Barca gamble on Guardiola
It has been all change at Barcelona this summer, with the Spanish giants undergoing a major facelift in a bid to revive their fortunes after two years without any silverware.
Coach Frank Rijkaard was axed after five years at Camp Nou and superstars Ronaldinho and Deco have followed him out of the door, with the inexperienced Pep Guardiola, a Catalan born and bred, taking over the managerial reins.
Ronaldinho and Deco were instrumental as Barca won a UEFA Champions League and La Liga double in 2006, but since then the pair and the club have been on a downward spiral.
Guardiola has the job of pushing the club back in the right direction, and inherits some world-class players in Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry, along with Spain's victorious UEFA EURO 2008 trio of Xavi, Carles Puyol and Andres Iniesta. Argentine Messi, 21, has been handed the famous No10 shirt, vacated by Ronaldinho's departure to AC Milan. Barca will need their star man to shake off his injury problems if they are to challenge for top honours.
French striker Henry had a difficult debut campaign last season, struggling with persistent injuries and playing out of position, but he is confident of getting back to his best. "I scored 19 goals without playing well last season, so I hope to get much more this season and not pick up injuries," explained Henry.
Guardiola, 37, has no experience of handling big names, having previously only coached the Barca B team. But his playing career demands respect, with the local hero making 379 appearances for Barcelona winning six league titles.
"Talent is important, but you need to put the effort in first," said Guardiola. "We want a solid, balanced Barcelona team this season that wins games with football that entertains the fans."
The Barca board have given him financial backing with close to €75 million spent on new players in the summer as they bid to stop Real Madrid winning a third successive league title.
A large slice of the budget was used to capture dynamic Brazilian right-back Daniel Alves from Sevilla at a cost of €29.5 million, while midfielder Seydou Keita also leaves Sevilla for Camp Nou in a €13 million switch.
"," said Alves. "Everything comes from the coach. He lives and breathes football as an ex-player, and gives out important advice."
Tricky winger Alexander Hleb has arrived from Arsenal for €15 million, and €16 million has been splashed out on Uruguayan defender Martin Caceres. With Bojan Krkic, 18, realising his huge potential and Cameroon forward Samuel Eto'o staying put, Barca have a terrific squad, but the same could be said last season when a Champions League semi-final loss was all they had to show for their efforts.
Some said there were too many egos in the Barca dressing room, and Guardiola has the task of rebuilding team spirit and solving the team's awful away record which saw them collect just 23 points on the road last season.
Barcelona have the perfect chance to get the ball rolling as they start with an away fixture at newly-promoted Numancia on Sunday.