With the Summer Transfer period now over, let’s summarise how FC Barcelona performed when it came to handling player transfers.
As a club that is not known for stellar negotiations when it comes to buying and selling, how did we do this season?
Out of a buying budget set at €40 million, Barça splashed out €33 – €14 for Jordi Alba and €19 for Alex Song. (Rosell will be pleased – €7 million left in the kitty for colour copies or as a contribution towards Neymar’s purchase.)
So, how did we do on the selling side?
Here’s who left the club:
Keirrison to Coritiba: Released from contract
Henrique to Palmeiras: Free
Seydou Keita to Dalian Aerbin: Free
Ibrahim Afellay to Schalke 04: Loan
Marti Riverola to Bologna FC: Free
Rubén Miño to RCD Mallorca: Free
Armando Lozano to Tiburones Rojos de Veracruz: Free
Oriol Rosell to Sporting Kansas City: Free
Saúl Berjón to Real Murcia: Free
Rodri Ríos to Sheffield Wednesday: Loan
Sergio Ayala to Deportivo Alavés: Loan
For the first time, since 2003, FCB has not made any money on players transferred out of the club.
Contrast this** to Real Madrid who spent circa €35 million on Luka Modrić, borrowed Michael Essien and sold:
Esteban Granero to QPR: €8.0 million (+ €4 mill)
Fernando Gago to Valencia: €5.0 million (- €5 mill)
Sergio Canales to Valencia: €5.0 million (+ €0.5 mill)
Hamit Altintop to Galatsaray: €3.5 million (0)
Daniel Carvajal to Leverkusen: €5.0 million
Joselu to Hoffenheim: €6.0 million
Now, one may rightly argue that the Madrid sales of their First Team members ran out at a loss overall, in comparison to what was spent when purchasing these players, but it was only €0.5 million, and now these players are off their books. Granero and Canales were both sold for profit, Altintop broke even and Gago (who had come to RM in a double player purchase with Higuain) lost the club €5 million off his buying price, if you evenly split the €20 million that RM paid for both players. (All figures quoted are taken from the best online sources that I could find for this information. If anyone – Bassam? Ramzi? – has more solid info on the figures, please share it.)
The biggest point in the above RM transactions is that Madrid made good money on the sales of their 2 B team players – Carvajal and Joselu – both of whom are very good players. The latter wanted to return to his birth country, so was sold to Hoffenheim. Carvajal was courted by Leverkusen, and was allowed to leave for a healthy sum, with RM executing a scaled buy-back option which is not stupidly over-inflated.
Bottom-line: FC Barcelona’s buying and selling negotiations are not ideal – especially for a club of its stature. Alba and Song may turn out to be great buys, but when it comes to letting players leave, the track record is not good.
Not only does the club lose money on the departures of top players, but they also lose out on selling players who come through La Masia. Not only do they lose out on selling La Masia players, but they have also become hamstrung (no more hamstrings, please!) by internally promoting players who then refuse to leave.
Case in point: Jonathan Dos Santos.
You can’t blame the guy – he’s seen what’s happened to other Barça players who have left the club. Most don’t come back – his brother included, at the time of writing. The few who do return (Piqué, Cesc and Alba out of the current team), have become world-class in their own right and have elsewhere proven themselves in top flight teams and, of those 3, only Alba was told that he was not wanted by the club.
To his credit, JDS eschewed the opportunity to play for Mexico in the Olympics (missing out on a Gold medal), to take part in the Barça pre-season games. At the time, I thought that this was a good move on his behalf – it showed maturity and a willingness by the player to work for his future. However, it didn’t go to plan: JDS didn’t impress, and the club indicated that it would like him to gain experience elsewhere. He, as is his right, refused. Despite anyone’s viewpoint on Dos Santos’ stance, it is his right, because that’s how his contract was drawn up in the first place.
So – here he is – stuck in the football version of a no man’s land. Wanting to stay, yet not wanted right now. Holding onto the hope that he’ll be selected ahead of Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Song and Thiago. Perhaps he’ll be sitting in the stands as he watches Sergi Roberto and Rafinha also get First team playing time over him. That’s got to be hard to swallow after 10 years at the club.
It’s not entirely his fault. The club has to accept some responsibility for his situation. They promoted him to the First Team in a situation that, I believe, is asynchronous between the player and the club. Dos Santos has huge dreams of playing for Barça while the club wants a sale, or at least a loan deal for him.
Here’s what I believe is happening to place the players and the club into these situations.
The more talented younger players are attracting the services of agents. Often it’s a family member, like the father. At other times it’s an independent bottom-dwelling slug who sees huge benefits in living off the proceeds of other people’s talents. Sometimes these 2 scenarios will collide and become the same person – a slug relative. This third variety of agent is often the worst to deal with – they have € signs in their eyes and a parent’s over-inflated perception of how well their offspring actually plays while often still unproven in top leagues.
The agents’ purpose is to sell their clients. They do this by promoting their players to as many clubs as they can. They allege that they have received offers from “several clubs” for the services of their clients and they use
reputable media outlets such as goaldotcom to help spread these rumours. They then use this information during their negotiation processes with Barça. It goes something like this: “if you don’t promote my client, he will go to Arsenal/Man U/Insert-any-other-big-club’s-name-here.”
When this happens with an exceptionally talented La Masia player (i.e. one who plays better than the others in his age group), it’s usually when the player is about 16 years old. Under Spanish law, he’s too young to sign a professional contract, however he’s ripe for the picking for EPL clubs who can sign players of that age. The lure of making some seriously good money (at 16 years old) is enough for some of these kids to leave, especially if they are “encouraged” by their parent agents who can finally see some financial reward for all those years that they’ve spent driving to games and practices, and standing on the sidelines of some cold, blustery field in the middle of nowhere to cheer on their budding superstar offspring.
The club is proverbially between a rock and a hard place. After all the effort, money and time invested into the player, they don’t want him to leave because he could potentially be the next Xavi/Iniesta/Puyol. However, although the player may show exceptional talent, he’s yet to be proven in a first league where consistency, mentality, skills and continuity all play a huge part in making good players into great ones. It’s a gamble, either way.
So, how does a Spanish club retain its younger talent, if there is the threat that they can leave for professional contracts before they can sign them? They either offer them incentives to stay (promotion to First Team promises etc) or they play hardball.
Playing hardball means that the club backs itself and says, “That’s fine, Mr Agent. We would love your player to stay, as we believe that one day he’ll be a top player, but we cannot offer your client any promises. If he stays and continues to improve, the least that we can offer will be a higher value on your player when it comes to being purchased by another club. Your client has to decide whether his heart is at Barça, and whether he wants to remain and possibly be selected to play in one of the world’s best teams. If not, then he has to choose to leave.”
Incentives mean that the club offers the player some future dividends. Train hard; keep up the standard and we’ll promote you into the First Team after you’ve done your stint with the B team. If a player has shown unbelievable skills, such as Messi, he’ll come into the First Team before he’s out of his teens and he’ll have the management wanting to renew his contract so that he retires at the club.
For most of the others who have talent, have shone in the lower ranks and show some promise, they’re kept in the B Team until they’re about 20/21 years old. Take a look at the First Team’s La Masia-trained players’ ages when they were promoted and you will see that the majority of them fall into this age group. Up until then, they’ve only played some cameo performances in the First Team when, naturally, they do all that they can to shine like little diamonds so that they can be promoted.
Those who are not promoted either choose to stay in the B team or leave to go elsewhere – more often for free, rather than be sold.
It’s nice that the club can allow so many players to leave for free, but to me it also indicates that they haven’t really got a proper plan in place for handling all the players coming through La Masia. Not all of them can be promoted, and not all of them will be players of the quality required for the First Team, nor for the B Team.
However, surely they have some value as players for other clubs? This is, after all, La Masia – the holy grail of football schools. Talent scouts should be lining up at the front door to recruit players for their clubs.
I realise that it’s a fine line between handling the players as humans, or treating them as thoroughbred racehorses to be bought, sold or loaned out at whim but, let’s face it, the reality is that most players are shuffled from club to club like household chattels. It’s only the crème de la crème who have absolute say in where they will go and for which club they will play – and that’s only if their favoured clubs are actually interested in these players to begin with, can afford to buy them and have a playing strategy which will help the player to succeed, as well as keep the club in winning form or improve their results.
At the age of 21, Dos Santos was of the age when most players from La Masia are promoted into the First Team. If there is some sort of agreement between the club and these players that they will be promoted when they reach this age, then I believe that the transitioning of the La Masia players between the ages of 16-21 is not being properly in the best way. Promising players should not be guaranteed First Team promotion as a given right when they reach around 20 years of age.
If the club persists with their La Masia philosophy and wanting to promote home-grown players, the club (and its fans) must expect that there will be years in which success cannot be measured by the amount of silverware, but by the speed at which the newly promoted La Masia First Teamers adapt and play at the top level.
The best ones will stay for a few seasons. The excellent ones will make their homes at Camp Nou – à la Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol. The players who fail to adapt will be sold outright or loaned out (although hopefully not all in ridiculous deals like Bojan’s), or most probably allowed to leave for free given the club’s track record.
I can see this situation as possibly presenting a conundrum over the next few seasons. We have to realise that the environment has changed in top level football. More than ever before, it is now all about the money and profits. Having a team that either wins or is full of star players (preferably both) pretty much guarantees that there will be a huge amount of merchandising sold, as well as attracting some big-money sponsors and healthy ticket sales. If Barça fails to perform (and that means that they have to win in the sponsors’ eyes, and this also applies to a lot of the club’s “fans”), the club’s income and marketability status is threatened.
For President Rosell to achieve his proclaimed financial recovery (and to also abide by whatever fiscal requirements may be placed on clubs by UEFA), the club has to make money and show profit. For the club to make money, it has to win silverware, fill the stadium by selling tickets and merchandise, plus attract top level companies as marketing and advertising partners.
For the Manager of Barça it will, at times, be frustrating to have 4-5 places taken up by newly promoted B-teamers who are relatively inexperienced at the top pro level, and not counted among the first-pick players to play in must-win Primera, Champions League and Copa del Rey matches. It means that, with a full complement of 25 players, 20 will have the onus of carrying the team through all the major games and, of those 20, the top 11 fittest, best players will pretty much be chosen (if uninjured) for every critical game, because there are no substitutes of comparative quality to step into all the required positions.
Pep Guardiola said that he preferred a smaller squad. Whether he actually meant it, or whether he was forced to maintain a smaller team because of budget restraints, we’ll probably never know – unless he writes a tell-all book which is highly unlikely, unless he has enough dirt to usurp the current board in the next election. Especially over the past season, I believe that we saw the fallout of having a small squad, where there were too few top-level players and there wasn’t the high quality back-up for a lot of the positions, especially when there were so many injuries and the key players didn’t get to rest as much as they should have done.***
This places added stresses on key players in the team who will sometimes play 3 games per week when all of the games are must-win scenarios. Look at how often we get nervous or are surprised when the fielded team does not contain our fittest first 11. Madrid has at least 3 different combinations of effective attacking fields and at least 2 variations of defensive back-lines – all of which are very strong. Over a long and tough competitive season where upwards of 70 games can be played, this depth in a squad has huge significance.
My question to you is this: in today’s environment where every game is virtually a must-win, does the Barça Primer Equip have the liberty to have up to 5 players in its squad that aren’t yet ready for top league play?
My answer to that would be no. I wholly support the La Masia concept and believe in the homegrown philosophy, but I also believe that it shouldn’t allow the First Team to become diluted. At most, we should have 2 to 3 of the best talented staying at the club, in positions where their skillsets are needed.
If FCB has to make promises to retain players, then it should be with the contractual clause to say that the players have no guaranteed place in the First Team unless there is an absolute fit for their talents within the squad – otherwise it will be expected that they will be sent out on loan to gain further experience, or sold if they are surplus to requirements.
What say you?
** I don’t like to compare Barça with other clubs as I prefer to judge our club based on its stand-alone merits. However, when it comes to player negotiations, Barça could do well to go back to school and do some learning.
***All that aside, though, I think that it’s incredible that the team managed to achieve what they did. The week of 2 games vs. Chelsea and 1 game vs. Real Madrid was a hurdle too big jump over at that time of the season – exhaustion has set into the players who were still fit to play and, mentally, the players just weren’t there.