Marco Verratti isn’t happening. Period. That said, it’s hard to argue against a rumored/possible/maybe/hopeful transfer such as his. He’s an exceptionally talented midfielder who, at present, plays for Paris. St. Germain. The situation is a mess, even if it’s probably not anything like real life.
It all began when a “report” came out that Verratti told PSG that he wanted to leave the club, even though he only recently signed a renewal that puts him at the Paris giants until 2021. From there, suddenly Verratti, as do all transfers of that magnitude, became The Answer.
But what is the question?
Everything is headed toward a craving for Barça to get back to the past, back to a way of playing, the vaunted juego de posicion that some call “tika taka.” It swept all before it, gobbled up piles of trophies and reinvented football. Verratti is seen as the last link in that puzzle, “the next Xavi” some are calling him.
To begin at the beginning, results were already beginning to taper off for JDP even when Guardiola was at Barça and still had his coterie of magic men. The game was beginning to adapt to the demands presented by that system, and the last season ended with “just” a Copa del Rey victory. Some suggest that it was because Guardiola had to wrestle with inferior personnel such as Cuenca and Tello, which argues with the notion of the pure supremacy of JDP.
Put another way, if you still need the horses, could another system that relied upon the XI of Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Eto’o, Henry, Messi have played a different way and still swept all before it?
Also, if Barça was to perform the impossible and actually sign Verratti, and he comes, and the team makes the same mental errors and has the same lackluster play at key times, does anyone think that results would differ?
And what of the “use La Masia” crowd, many of the same people so blithely suggesting that Rafinha’s value should be maximized to build the Verratti kitty? What, also, of Carles Alena, who will be watching matches from the bench, or on perpetual loan at another team — Verratti would be part of Barça for at least six to seven years. What of the other creative mids coming up through La Masia? Also, what of non-Masia talented types such as Denis Suarez? Players aren’t as patient now. Look at Jordi Mboula, whose head is turned by the prospect of first-team football at Monaco, rather than continuing to wait for his shot at Barça. And his position isn’t even as logjammed as midfield. Players are less patient these days.
“Sell Gomes, sell Turan.” Okay. But that still doesn’t answer the fundamental nature of the difficulty. Talented, etched-in-stone incumbents cost clubs quality players. Even though people lay the blame for the Thiago migration at the feet of Cesc Fabregas, would Thiago have stayed had Xaviniesta been less indomitable? Valid ask. Messi blossomed into the most influential player in world football by sliding back on the pitch, a move that also acknowledges that he isn’t the goalscoring dynamo that he was four years ago, even if his numbers aren’t all that different. Does he return to being a full-time forward and if so, what happens to the ways that he changed the game for Barça last season?
This doesn’t even get into price. Verratti, should he decide to become a massive pain in the ass for PSG, threaten to go on strike, etc, etc, will cost at least 100m in a summer where Barça have an even more pressing need at RB. Assuming that sales such as Turan, potentially Mascherano and others happen, some 50-60m could be raised. And for what? A player widely perceived as the best controlling midfielder in the game, on a team that lost key matches by being, collectively, dogshit. Would Verratti have helped Suarez put his shots anywhere except straight at the keeper, or helped Neymar not miss key instances in front of goal? Or would the influence of Verratti have been felt in other parts of the pitch, such as when the team stood around to watch Dybala shoot, or just decided that they were so tuckered out from Paris sightseeing that they just weren’t going play against PSG in their house?
The influence of a single player on a collective, Messi notwithstanding, is overrated. Is what Verratti does in specific essential, or could those tasks be performed by another midfielder who doesn’t cost 100m, a ridiculous transfer saga and bile flying across European borders? Is that transfer as much psychological, for both team and supporters (as well as PSG) as it is tactical?
We haven’t yet touched on whether Barça even should go back to the future, and whether — unrelenting bile toward him aside — Luis Enrique and his desired approach wasn’t right for the way the game is being played in the here and now? PSG had Verratti when Barça eliminated them from Champions League. Ah, he just needed better teammates. Him feeding MSN would be just the ticket, until Suarez scuffed a chance or Neymar shot wide. A Twitter user made a video of the 50 chances created by Messi that were blown by teammates. Even if all 50 weren’t considered great chances, enough of them were — including matches against Alaves and Juventus — to make you wonder about what might have been this season. Did the team suffer because the right side was a turnstile for opponents, or because it didn’t have the exact right midfielder?
And there are still more questions, such as is Neymar playing tika taka the best use of a creative, dynamic midfielder who is at his best when fluid and unfettered. Should we ask Neymar to stop a run up the wing and slide the ball over to Busquets, to begin the on-pitch rondos? Treble-winning Barça (both of them) were different from the JDP icons, including the team that produced the most wonderful match of football ever seen in its destruction of the Manchester United side in the 2011 Champions League final. Was that the system, the personnel or both? If Tello or Pedro take that shot instead of Villa, is the result the same?
Verratti is a wonderful player. But if someone doesn’t ask whether his price and potential influence are both outsized, the debate isn’t really a complete one. Verratti isn’t the next Xavi. There is no next Xavi, a sentiment that has been uttered by Verratti himself. He isn’t the next Iniesta, either. Is he one potential part of the puzzle that Barça needs to solve? Possibly. Maybe. But there are lots of other pieces to that puzzle, so many that it’s worth wondering whether this is all worth it, long and short-term. If Verratti was in his last year, with a fee of say, 60m, it’s a no-brainer. But he has four more years on his contract to a team that doesn’t even need to sell players, with an owner who would probably burn PSG down rather that sell Verratti to Barça. What’s the real price of the player, and that war? Is the massive summ worth it, fiscally and psychologically?
To my view, no. Barça can snag a player of a profile such as Seri, along with an RB, commit to Alena and without doing much of anything else, be right back in the frame as most of the difficulties of this past season were psychological. Is that guaranteed? No. Nothing is. Verratti could come and hurt his knee in training. In many ways, spending 100m for Verratti would be like the Golden State Warriors splashing for Kevin Durant to solve their “problems” of last season, which were more psychological than anything else, even as Durant was a key addition to the roster. But the Warriors played better against Cleveland, who also underperformed. What happens if the Verratti deal happens, and the same mental mistakes are made this year? Is he still the answer?
Barça is already an amazing team that would be helped by the presence of a midfielder such as Verratti, even as it’s fair to ask whether all of the effort and anguish would be worth it. This is true even as perspective and caution are, as always, the watchwords here.