To start, there’s this:
I don’t care about the transfer ban.
Sorry, but I don’t. I can’t get mad about it, I won’t stomp my feet and talk about how heads must roll, junta dimissio etc, etc, ad infinitum. It’s because this board has been on bad paper with me since it took office and has only gone downhill from there. After someone kicks you in the gut, it’s pretty hard to decide that stepping on your toe is the intolerable act. So let’s deal with the transfer ban reality:
The club earned it by not having its business in order. It doesn’t matter that other clubs do it, it doesn’t matter all the good that La Masia does in shaping young talents to be rounded human beings, it doesn’t matter that it’s a silly rule. The fact of the matter is as with any other sanction, from that speeding ticket you got when “I was just staying with traffic,” to an offense on a larger scale, guilt is without question. Does the punishment fit the crime? Debatable, but it is what it is.
It doesn’t matter how the club came to the attention of the authorities because if you’re going to grab a coveted talent then say “Neener, neener,” the residual rancor makes it triply essential that your ducks are in a row. They weren’t, and Barça got popped.
The larger question is what happens next, which interests me more than carping about history. Because if you’re just getting mad at this board over the transfer ban, you haven’t been paying attention.
The club has 90 days to “normalise” their situation. I’m no lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that it means expulsion, unless the kids want to continue to not play for Barça until such time as they are old enough to play for Barça. The gem of the crown, Seung-Woo Lee, will not be able to play for Barça until January 2016 (oddly enough when the club’s transfer ban also ends), when he turns 18 and is no longer a FIFA-protected minor.
What is disturbing about this is that you have youth players who haven’t been able to play for the club, and now will potentially be expelled from La Masia, and their families uprooted in the cases of the parents who have taken jobs in Catalunya to be near their kiddies. So after cooling their heels for a couple of seasons, now they are potentially out. Where to? Good question. Another club with a youth system, for sure. Meanwhile, the one thing that none of us can get back, time, is lost.
Prima facie, a rule designed to protect those players ends up damaging them, and you know what? That isn’t FIFA’s fault. It’s Barça’s fault. Let’s not forget that at the time the youth players were signed, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to simply comply with the FIFA guidelines for registration. The club didn’t. Now the futures of the affected players are at stake, and that isn’t right in any way, shape or form.
Is there a guy in a boardroom somewhere saying, “Thank the stars we tied our gem down to a long-term contract?” Even as I raise the possibility, I would love to never, ever be cynical enough to think that such a thing is going on. Young lives are about to be messed up, which is wrong.
Sure, kids transfer from school to school all the time. Why would moving from say, La Masia to Manchester City’s youth facility be any different? It wouldn’t be, really. So quite possibly, that is what will happen this time. If the youth players are that talented, they won’t have any trouble landing somewhere else. But the wasted time is a shame, as well as possibly forcing the club to jettison those players.
There was a rumor floating about that if the CAS ban was upheld, Andoni Zubizarreta would be fired as a consequence, a rumor that I hope doesn’t have legs. Throwing a sacrifice to the baying hounds would certainly quiet them for a while, but sacrifices are usually problematic.
Obviously, the legions who believe that ZubiZa is incompetent, stupid, blinkered and all the other words tossed about to describe him, would be happy as clams. But that sacrifice won’t fix the root cause of the complexity. Scapegoating someone is a short-term fix. In this case, assuming any veracity to the rumor, the board would have intelligently decided that kicking someone who is roundly disliked to the curb wouldn’t be all that bad a thing. Hell, he doesn’t have a job, anyhow, for what does a sporting director do for a club that can’t do transfers?
But shame on them if that path is taken.
Don’t kid yourselves if you think that the club won’t be doing any transfer business. All Barça has to do is make the deal under the table, and postpone the actual transfer until winter 2016. Done. It won’t stop Sport and MD from blathering about transfer rumors, nor will it stop culers bleating about this player or that player that needs to be transferred RIGHT NOW or the club won’t have a chance in hell of any trophy, evah. EVAH, I tell you!
The up side
The talented young’uns in the Barça system must have clapped their hands with glee when hearing about that decision. The rumor was floating about that Samper and Adama might be loaned for next season. No way in hell that happens now. The “sink or swim” notions of that potential can safely be played down, however, as none of them really have to be jammed into a side. But potentially, Denis Suarez, Adama Traore, Alen Halilovic, Sergi Samper and Gerard Deulofeu could all find themselves part of the first team next summer. The only player unlikely to stick is Halilovic, who is a colossal talent but not quite fully cooked.
Let’s deal with them all in this context:
Suarez: He’s ready. In his year at Sevilla he has been a consistent first-team presence, running that midfield and raising hell. He’s an important part of the Unai Emery system, and has the versatility to play midfield or an Iniestaesque left wing role. If you don’t watch Sevilla, you should make a point to keep an eye on this rising star and crazy bargain.
Samper: He’s almost ready. His deficiencies can be fixed with time and regular (and a whole lotta regular) playing time. He will learn to read play better to minimize the difficulties that his lack of pace causes, as did Sergio Busquets. He should be able to organize the Barça midfield like an OCD closet specialist.
Traore: Complex. He’s in a situation that, on that right wing, includes Pedro and probably Deulofeu. Working to his strengths are his incendiary pace, strength and ability on and off the ball. He also tracks back like an actual defender and his decision making on the ball is improving. His golazo against Huesca brought him to the attention of many, but that didn’t surprise me, as it’s what he should be able to do against lesser opposition. The question will be what he does against bigger, stronger, more talented Liga defenders. Not sure he will fully stick, but if he can make that right winger role that Enrique envisioned for Cuadrado his, you’ll need a tow truck to get him out of the first team.
Deulofeu: I don’t see him sticking at Barça. You’d say the transfer ban might save him but if Traore sticks and Pedro stays, it’s hard to see Deulofeu accepting being third man on the totem pole. He still doesn’t track back like he needs to, and isn’t a fixture for Emery in that Sevilla XI, as his talent would dictate he should have been by now.
Halilovic: All of that “next Messi” stuff is overblown, as it always is. And lest we forget, the previous “next Messi” for Barça was Gai Assulin. Halilovic is an attacking mid, which Barça needs. He is capable of the defense-splitting pass or making a run at goal and scoring himself. He’s fast with and without the ball, thinks on his feet and is a giant talent. But he’s still a year at least away from sticking with the first team, given the talent that it already has. Loan is a very likely possibility.
Sandro: Gobs of talent. You wonder about the potential for him to be the next Jonathan Soriano, a player with lots of talent who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Time will tell. He’s a different player from Munir, even as a lot of people put them in the same pot. Sandro is more of a predator.
Munir: No chance of promotion next season. Whether he gets a full-time, starring role on the B team or goes on loan somewhere is up in the air. B would be preferable, as he can shuttle back and forth and Enrique can keep a close eye on him.
So the bottom line is for those who are fully committed to maximizing the talent that the club has, this transfer ban is a boon.
The first team
This is odd to say, but the first team doesn’t really need much in the way of transfers. A top-quality RB would be useful, but there aren’t any sure things out there. As for the rest of the positions, any transfer would need a season of assimilation at any rate, so might as well give that time to a Masia candidate. Assuming no transfers out — though the two most likely ones are at the same position that Barça needs help at, RB, in Alves and Montoya — the team is strong. But Alves wants to stay, and the club could probably renew him for a season with a deal that lets him leave on a free to the club where he wants to finish his career. The club is said to be sticking to its 20m valuation of Montoya, which probably means that interested parties should bid more. Can’t see the club wanting to keep a want-away player.
Keepers: Bravo, Ter Stegen, Masip
CBs: Pique, Bartra, Mathieu, Vermaelen, Mascherano
FBs: Alves, Adriano, Montoya, Douglas, Alba
DMs: Busquets, Mascherano
MFs: Samper, Iniesta, Xavi, Rakitic, D. Suarez, Rafinha
FWs: Messi, L. Suarez, Neymar, Pedro, Traore, Deulofeu
Anybody who wants to tell me that team doesn’t have a chance at silver next season is loopy. Enrique’s system will be in place, Suarez will have his full fitness back, Neymar will be even more himself and the team will be much more of a unit. It should be even better than this year, and this year’s team isn’t bad at all.
So. No worries? There are always worries, from sunspots to injuries to how recovering players will perform returning from injuries, etc. But the state of Barça’s first team is the last thing on my worry list.
That said, this transfer ban sucks because the club screwed up, which is the one thing that a football club shouldn’t do administratively. A football also shouldn’t have egg on its face due to its own errors. Also at stake is lost time and upheaval for youth players, as well as reputation and an opportunity to continue a rebuilding project under a new coach. But all things considered, if there was ever a time for the club to be able to capably deal with a two-window ban, that time is now.