By Ben Hayward in Barcelona
No time is being wasted. Following a season of decline and decay at Camp Nou, new coach Luis Enrique is ready to oversee significant changes at the Catalan club and the first of those will see Ivan Rakitic coming in and Cesc Fabregas heading out this summer. A brand new Barcelona is already starting to take shape.
Luis Enrique was unveiled as Barca boss last month and made it patently clear he would be doing things his way. And while the squad are all off on holiday or preparing for the World Cup in Brazil, the Asturian coach met with sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta on Thursday to continue planning for the 2014-15 season.
The writing was on the wall for Cesc at Luis Enrique's presentation on May 21. The former Celta coach was asked about Lionel Messi, Neymar, Xavi, Javier Mascherano and Fabregas at his first press conference and dedicated a few words to each of them apart from the former Arsenal midfielder, of whom he simply said: "Cesc? I won't talk about individual names. Decisions will be made later." It sounded ominous.
It was the same question put to Tito Vilanova as he took over from predecessor Pep Guardiola in 2012 and also addressed to Tata Martino at his unveiling last year. Then, the response had been positive, but not this time. Luis Enrique, in an ideal world, would probably keep Fabregas, but the former Barca midfielder knows he must raise funds through player sales in order to spend as he wishes this summer. Cesc remains a marketable asset and after three unconvincing seasons in Catalunya, the midfielder is a marked man.
Earlier this week, Gerard Pique was overheard telling Spain coach Vicente del Bosque that the midfielder will be leaving for €33m, with Chelsea now leading the race for the 27-year-old former Arsenal captain. And Rakitic will replace him at Camp Nou.
Barca have acted quickly to snap up the Sevilla star amid interest from their two domestic rivals, Real Madrid and Atletico, after the player's father admitted this week that all three of Spain's top teams had made moves for his son.
The 26-year-old Croat is a two-footed talent with great passing skills, outstanding technical ability and an impressive work-rate, who will be expected to add dynamism to a midfield often lacking legs last season. Also able to operate in advanced positions or behind a central striker, the 26-year-old will fill the Cesc-shaped hole left in the Catalans' squad - and he will only cost around €20m.
Meanwhile, the Catalan club are still keen to bring in two central defenders, with Paris Saint-Germain's Marquinhos in pole position. Barca may move for Borussia Dortmund's Marco Reus later this summer, while another Croat, 17-year-old Alen Halilovic, will join Barca B with a view to stepping up soon.
There are plenty of outgoings, too. Puyol has already left and will assume a role alongside Zubizarreta, while Valdes and Jose Pinto have also departed. Alex Song is likely to return to the Premier League along with Cesc and Alexis Sanchez seems set to join Juventus. Mascherano and Xavi will decide their futures after the World Cup.
So it will be a very different Barcelona in 2014-15, but the goal is to make this team great again after a season of disappointment. "I have never met anyone as ambitious as Luis Enrique," defender Marc Bartra said on Thursday. That's already starting to show.