Players come, players go and the answer is little more than a pen stroke away. But there are a number of things to consider in this fantasy land, all mitigating against unicorns and bunnies and stuff.
Barça has the highest wage bill in world football according to a just-published study from Sporting Intelligence, at something around 280m per. It is three times that of Atleti’s, 30m higher than Real Madrid’s and almost 100m higher than Juventus, the two teams battling in the Champions League final on Saturday.
Any transfer notions have to take wages into account, particularly as Messi is due for a new contract in the coming months, along with a stadium project still to be undertaken. Any new transfer will, in this world where the petroclubs are wielding their might, along with a cash-rich Premiership where the last-placed team earned more money than the Bundesliga winner, have to be compensated for his migration. Trophies aren’t enough. In a day and age where money makes football go ’round, wages guarantee loyalty. Instead of kissing badges, players should be kissing their AMEX Centurion cards.
What are the sources for potential new revenue for the club, in a league that will always be handicapped by language and global reach, two of the things that define a possible TV contract. The Premiership is, in the United States, on NBC. On the final day of the season, that network put, through its various cable outlets, eight matches on at the same time, including the one on the main network.
Meanwhile, on the last day of the season, in the U.S. market BeIN had to choose which match to show live, splitting the screen at key moments, and showing the other match on delay. Hell, if Catalunya does achieve independence and Bara gets kicked out of La Liga, it would be a boon. Just apply to join the Premiership. Acceptance would be a snap, given that on any given weekend, probably a quarter of the population in Barcelona is English. Short of a license to print money, Barça is going to hava a difficult time continuing to play that game of big-money transfers.
This all makes it difficult to see the team splashing for the massive prospects some people are throwing around. In the not-too-distant future, especially when the stadium project begins, the club is going to have to emphasize promotions and getting quality from within the overall structure. A low-cost, homegrown XI is about as unrealistic as people calling for a slew of big-money transfers. But squad positions heretofore being filled by transfers such as Gomes, Digne, Alcacer and the like will need to be filled by promotions. Given the state of the B team right now, you can only wonder if Valverde and his abilities at identifying, promoting and getting the best from youth players was part of the reason behind his selection.
Another, even more compelling issue is that the club wasn’t that far away from being in for another three-trophy season. Even as culers hold up Real Madrid as the avatar of roster depth, bench depty and general magnificence, Barça finished 3 points off that team. Many supporters act as though Barça was thisclose to relegation. The Liga season came down to a single match on any one of three occasions. Show up against Alaves, Depor or Malaga and they win the league. Nick an away goal or two (lord knows opportunities were there) against Juventus and that tie probably ends differently.
Injuries to key players at key times were crucial this season. Rafinha, as that shuttle between lines in the Luis Enrique system, was invaluable. He couldn’t stay fit, and the other player who would have been as useful in that role, Sergi Roberto, had to play RB. Iniesta, the brilliant glue that could be counted upon to sparkle and hold the midfield down during key matches, could barely get a long enough injury-free run to be able to hold the form that he showed off on precious few occasions this season. Just when a solution for the right-sided attack was found in Aleix Vidal (5 assists in 7 appearances), he was scythed down and lost for the season. Messi was knocked, Busquets was knocked. The wonder was, given the abuse he routinely takes, that Neymar didn’t miss any significant time.
Yes, the team should have had replacements for those injured players, but come on — who replaces Iniesta or Messi? And Rafinha’s skill set is more rare and valuable than many culers are willing to admit.
“Messi had a fantastic season and carried the team.” So what. Should we dismiss Barça because it has the best player in the game, or thank our stars for such a reality? Barça is close. Very close. So close that a proper RB might have made enough of a difference to change the season. Or Suarez not going missing in April. The margins were that fine.
For all of those reasons, not to mention that transfers bedding in led to a lot of difficulties this season, it’s hard to argue for a significant overhaul of the club. The right side will get some attention, if we can trust the words of new coach Ernesto Valverde, who believes that Messi shouldn’t be playing right wing so much. Midfield Messi? Maybe. The possibilities are interesting.
If we assume that Alcacer and Gomes will be given the time they deserve, particularly as regards the way both came on late in the season, that is two questions answered. Vidal is going to stay, having been assured by the club. Should Rafinha stay? Valid question, given that the attention paid to the right side will almost certainly include an RB. It might be worth keeping Alena and Sergi Roberto for midfield along with Gomes, Rakitic and Iniesta, even as names such as Jean Seri are being bandied about.
An argument can be made for Real Madrid being as strong as they are simply because they didn’t mess with the team, as the big two have changed roles. It used to be Barça that was the stable colossus, while RM chased answers, summer after summer in the transfer market, leading to a perpetually unstable team.
What would I do as king of the forest? Add a midfielder, an RB and a CB and call it a day. The larger question, however, is who’s out? First, this would be my ideal XI for next season:
Pique CB to be named later Umtiti
Vidal Messi Iniesta
Alcacer Suarez Neymar
Looking for new homes from my view would be Mathieu, Arda Turan, Denis Suarez and Rafinha, for reasons of (respectively) old age, surplus to requirements and made redundant by circumstance.
Who would I add? Jean Seri, Nelson Semedo and either Lemos, or keep Marlon. So the roster looks like this:
GKs: Ter Stegen, Cillessen
CBs: Pique, Umtiti, Marlon (Lemos?), Mascherano
FBs: Alba, Digne, Semedo, Vidal, Nili/Palencia
MFs: Busquets, Gomes, Seri, Sergi Roberto, Alena, Iniesta, Rakitic
FWDs: Alcacer, Messi, Suarez, Neymar
That’s a 22-player roster with depth at every position, whose principal formation would be a 3-4-3, changeable to a 4-3-3 dependent upon need. If Neymar is out, the back line picks up Alba or Digne. Rakitic gets more rest which makes him a lot better. Busquets can be spelled by both Sergi Roberto and Andre Gomes. The team also gets younger, and is set up for — assuming reports are true — the arrival of Yerry Mina the season after this one, when Mascherano will be ready to move on.
It’s also inexpensive with, potentially, the Turan transfer financing one of the two transfers (either Seri or Semedo), forcing the club to dip not all that deeply into the coffers.
The biggest transfer for this season will, hopefully, be a coach willing to rest key players so that they are prepared for the stretch run by remaining fit and sharp. Balance and rotation will be crucial, two things that will be Valverde’s biggest challenges.