Welcome to Barcelona, Angel di Maria.
To say that FC Barcelona have had one of the worst transfer windows in history is no over-statement. It feels like it belongs to the realms of fantasy, and yet it has happened. Fans remain frustrated at the apparent regression of the club this window, directing their vitriol at club president Josep Bartomeu, the best part of which is deserved. Neutrals meanwhile remain incredulous at how a club of such stature could have such poor planning to the extent that they have no leverage in negotiations. The motto “Mes Que Un Club” is slowly becoming irrelevant.
With Barcelona failing to win any major title last season, it was expected that they would cast their net into the pond for reinforcements. But it was not expected that they would become the pond itself. Ernesto Valverde took charge in place of Luis Enrique to quiet hope that he would be able to build on the foundations laid. But the summer has been tumultuous, in part due to the departure of Brazilian star Neymar.
No one could have foreseen his departure. PSG always hovered about, but no one expected them to cough up the money. But Neymar’s relatively low release clause, when compared to those at Real Madrid, of 222 million Euros was not prohibitive for the Qatar-funded Parisian side. A higher release clause may have given Barcelona some leverage, but as it turns out paying 222 million was an easy decision for PSG. Off he went, casting Barcelona’s season into the doldrums.
The mistake Barcelona made with Neymar was the release clause. For the best players, the clause should act as a deterrent to other clubs. The club failed at this point with Neymar. With PSG essentially backed by Qatar, the funds they have at their disposal is enormous. A higher release clause could have meant giving the club a shot at signing Verratti. PSG would have been forced to negotiate a price, and Barcelona could have at least tried to pull off a cash plus player deal. The policy should have been, if you want Neymar, give us Verratti. If Neymar wanted a lower release clause, that should be a sign that he wanted out sometime down the line. Was there a succession plan for the worst case scenario? No.
This is all the more crucial when you consider Marco Verratti was Barcelona’s main target for the midfield. It was widely hoped the Italian would take over the keys to an ageing midfield. But the ambition PSG displayed in the Neymar deal (helped by their signing of ex-Barcelona right-back Dani Alves) prohibited Verratti from leaving, naturally so, given their Champions League project. The Italian, who once flirted with Barcelona, was now willing to stay, and was unlikely to push a move at any rate. This threw a big curveball into Barcelona’s plans, which as it turns out, had no convincing non-Paulinho plan B.
While Paulinho is a solid midfielder, the fact remains that he’s spent two years at Guangzhou Evergrande, playing at a weaker level, something successful performances for Brazil cannot alleviate. His proficiency in keepy-ups is hardly relevant, but he should be a depth player and nothing more. But he’s signed for 40 million Euros. He’s not first XI quality, and Barcelona already have a raft of midfielders in the squad. There doesn’t seem to be much logic behind this signing, except for the fact that this deal may have benefited Bartomeu’s company. This signing however is disappointing and infuriating for other reasons.
Firstly, the club could have signed Jean Michael Seri from Nice for the same price. The central midfielder had an excellent season for a strong Nice side last year that put him on the radar of big clubs. With his traits being what Barca need, on paper at least, it should have been a no-brainer. Seri should have been the Plan B instead of Paulinho. At 26, he is younger by three years, is the more long-term option and is what the side actually needed. But rather than working on this deal, the club showed no interest in him until they saw fans clamouring for him on Twitter. Most top clubs would hardly listen to fans on transfers, but here Barcelona realised the fans were actually right. That is when PSG came back with the purpose of annoying Barcelona even more. Seri had an agreement with Nice that he could leave for any foreign club that stumped up the 40 million euros, though it wasn’t a release clause as France did not allow it.
PSG came in with more money with the intention to mess with Barcelona, as per Seri’s agent. They had no interest in the player, and it appears that revenge for the 6-1 humiliation last season has been served cold, but thrice. That deal appears off for the time being, and knowing Barcelona the odds of the deal being resuscitated are slim.
The second drawback of the Paulinho deal is that Sergi Samper has been sent back on the loan carousel to Las Palmas, where he has an opening to replace Roque Mesa for the season. But it shows Barca’s negligence of La Masia, wherein they are happy to purchase bench players when they have capable players waiting in the shadows. Along with Carlos Alena, Samper could have been given the chance, but despite his loyalty to the club, it appears he will not have his chance at Barcelona. To be fair though, the long-touted Busquets replacement has not done enough on his part to guarantee a squad role, but even then, Barcelona have not done much in terms of opportunities.
The rest of the squad is filled with players who must be wondering how they’re still there. Douglas, Vermaelen and Arda Turan, for starters, need to be moved on but haven’t yet. Only Masip, Mathieu and Tello have been sold this summer among the fringe players. Rafinha may still move elsewhere for gametime, and the same applies for Andre Gomes and Denis Suarez. It’s a bloated squad, and time is running out to cut the deadwood.
The issue is that they’ve always over-spent on reserve players, reducing the money available to invest on the starting XI. Last summer, 35 million Euros were spent on Andre Gomes, and another 30 million on Paco Alcacer. Both had the aura of political deals, but aside from that, they were hardly worth the money, even discounting their performances through the year. Denis Suarez at 3.25 million was a bargain only for the buy-back clause in his original sale to Villareal. Going further back, 34 million was spent on Arda Turan, who flopped; 20 million and 19 million respectively for Mathieu and the eternally crocked Vermaelen. The thought process behind spending that money on two ageing, injury prone defenders is lost on this writer. The summer of 2014/15 was one where they made four good value signings in Suarez, Rakitic, Bravo and ter Stegen, but also signed three flops. Only Bartomeu can answer why he has a fetish for paying over-the-top for reserve players.
Dani Alves’s departure to Juventus last summer on a free was unfortunate for he had a good season in Italy, then moved to PSG and lured Neymar there. He was not replaced for a year, where Enrique chose to play Roberto, the jack-of-all-trades, over Vidal, a right-back he signed. But Nelson Semedo was signed this year in a Jorge Mendes-orchestrated deal, which sorts out the right flank, and at 30 million euros, is good value too. It’s not like Barcelona sell well though, for Marc Bartra left for just 8 million Euros to Dortmund. That cost went down as a result of his lack of appearances, which shot down the release clause. That there was a real bargain.
Gerard Deulofeu remains the only re-inforcement on the wings this summer, arriving in a 12 million euros which was also a buy-back clause. This was smart, but obvious business to do, as it’s solid back-up. The main point remains that none of Barcelona’s deals this summer have been through real scouting. Paulinho was a Bartomeu deal, Semedo was a Mendes deal, Deulofeu had a buy-back clause and Marlon’s move was made permanent. So what are Barcelona’s scouts doing?
The dream of Barcelona compelled both Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele to force a move through. Both clubs knew Barcelona had the money, hiking the price. But unlike Liverpool, Dortmund need the money more and can deal with his departure better. Barca have found out that having money to spend is no use when people know you have money to spend. With Dembele moving to Barca for an initial 105 million euros + 42 million in bonuses and a 400 million release clause (a crazy price, considering he moved to Dortmund for just 15 million euros last summer), it all but puts the Coutinho deal to bed. Dembele is a generational talent and one that will keep the fans slightly at bay- in two years, Dembele has gone from first-team debut to the second most expensive footballer in history. As for Coutinho, despite his transfer request, four rejected bids mean his dream move is more or less off for now, but that may be a good thing for Barcelona.
Unless they spend another 50 million euros for a declining 29-year old Angel di Maria, in which case PSG will definitely be laughing all season. Fans must have been relieved when it was the hackers that tweeted the welcome message, but he could still come. PSG were just the catalyst for the #BartomeuDimiteYa campaign. Fans are seeing the boardroom for what it is. The club is in chaos, and Valverde is in limbo till the window closes, trying to stay calm in a swirling whirlpool. With Messi’s contract (which ends next summer) extension agreed but yet to be signed, the situation could get worse.
Barcelona still have work to do that does not involve suing Neymar (who funnily enough sued back). That’s an utter waste of time. There’s five days left in the window and they’re in a Catch 22 situation, one that was their own making. Dembele has to be the start. If they can still salvage their window, it’ll be a miracle, and then they can get to work on fixing the boardroom.
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