena is also admittedly disgruntled by the fact that Barcelona handed Frenkie de Jong the no. 21 shirt without consulting with him.

“There is no explanation for me being dropped after the game in Bilbao. No player likes being left out of the squad. It’s a decision taken by the coach. Of course it affects the player.”… “It didn’t sit well with me that the board promised de Jong the No.21 without telling me.”

An Opportunity Missed

Alena has become an afterthought after being denied a loan move in the summer. (Photo credit by Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images)
Alena has become an afterthought after being denied a loan move in the summer. (Photo credit by Lluis Gene/AFP via Getty Images)

When Frenkie de Jong finally arrived at Camp Nou in the summer, it was clear that there were at least a couple of midfielders who were going to see their stock plummet at Barcelona, especially with Valverde claiming ahead of the season that Sergi Roberto would return to being a midfielder this season.

That meant that Valverde now had a staggering seven midfielders at his disposal and there was no way that each of them was going to be satisfied with their involvement over the course of the season. Reports leading up to the season suggested that Ivan Rakitic was surplus to requirements, yet the Croat was still at Camp Nou post the closure of the summer transfer window.

While Rakitic has become a bit-part player since then, the player who has suffered the most from an overload of midfielders is Alena, but through no fault of his own. With his game time suffering a huge hit, a season-long loan move could have been the best step forward to ensure the youngster’s continued progress.

There was no shortage of interest either, with Real Betis among those keen on signing Alena for the remainder of the season. But, the move was reportedly blocked by Valverde, which would usually be an indication that the manager had an important role in mind for Alena.

But, he has instead been twiddling his thumbs for the past three months, his career frustratingly coming to a halt. Valverde has not offered much in way of an explanation as to why Alena has not been playing, instead giving a meek justification, “He is not playing as much as I thought. He gives everything in training. He deserves to play more.”

A loan move can be a double edged sword, sure. But, staying at Barcelona has hardly helped Alena’s cause in a season wherein he was to finally become an important member of the squad. Surely, an opportunity missed for the young midfielder.

The Hope

Happy times ahead? (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Happy times ahead? (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

It has hardly been a bed of roses for Alena in his first full season with the Barcelona first-team squad. But, amidst all the doom and gloom, there is a silver lining for the 21-year-old. Rakitic is bound for an exit from Camp Nou, while Arturo Vidal, already a backup option, should soon be following the Croat in being phased out of the squad.

Then, there is the case of Sergio Busquets’s inconsistencies, with Frenkie de Jong a natural successor in the squad for the veteran’s position. The Sergi Roberto midfield experiment seems to have been put to a stop as well.

And so, if Alena was to bide his time, embark on a loan move and resume his development in the second half of the season, 2020-21 could finally become the season wherein finally carves out a place for himself at Barcelona.

Widespread reports claim that Valverde is finally ready to sanction such a move, which ought to be music to the ears of Alena, who may just jump at the chance of gaining regular game time. If Marc Cucurella’s example last season is anything to go by, a loan move can work wonders for Alena.

Patience and a careful selection of a temporary new home is the key for Alena right now. And, if things do fall into place, the time may not be far when he finally starts featuring week in week out, becoming a pivotal player for Barcelona.

The Moment of Truth

Poor squad planning has led Barcelona to this moment, wherein they could be at risk of losing yet another promising academy graduate. Failure to move Rakitic on has denied Alena of the deserved opportunities, and one could feel a sense of deja vu, a Thiago Alcantara-like situation.

Thiago, too, ran out of patience when his minutes were compromised due to a clogged midfield. Barcelona now face a moment of truth, because in Alena, they have a player who could, alongside Arthur, be the rightful successor to Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

But, if he is not even given a chance, the Catalans can never know if he has what it takes to be a creative force in the middle of the park. For, a player can only have so much patience, when he keeps on getting snubbed week after week. Barcelona and Valverde have a big call to make ahead of the January transfer window.

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