Hansi Flick’s first day at Barcelona: Nine senior players, youth prospects and tournament absentees


When Barcelona coach Hansi Flick welcomes his players back for pre-season training today, the German will get an idea of the surreal situation he is inheriting.

The initial stages of pre-season are important for any coach coming into a new club, new league and new language. It is an opportunity for them to communicate how they want the team to play, prepare them physically for a long campaign and set in place behaviours and processes which could be crucial to any success.

But, given the circumstances, it is going to be difficult — if not impossible — for Flick to hit the ground running in the way he would like after replacing Xavi in May.

Most key Barca first-team players are still playing at the European Championship in Germany or Copa America in the United States, or have just gone on holiday after representing their country this summer. Other important squad members are injured or working their way back to fitness after long-term absences.

Barca have a €100million ($108m; £85m) hole in their 2023-24 accounts, which means they can’t sign anyone or even register some current players. Many squad players are well aware that club president Joan Laporta and sporting director Deco are doing everything they can to get them to leave.

All this means Flick is likely to start work with nine senior players — none of whom are expected to be in his first-choice XI and most of whom are unlikely to even be at the club when the transfer window closes on August 30.

The only four members of last season’s squad likely to be present for medical tests this morning are defender Inigo Martinez, goalkeeper Inaki Pena, midfielder Oriol Romeu and striker Vitor Roque.

Only backup goalkeeper Pena has a secure part in the plans for 2024-25. Barca are trying to offload Romeu while, as things stand, neither Martinez nor Roque can be registered as the club are over their La Liga-imposed salary limit.

From day one, Flick can also count on players returning from loans elsewhere last season, but none of these players were important for Xavi and Flick is unlikely to think differently.

These include playmaker Pablo Torre (21 years old), the U.S-born Mexican right-back Julian Araujo (22), the homegrown left-back Alex Valle (20), forward Ansu Fati (21) and the almost-forgotten French defender Clement Lenglet (29).

Flick’s first-team players on first day with Barca

PlayerBarca appearances last season





0 (on loan at Girona)

0 (on loan at Las Palmas)

0 (on loan at Levante)

3 (on loan at Brighton)

0 (on loan at Aston Villa)

Also at the training ground this week will be players recovering from injury. Of these, the left-back Alejandro Balde is closest to a return to full training after a hamstring operation in January. The Netherlands midfielder Frenkie de Jong missed the Euros with a knee problem, which will need to be carefully managed. Gavi is still months away from a return from the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury he suffered in November.

De Jong was injured before the start of the Euros with the Netherlands (ANP via Getty Images)

Nine senior players is not enough for Flick to work with, but top clubs often have to deal with their players returning in a staggered fashion, making up the numbers with promising youngsters who get a chance to experience first-team training and a pre-season tour.

There are several emerging talents from Barca’s La Masia youth academy tipped for that experience this summer, with the Blaugrana once again travelling to the U.S. for pre-season. The 18-year-old U.S. youth international goalkeeper Diego Kochen, defender Hector Fort (17), midfielders Marc Bernal (17), Marc Casado (20) and Aleix Garrido (20), the German playmaker Noah Darvich (17) and forward Angel Alarcon (20) are part of this group.

Most of these players were involved with Barca Atletic last season, the club’s reserve team full of youth players. That side, managed by the Mexico and Barca legend Rafael Marquez, reached the third-tier promotion play-offs this summer, which they lost to Cordoba (the second leg took place on June 23). They would usually have longer summer holidays but are now needed to fill spaces in the senior squad.

It has not all been positive either for the Barca players away with their countries. Pedri and Ronald Araujo have both suffered injuries with Spain and Uruguay respectively, which means they could miss the start of the club season.

Early Euros exits for Poland and Denmark at least mean that Robert Lewandowski and Andreas Christensen should be back in time for when Barca fly out to the U.S. on July 28 — along with a few others who have been on international duty.

Other players might need more rest. Ilkay Gundogan’s 66-game season finally ended with Germany’s Euros quarter-final defeat to Spain last Friday. The 16-year-old Lamine Yamal will almost certainly need lengthy holidays to mentally and physically recover after his fantastic displays with Barca last season and with Spain at the Euros.

Yamal will need a rest after his involvement with Spain (Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images/DeFodi via Getty Images)

And there is another international tournament to come. Defenders Pau Cubarsi and Eric Garcia are with the Spain squad preparing for the Olympics in Paris, which begin on July 24. Fermin Lopez has also been named in the squad despite being with Luis de la Fuente’s senior side in Germany. Spain are among the favourites to reach the August 9 final at the Parc des Princes.

Lenglet, Fati, Romeu, Torre and others might feel they have a chance to impress Flick and make their cases to be important players for 2023-24, but they know they could be on their way out. Martinez and Roque know some team-mates will have to leave if they are to stay. Barca are open to offers for others who will rejoin over the next few weeks, including De Jong, Ferran Torres and Raphinha.

Then there is the strange situation of the Portuguese duo of Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo, who Barca have been treating as if they are still their players, despite their loans from Atletico Madrid and Manchester City having ended last month.

Whether or not they join later in the transfer window, Flick won’t be able to count on either in the early weeks of pre-season. Atletico have told The Athletic that Joao Felix is due back at pre-season with them in the Spanish capital in late July.

One advantage for Flick is this is not a new situation for many of these players: Barca’s financial issues mean they have had trouble registering players for three summers now.

Players have returned knowing their futures are uncertain and have just had to get on with their jobs. A new coach could mean fresh opportunities and, for most of those reporting for duty this week, their preferred option is to stay at Barca. Those on big wages will not want to make it easy for Deco to negotiate their exits.

Deco will be looking to offload some Barca players (Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images)

Barca’s first game of the U.S. tour is on July 30, against Manchester City in Orlando, Florida. They then travel to New Jersey for a Clasico against Real Madrid on August 3, then to Baltimore to play Milan on August 6.

Flick’s first game in Catalonia could be the traditional season-opening Joan Gamper Trophy at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Company on August 11, the stadium where they have been playing their games while Camp Nou is redeveloped. But no opposition has been confirmed for that match.

One of the reasons given for Xavi’s sacking at the end of last season was the team not being well-prepared physically. “The team’s level dropped after an hour in games, but Flick will improve the physical preparation,” Laporta said. That will be made more difficult by the staggered arrival of players.

Barca generally played a variation of 4-3-3 during Xavi’s time in charge, but Flick has mostly used a 4-2-3-1 system, including with Bayern Munich and Germany. Any tactical innovations which require significant work on the training ground are going to be difficult to implement immediately.

Flick will have one eye on the opening day of the La Liga season when Barca travel to Valencia on August 17. He could be without four midfielders for that game for different reasons — with Gavi, Pedri, Fermin and De Jong potentially joined by last year’s club captain Sergi Roberto, whose contract has expired but who may have re-signed by then.

Cubarsi and Garcia could still be on their post-Olympic holidays by that point and Araujo will be recovering from injury, so Martinez may have to be registered to play against Valencia, even if he is later allowed to leave this transfer window.

On the evidence of recent summers, Barca’s final squad won’t be finalised until the closing hours of the window.

Flick was well aware of Barca’s problems before joining but was still keen to take the opportunity. The size of the challenge will feel more real as he gets to work on the training ground.

(Top photo: Federico Gambarini/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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