Last season’s pre-season US tour taught Xavi a valuable lesson.
Barcelona’s trip a year ago included matches in Miami, Las Vegas, Dallas and New York in the space of 12 days. The band would switch hotels every three days, combining an grueling number of hours at airports with various commercial activities. The staff felt unable to provide much-needed rest and recovery time for their players. The weather in some of those cities was extremely hot, so it was not possible to complete some courses.
This kind of thing can’t be allowed to happen a second time – which is why Barcelona spend eight out of their 14 days in the US in July and early August in Los Angeles.
California – where two of the trip’s four matches will be played with another hour in Las Vegas – will provide Xavi the base camp he was called upon when making preparations for the tour. The weather is expected to be more comfortable, and the manager must feel that the preparation will help achieve his main goal of building up his group ahead of the start of the La Liga season away at Getafe on August 13.
The players will surely appreciate the teams too, especially the newcomers Ilkay Gundogan, Inigo Martinez and Oriol Romeo, who barely had time to train with their new Barcelona team-mates before leaving.
But many other individuals among the group of 32 might also appreciate the chance to get jelly, although some of those will face an uncertain future no matter what their living circumstances are for the next two weeks.
About 50 fans were waiting for the Barcelona team bus when it arrived at their hotel in Los Angeles on Wednesday afternoon local time. Robert Lewandowski, Gundogan, Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Javi, Ousmane Dembele and Jules Conde were among those who stopped to take pictures and sign autographs to encourage the locals.
However, none of these fans were chanting Romeo’s name. Barcelona’s newest addition was one of the first to let go of the coach, yet still sneaks into the hotel unnoticed.
Confirmation of Romeo’s signing came on Wednesday morning in Spain, a development that in turn confirmed Nico Gonzalez’s absence from this tour.
The 21-year-old was left out of the squad, with club sources saying he was now expected to leave on loan. This will be the second consecutive loan for a player who had previously been tipped as a possible successor to Sergio Busquets at Camp Nou, yet was loaned out to Valencia in 2022-23.
With Busquets already training on the other side of the US with his new MLS club Inter Miami, where he was reunited with longtime Barcelona teammates Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba, Xavi preferred to trust 31-year-old Romeo, a product of the club’s La Masia academy, and had a private conversation with Gonzalez in which he was told he would have a very limited time from 20-24.
At the moment, Porto appears as a possible destination for Gonzalez, who is represented by Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes.
There was some eyebrow raised about Gonzales’ status. Another surprise was the inclusion of Clement Lenglet in the touring party.
Barcelona hoped that the French defender would be one of the first to leave this summer, but the club was unable to reach an agreement with Tottenham Hotspur, where he spent last season on loan. Tottenham have a strong hand in the negotiations and don’t appear to be in a rush to seal a deal to bring Lenglet back. Barcelona sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their positions, believe an agreement will eventually be reached. For now, Lenglet will train with the rest of the squad.
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If Gonzalez epitomizes the sad story of one of the club’s brightest young talents, there is still some hope for another 21-year-old: Abdel Zalzouli.
It doesn’t matter to Xavi that Barcelona have so far been unable to find exits for Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres – both of whom were considered expendable not so long ago. He still wants the silky winger known as Abde, who dazzled last season on loan with fellow La Liga club Osasuna, to spend pre-season with his first team.
Abdou was due to have another week off after winning the Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations with Morocco, where he was the tournament’s top scorer, on July 8, but he returned to pre-season training with the rest of the group last week and will now have his chance on this tour.
Despite Xavi’s determination to travel, Abde has attracted interest from several clubs across Europe, and a sale, or another loan period, are possible scenarios that the club has not yet rejected. His future will be decided in the coming weeks, depending on his performance in training and these warm-up matches.
Of course, he wouldn’t be the only one looking to make an impression.
Of the lesser-known players in the group, Lamine Yamal is perhaps the most exciting.
Yamal made his La Liga debut last season at the age of 15 (he just turned 16 this month) and looks set for more first-team involvement in the squad that awaits him. The extent of that involvement, at least in the early stages of the season, will depend in part on how you keep up with the season during the preseason.
Marc Casado and Alex Garrido, two 19-year-old midfielders, were also noted as exciting talents from La Masia, while Barcelona Athletic (the club’s second team to play in Spain’s third division) players Mikael Fay, Alex Valle and Firmin Lopez also made the trip.
And it would not be a big surprise if some of them did not have any major role in the four matches that Barcelona will play in the United States against Juventus, Arsenal, Real Madrid and Milan, given the presence of 32 players in the group. But some of the more established players may cut minutes too, for very different reasons.
Barcelona’s hierarchy is chasing sales but has yet to find much success with no players in any rush to leave. This is where Xavi comes in – the manager will play a role in selecting his squad for the four matches here.
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Last season, when speculation about De Jong’s future was running high, the Dutch midfielder Xavi played as a centre-back – far from his favored position, with others given priority.
De Jong stayed in the end, but it’s worth keeping that in mind in the case of Ferran Torres. The 23-year-old striker is determined to stay and complete his first full season free of injury since joining from Manchester City in January last year. However, there are some concerns among the coaching staff about the quality he has shown recently, and some would happily accept the sale.
While Torres does not want to leave, seeing others establish themselves before him in the eyes of the manager will be another difficult message to receive, and may change his public view.
Eric Garcia is in a similar situation. Xavi and his staff would be happy to keep the 22-year-old – Garcia’s salary is quite low and he is a positive presence in the dressing room – but there is uncertainty about what role he will play.
With new centre-back Martinez now in the squad, it would make sense for Garcia to find more minutes as a midfielder rather than in his position – an experiment Xavi did at times last season. But Romeo is now signed on to play the role.
Then there is the case of Frank Casey, a player who signed on a free transfer a year ago and who the club would now be happy to sell to the right bidder.
Casey received an offer from Saudi Arabia, which he turned down. He is happy with life at Barcelona, although Xavi has told the 26-year-old midfielder that it will be more difficult for him to get more minutes on the pitch next season than in his first year, when he was already in a limited role with just seven La Liga appearances.
Julian Araujo, 21, and Sergino D’Este, 22, are also on this list of potential departures. At the moment, it seems, they are far from the standards that Xavi would demand to play in his team. It is likely that both of them will appear on this tour in some way, as Barcelona do not have a natural right-back, but the club will also be open to offers.
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This, in fact, is one of Deco’s biggest fears.
Barcelona’s new sporting director, Joan Laporta, made it clear to club president Joan Laporta that he believes priority should be given to signing a new right-back, as Conde and Sergi Roberto cannot be the only options for the new season. Deco considered this more urgent than the signing of Romeo in midfield.
Weeks ago, the situation escalated to the point where Deku and Xavi made their priorities clear to the council. They all realize they have to prioritize the manager’s wish, and Romeo ends up joining in from his neighbors Girona.
With more transfer activity required, there could be more discord among his old Barcelona teammates, with Xavi still preferring another high-quality addition in midfield rather than at right-back.
Barcelona is actively looking for options for both positions. Real Valladolid’s 18-year-old Ivan Fresenda is one of the right defenders Deco has been keeping his eye on. He has a particularly close relationship with the teenager’s agent, Fali Ramadan.
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As for the candidates for the more attacking role, the Catalan media quoted the names of Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva and Atlético Madrid’s Joao Felix – with the latter saying it would be a “dream” to play for Barcelona.
At this point, neither deal is realistic, though they are both valued as players within the club. Senior Barcelona sources have admitted that they do not expect big deals to come before players are sold.
There is hard work going on in the club’s upper offices during this run, as finance departments try to find ways to sign the newcomers within La Liga’s salary caps – as neither Martinez, Gundogan or Romeu will be eligible to play when the new season begins in just over three weeks.
On the field, Xavi has other concerns.
The challenge of building a new team dynamic without the leadership of two key figures from the old guard: Busquets and Alba. He has to find the perfect Gundogan role, help Romeo settle quickly into the defensive midfield and enable the youth of the team to grow.
There is a lot of work to do already.
Barcelona preliminary tour of the United States
- July 22: Juventus, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. (10:30 p.m. ET; 3:30 a.m. BST)
- July 26: Arsenal, SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles (10:30 p.m. ET; 3:30 a.m. BST)
- July 29: Real Madrid, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX (5pm ET; 10pm BST)
- August 1: AC Milan, Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas (11pm EST; 4am BST)
(Top photo: Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images)
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