A Thousand Anguished, Gleeful Screams: A Summer Transfer Conversation with Myself

The summer is over, really, no matter how hot it actually is in Western Europe. Most of the transfers have been done and it’s time to assess what’s going on. Has misery replaced all other feelings thanks to countless missed opportunities? For every signing, there are a dozen questions about why so-and-so wasn’t given the necessary opportunities to flourish or why we aren’t buying someone no one has heard of for pennies and turning him into a superstar overnight?

We bought Yaya Toure for €9 million! Why are paying €30 million for players now?

Besides Denis Suarez arriving for €3.25 million, of course.

Of course.

Yeah, ignoring the up-and-comer we bought back for less than we paid for Douglas, sure, Barça is paying a higher premium than most clubs for new signings in an attempt to reinforce our squad with quality young players that can uphold the team’s trajectory for a few more seasons. Wait, why are we crying again?

Samper.

And maybe still Grimaldo?

Yeah, still him too. My Benfica #3 shirt has tear stains on it.

And your Bayern #6 shirt?

Why do you hurt me so?

The thing about Samper and Munir—

I forgot about Munir!

Yes, of course you did. We all forget about Munir until we need some goals off the bench. Sometimes even Lucho appears to forget about him. The thing about Samper and Munir is that they’re up-and-coming in a way that Umtiti, Gomes, and Digne are not: they’re slightly younger and less well-rounded. There’s not necessarily a one-to-one replacement already signed to replace Samper, but the squad already has an undisputed starter in Busquets, a solid backup in Mascherano, and at least a decent third string in Sergi Roberto (who may very well be the backup at this point, though more on that in a bit). Munir’s situation is murkier from where I’m sitting—

Which is an ivory tower.

Which is shut up. If we’re to compare Munir with the player mooted as his replacement at the moment—Paco Alcacer—there’s a decent argument that Barça is paying a premium for a minor upgrade. There’s also a decent enough argument that it’s not even an upgrade, though Alcacer has a proven track record in the Spanish top flight and Munir is still relatively in his peach fuzz days. He made just 15 league appearances last year, chalking up only 3 goals. His 5 goals in the Copa del Rey came against Villanovense (2), Espanyol (2), and Athletic Bilbao. His contributions were, obviously, good and helped to propel the team to a domestic double, but they were neither indispensable (he scored goals 4 and 6 against Villanovense) nor useless (he opened the scoring against Athletic at San Mames). Paco Alcacer is 2 years older, but already has 100 more top flight appearances and scores at almost double Munir’s rate in La Liga. Both are dynamic forwards and Munir has been putting in solid-to-really-good performances to start off this year. It’s hard to argue a club going with one or the other—it’s a nice dilemma to have, after all and most fans would kill to have it.

The problem is, of course, that minutes dry up fairly quickly, especially with Turan likely making inroads on the LW position whenever Neymar is unavailable—

Wait, holy crap, we still have Neymar, don’t we?

Yeah! How insane is it that Barça looks like the team to beat and they’re missing one of the best players in the world? It’s precisely that reality that causes a team to even consider an outlay of €30 million plus for a marginally better player than the one already on the books. The baseball analytics crew would probably refer to it as Wins Above Replacement Player while there’s probably some xG stat out there somewhere that shows the difference between the two better than I can describe it with simple goals-to-games ratios. Regardless, we’re talking about a slightly better player on a team that is made up of global superstars whose on-field contributions are measured in orgasmic squeals rather than simple numbers. Improving that team is always going to be a costly affair without a youth academy that’s pumping out fully formed world class players multiple times a year.

Hey, we totally have that!

We don’t. La Masia is a brilliant institution whose players are getting regular playing time all over Europe’s biggest leagues, but the core of Barça’s team is a once-in-a-generation golden crop that fit perfectly with the new vision of football that Pep Guardiola pushed on the world starting in 2008 with that most impressive of Tripletes. That was 8 years ago and a variety of wrinkles have been introduced since then, with a slightly different type of player being required to maintain the team’s status than the blueprint La Masia has been working with, especially given the particular tactical changes Luis Enrique wants to instill. It can be easy to argue that homegrown kids should be playing 100% of the games at this point given Barça’s investment in its youth development programs, but look no further than the gnashing of teeth any time the team flirts with a draw to understand why heavy investment to maintain the highest levels of play takes place. It is always better to take the homegrown kid over the transfer if the two are equal in quality, but what if they’re not? What if the transfer is actually better?

But I love our kids. They should always take priority.

To put it perspective: do you think we should have purchased Luis Suarez or stuck with Cuenca, Tello, and Pedro? There’s almost no one out there who would currently argue that Pedro is better than Luis Suarez or that Pedro would have had the same levels of production had he not been replaced.

That’s not a fair comparison. Suarez is a true 9 and Pedro was always a hybrid winger/forward/dental patient. They even played together for a while!

Okay, fine. Let’s act like you’re right for a minute and look elsewhere. Remember Víctor Valdés?

Obviously.

The same year that Luis Suarez arrived, Víctor Valdés was released alongside José Manuel Pinto and Claudio Bravo and Marc Andre Ter Stegen took their places. In order to stick with homegrown, those last 2 names would have been Oier Olazabal and Jordi Masip. Instead, upgrades were required to maintain the team’s trajectory. This is a no-brainer to most people, but lesser differences in players are still differences.

Still, all of these transfers make us the new galacticos, don’t they? We’re spending outrageous amounts of money on players in order to win trophies. We’re better than that! We should be able to attract top talent and not pay anywhere near market value simply based on our name and recent history.

You know Douglas cost €4 million, right?

Douglas!

Yeah. And he cost so little that everyone laughed at his inclusion in the squad, demanded his ousting, and categorically rejected even the possibility that he was good enough for Barça despite never having seen him play. While it quickly became obvious that he wasn’t good enough, there were other, far more expensive players whose contributions were equally bad. Thomas Vermaelen played in just 1 match his first year and cost nearly 5 times as much; overall, Vermaelen has played just 21 times for the club before leaving for Roma on loan (Douglas, of course, played 5 times his first year and just 3 times the second). The point is not to vilify either of these players—Vermaelen has gone through terrible injury woes, after all, and Douglas is pilloried for taking the leap to a team literally everyone reading this would sign up with if given half a chance, regardless of the contractual details—but rather to point out the hypocrisy inherent in demanding low cost transfers and consistent results. Just ask Arsenal how Yaya Sanogo is working out (and he was free!).

As for the galacticos dig, the answer is maybe, I guess, but not really? Suarez and Neymar are certainly contenders for such a title, but they’re the only 2 that fit the bill currently in the team and only Zlatan is up there with them if you do the fuzzy maths that consider Eto’o’s value to be cash-on-hand. Regardless of how you view the team, there are still plenty of homegrown players floating about (though it can depend a bit on whether you view Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, and Denis Suarez as homegrown—Aleix Vidal simply doesn’t fit even an incredibly expansive definition of homegrown). The spine of the team is Messi, Iniesta, Busquets, and Pique, who are all either obviously in-house talent or, in Pique’s case, a repatriated native son. And the only reason they continue to play for Barça is that they are able to receive salaries commensurate with their value on the open market—if Messi had been “raised” at, say, Real Oviedo, he would not still be plying his trade there. The same can be said for other players who sign on to the project. Not only do they get to win major trophies, they get paid. And that’s great for the players and for a certain subsection of the fans who get to go along for the ride with them.

Like…us? Are you referring to us?

Yes, I’m referring to us.

Hooray! Trophies!

Exactly. And that is precisely why a player as good as Munir may get replaced by a player like Paco Alcacer: because you like winning trophies more than you like watching homegrown players Oleguering their way around a pitch.

But I loved Oleguer!

We all loved Oleguer. But that didn’t make him run any faster. And it doesn’t make his total trophy count with Barça any higher: 3 (plus 2 Supercopas). Even Douglas giggles at that one season haul that took him 6 seasons to accumulate. And it is also worth noting that, barring massive changes to the ways in which we consume and administer football, money is going to continue to rule the roost. La Liga is unfair not simply because Barcelona and Real Madrid are better run that other clubs (they certainly are that, but they have massive latitude in their performances because they can paper over faults with bails of money), but because they have the financial clout to raid even a decently large team like Valencia on a regular basis.

The question isn’t whether or not you loved Oleguer, but whether you want 3 trophies in 6 years or if you want 6 trophies in 3 years and ammunition for some opponents to call you the New Galactic Empire. After all, this is a team that offloaded one goalkeeper and immediately replaced him with another, nearly as expensive one and passed over Jordi Masip yet again.

So what you’re saying is…

We as fans have a choice. We can choose the team we wish to follow and we can choose the ways in which we interact with that club. We can choose to follow Barça while demanding homegrown talent at the expense of imported talent, but we cannot then turn around and be rage-a-holic crazy people whenever the competitions end ingloriously.

Wait why not?

I mean, you can.

Yeah, it’s called Twitter.

Right. My work here is done.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.

4 Comments

  1. PrinceYuvi
    August 26, 2016

    Lol. This is awesome.

  2. ooga aga
    August 26, 2016

    Great stuff, I-man and Kxevin. You gotta spread this goodness out. Folks, after enjoying Isaiahs piece, see also kxevins fromearlier today

  3. Problem
    August 26, 2016

    Haha, I can see my twitter account in the header.

  4. Jason
    August 27, 2016

    Dope piece, Isaiah!

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