The afterglow of Barcelona’s victory over Chelsea has been dimmed by the news that Sergio Busquets faces three weeks out after injuring his foot during the game, but in the long-run the midfielder’s absence could prove to be a blessing in disguise.
For starters, the club could have not chosen a better time for Busquets to get injured, with the rapidly approaching international break meaning he may only miss two games before returning to action.
And a brief spell on the sidelines at this time of year, when every game becomes more important and the demands more intense, will be a welcome psychological and physical break for Busquets, who should be able to return refreshed and reinvigorated for the final six weeks of the season.
More importantly, though, his absence will also provide another player with the opportunity to step up and assert themselves.
Manager Ernesto Valverde has two obvious options to take Busquets’ place in the middle of the park. Firstly, there is Brazilian international Paulinho, who has fallen slightly out of favour in recent weeks and could use the boost of more playing time.
But the other possibility is more intriguing, with Andre Gomes perhaps in a position to finally and decisively set his Barca career on the right path.
Let’s be frank: the Portuguese midfielder has been a major flop since moving to Camp Nou from Valencia in the summer of 2016.
He has flitted in and out of the team, filling various positions but never really looking at ease, delivering sufficient underwhelming performances to become the ‘boo boy’ of the home crowd – most notably when he was jeered as he came onto the pitch as a substitute in the recent victory over Atletico Madrid.
That humiliation must have been the final straw for Gomes, who let it all out in a magazine interview this week, admitting with unusual honesty that he is not enjoying his football, that he sometimes can’t even face leaving his house, and that his time at the club has turned into a kind of “hell”.
It was a brave move for a player to publicly admit such deep personal vulnerabilities, but Barca fans gave Gomes exactly the kind of response he would have wished for by greeting him with a huge roar of approval when he came off the bench against Chelsea on Wednesday.
Until now it has always felt that the Camp Nou crowd were deliberately looking out for reasons to jeer Gomes, but his indirect appeal to their human empathy succeeded in exactly reversing that collective emotion, with Wednesday’s game seeing fans desperately willing him on to play well.
And play well he did, making a key contribution in the build-up to the third goal and generally looking more decisive and purposeful than he has for a long time.
Confidence, clearly, is a major part of sport, and the repeated battering taken by Gomes from his own team’s supporters in the last 18 months understandably eroded his self-belief to the point that he had lost all trust in his own ability.
But there’s nothing like being loudly cheered by 95,000 people for a quick boost of self-esteem, and Wednesday’s outing could prove to be the turning point for Gomes, allowing him to finally start showing the undoubted ability he regularly displayed during his time with Valencia.
That’s even more the case with the injury to Busquets, and Valverde must now be seriously considering giving Gomes the chance to impress over a full 90 minutes for the visit of the coach’s old club, Athletic Bilbao, on Sunday.
Gomes is still only 24 years old so there’s plenty of time for him to get his career back on track. For a long time, it has appeared that he would not be able to do so at Barcelona and that a summer transfer would be his best chance of salvation.
Now, though, he could be on the cusp of receiving a second opportunity to prove himself. His Camp Nou story has been a sad tale so far, but it could still have a happy ending.
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