Barcelona preparing for life without club great Andres Iniesta will not be as daunting as when Neymar jumped ship to Paris Saint-Germain last August, according to head coach Ernesto Valverde.
Former Athletic Bilbao boss Valverde was mere weeks into his Barca tenure when Neymar stunned the footballing world by completing a world-record €222million switch to PSG last August.
Barca recovered from that and a Supercopa de Espana humbling at the hands of bitter rivals Real Madrid by marching to a dominant LaLiga title triumph. Valverde’s side are two matches away from completing an unbeaten league campaign and travel to Levante on Sunday.
Neymar is on the mend form a broken metatarsal and, despite scoring 28 goals in 30 appearances for PSG this season, has been linked with a move to join Madrid.
Barca’s primary target in the forthcoming transfer market is reportedly Atletico Madrid star Antoine Griezmann, while Valverde will initially look internally as Iniesta prepares to depart to the Chinese Super League.
“The first thing is always to look at who we’ve got here,” he told a news conference. “[Philippe] Coutinho plays very well in that position. We have other players as well, like [Carles] Alena in the B team who can help
“But our club always has to follow what is happening in the market.”
Whatever the chosen course of action, it is undoubtedly a situation Valverde can approach amid calmer waters than those he waded through nine months ago.
“We lost a very important player last year, a very surprising departure and we had to turn everything inside out and face a completely different reality,” he said.
“With Andres, we know he’s leaving so we have time to think about it and plan.
“With a player that important, so special and so unique you cannot expect a substitute to do the same.
“Of course we are going to miss him but we need to find another way of balancing the team without Inietsa.”
Valverde was asked to consider the prospect of a Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo link-up in Madrid and Griezmann joining Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in his own potentially mouth-watering attack.
Nevertheless, the 54-year-old remained keen to deal in reality.
“Great players always understand each other but, as you say, it’s purely a hypothesis,” he said.
“It’s neither what is happening here or at Real Madrid. We’re talking about players who are at other teams.
“I’m sure things are being said in the news but I’ve got nothing to say about that.”
The progress of players from Barca’s feted La Masia academy is of as much concern to the Camp Nou faithful as the next multi-million-euro arrival and Valverde identified midfield duo Alena and Oriol Busquets as young men who can make the step up in the post-Iniesta era.
“We are going to analyse when the season ends but in the case of Carles Alena it is clear that he will come with us,” he added.
“The rest will be evaluated. Oriol Busquets is another player in this situation, but he has a major [knee] injury.
“We thought about him and we are evaluating his evolution. Let’s wait a bit.”