Transfers — the new hope

You sit, analyze, watch social media, follow various sporting publications and think, every silly season, that the foolishness can’t be topped. Yet every year the market and clubs find a way.

The Verratti video released on Friday will be, for this window anyhow, a nadir. It’s just about the dumbest thing a great many people have ever witnessed during a transfer season. In an official release from PSG, Verratti goes on camera to say that he’s happy at PSG, looked forward to staying there and the comments of his agent were not his words.

Ah. The agent. The cad who dared speak, in an interview, of a player who was being “held prisoner by the Emir,” and other stuff making it clear that there was some credence to the rumors about a desired move away from Paris St.-Germain for the midfielder who has been deemed The Answer by a great many Barça supporters.

Or not. Maybe it was all hogwash and vaporware. Or not.

PSG should be ashamed of itself about this video, petty, small-minded people making a player state, openly and publicly, that he’ll be a good lad and continue taking those millions and millions of Euros in exchange for playing a game — that he will honor the contract that he just signed last year, that came with a pay raise and a contract extension.

What a guy.

Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu, in yet another interview, said that well, the club found Verratti very interesting but by cracky, them curmudgeons at PSG just won’t talk about selling their best player to Barça, so he’s just going to wait for the phone to ring. PSG will be on the other end saying, “Okay, we’ll take your 110 million. You happy now?” Or maybe 120, because there aren’t release clauses in France, so it isn’t like Barça could stroll up with a number and say, “Here. Now pack him up.”

When this Verratti business started, the smart money said that it wasn’t going to happen, that the PSG president would burn down the club before selling to Barça, never mind selling his best player, a midfielder under contract until 2021, a captive in a gilded cage of his owm making.

Meanwhile, supporters of Barça, still enamored of a way that the team used to play, talk of the “next Xavi” in hushed tones, becoming convinced that Verratti was it. It was him, or the transfer season would be a waste of time and money. There is danger in making a player The Answer, and not only because even easy transfer negotiations are difficult. What if he isn’t the answer? What if, instead of next Xavi, Verratti turned out to be what he is, which is a player who straddles a space between Xavi and Mascherano. What if he isn’t the answer, and Barça doesn’t magically play like they used to seven years ago in a game that has moved on precisely because of the demands placed upon by the brilliant, dominant Barça teams of yore. What then?

What then is an idiotic video, a club president who gets to lay claim to the “Shucks, I tried” hat as he allegedly took a shot at a transfer that everybody knew was never, ever going to happen. Silly, silly, silly.

The real question is, what next? Are there people who are just as silly as that video? Are there people on the Barça technical staff who believed that there was a snowball’s chance in hell of the Verratti transfer happening? Or have they been working on real, possible transfers? At present, everything is rumor, and the only names that we hear are players whose teams have deemed them intransferable: Verartti, Bellerin. Some culers are even saying bring Thiago back, because hell, as long as you’re dreaing impossible dreams, why think small?

The fundamental difficulty with transfers, as viewed by supporters, is that they are the shiny new thing that gives hope. Your team didn’t do as well as you’d hoped? That transfer will be just the ticket to put things right again. Names come up, and those names become the answer. And the longer the team goes without signing anyone, the worse the incumbent players get, those poor slobs who desperately need an infusion of some world-class talent to keep them from sniffing at relegation.

Transfers are renewal — psychic renewal that supporters need to get excited about a coming season. If a team doesn’t make transfers, it doesn’t have ambition, doesn’t have dreams, doesn’t want to reach that next level, all because a team didn’t buy a pair of shoes that it might or might not need. Need isn’t the point. Acquisition is. Buy someone or everything is the worst, and doom beckons.

What if Barça was forced to roll out an XI of Ter Stegen, Vidal, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic, Messi, Neymar, Suarez? What if? Would that really be so awful? Is there anyone rumored on the market who would stroll into that XI?

Transfers are about planning for the future, for replacing players who are about to show, or are already showing signs of weakness. Transfers are also about shoring up positional flaws. With a club such as Barça and the players that it has, transfers are difficult. Even more difficult is tuning out the noise generated by a media and social media barrage that has elevated silly season to almost as much importance as the regular season.

No matter how much a supporter might love Barça, the days of the club crooking its finger and a player running to the Camp Nou to sign are gone. Because football is a business, and between the sugar daddy clubs and the petroteams, not to mention the Premiership riding a massive TV deal, money is everywhere. If a player can’t get to a place where he is guaranteed a championship, and no such team exists, might as well get paid.

Romelu Lukaku went for 75 million Pounds to Manchester United. Yikes. Kylian Mbappe had a fantastic season at Monaco. One. If he moves, expect a fee north of 110 million. What would Neymar cost today? Is a Messi transfer even fiscally feasible, for all of the doomsayers insistent upon the fact that he wanted to leave, or should leave, or some permutation of the two notions. Football is rapidly headed, as fees escalate, of becoming a game where only a few teams will have access to the top players in the transfer market. Whether Barça will continue to become one of those teams, particularly as the new stadium project begins, remains to be seen.

As Barça runs out of stuff to sell, being a club whose revenue comes from traditional routes of TV deals, sponsorship and matchday earnings, what then? Stomp around and snuffle at the board all you like, but there are legitimate worries at the club that have precisely feck all to do with the latest transfer bauble, picked up on an inflated market. Will top players at some point be out of the financial question for the Catalan giants?

Instead of those top players, everyone will be scrabbling to overpay mid and upper-level players because the top of the market will be the province of a few clubs. Or they will be taking chances on players who might develop into something.

Should that come to pass, summers will be long and droll indeed, because transfers and the hope that they provide to a fanbase, will take on a very different tone. And people won’t be able to spend the summer, if the team they love didn’t do as well as was hoped, being able to put all hope into a transfer, wrapping dreams around a new bauble.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

26 Comments

  1. Davour
    July 8, 2017

    As I wrote in my guest post some time back, football is indeed about dreams and fantasies, and perhaps the silly, silly season serves as a surrogate for the lack of competition – all the sillier this years since there is not even an international tournament to satisfy the urge. And we culers are junkies who have not be getting our regular fix of winning important things for an entire season (hell, many saw last season as a failure, too). Result? A desperate longing for a quick fix to level things and fill the world with rainbows yet again. A made the link to populism and this is the stuff of frustrated minds, who do not want to wait for long-term, hard-work solutions than demand patience. Messi is 30, for Christ’s sake! This how addiction works.

    For me, that 11 would be good but far from ideal (with both Alba and Vidal, Rakitic with his inability to play forward, and where should messi play?, etc. I would prefer 3313 with SR as mid and Vidal as winger, then, perhaps alternated with 3412 with Alba and Vidal patrolling the wings and Ney close to goal). Worst aspect is that Iniesta might not even be available for half the games.

    Verratti is not The Answer, though he – like Thiago – would be a fantastic addition. But you reap what you sow. For us, that looks meagre at the moment while the formerly tormented RM are racking up young’uns all good and ready to go, many a result of long term planning (even Ceballos is apparently a result of a discussion that’s been going on for some time). We have a few Bs that look promising, but bar Marlon – and perhaps Samper, god bless him – no one is (or seems) even close to ready to make a noticeable splash. But we can’t fill all the holes with “outsiders” if they are ever to be ready.

    But we still have Leo and Ney, and the primary aim must be how to use them well – redemption shall not come from the outside, and we might not need galactico targets to fix our team, but 1-3 quality players who are specialists (depending on tactics) and have a good first touch (Levon’s favourite, Naby Keita seems the ticket, for me, on paper). Rumour has it that Valverede has told Gomes he will have a more set position – which perhaps is not true, but still a good idea. Players who know what to do are always more useful, and preparation can alleviate some talent limitations. Hopefully, Valverede is a pragmatic in that sense, and one who sees all the pieces of the puzzle clearly.

    In the best of worlds, Gomes has matured to become useful enough to challenge Rakitic, Denis enough to make an impact as a sub, Alcacer enough to give Suarez a rest – and Vidal has hopefully recovered to his former pretty useful self. Mathieu is gone, and one can only hope Arda will be, too (despite what his agent says). If – IF – this would happen, things would not be so dire. One or two transfers, time for the Bs, focus on supporting La Masia, and initiate conversations with the likes of Dembele and Keita. Who knows what might happen?

  2. Ron
    July 9, 2017

    I disagree on two counts with you Kxevin:
    1) That video shoot with Verrati was not bad mistake but infact one of the most brilliant moves they could pull out. It basically trashed out all the Verrati to Barca rumors and since the blame was shifted onto the player’s agent rather than the player himself, it makes the job for the player much easier regardless of what happens from now on (Imagine what would happen if Verrati was handled like Donnarumma was in Milan) That video wasn’t a dumb idea from the PSG management but more of a swift release of a fire extinguisher onto a potential burning pile of rubbish. It’s basically a win- win situation for PSG now where Verrati would be significantly more valued than if he came out and said he wanted to leave for Barca or if he didnt say anything at all. And we can’t really blame the PSG president holding Verrati hostage in a gold adorned cage as you put it when infact it was the player that bought the cage and signed a multi million dollar contract to stay inside said cage till 2021 🙂 Both Verrati and PSG acted on their best interest to keep their valuation high and settle the player and shield him from all the silly season rumors.

    2)Would us starting with last seasons starting XI be such a bad thing? Well I doubt the starting eleven is even the issue here, although we definitely have some major weaknesses in both players for the jobs at defense and midfield, the issue is that our purchases from the last few transfer seasons for backups for these starting positions is far weaker than other clubs we are competing with., Also the players that won us games on their own last few seasons like Iniesta and Busi definitely need rest to help their aging bodies recuperate. Also the logic that since we are stacked in midfield, nobody will want to join a team with Iniesta Rakitic and Busi in the MF doesnt hold true when you look at EE’s squad where they have Kroos Modric James Isco and now they seem to be going for Ceballos too…

    While I agree that transfers are something that give’s release to their supporters its important to note that our entire club values have changed from a La Masia focussed Ballon D’or churning engine that could be blamed for our probably once in a century class of Pique Fabregas Messi Xavi Iniesta . I remember us proudly stating that we dont buy Ballon Dor winners, we make them in response to Madrid’s transfer policies which was true then, but relying on having the same transfer policy we had then is both unsustainable if we are to compete in the long run and unproductive. Even Bayern have a smart policy where they keep buying players that are 22 years or younger to supplement their own youth teams and then sell them off at a profit… Unless we update our transfer policies and go about getting strong players in the near future once this freak generation of Messi Pique Busi Iniesta gets phased out we will have a much harder time trying to keep abreast with the sugar daddies and petro teams for getting world class players.

    On a side note I hear rumors that we rejected a 40mn bid for Gomez recently if so, I’m curious to see what Valverde does with him !

  3. omoh
    July 9, 2017

    Does anyone really think Barca has a first 11 presently? We need to ask what a First 11 should be able to do to make them a first 11?

    A first eleven player should be able to do the following to be considered one.

    1. Play up to at least 10 consecutive world class games without having to think of getting injured or being injury prone.

    2. Play up to at least 10 consecutive world class games with a relatively consistent performance.

    3. Should be able to compete with any world class talent in the position he’s being played.

    With those in mind, can we safely say Iniesta, Busquet, Jordi Alba, Rakitic and S.Roberto of last season tick those 3 boxes without having to think about it? I don’t Don’t think so.

    So are we going to ignore the obvious and leave everything to chance that they improve and stay true to form throughout the season.

    Or are we going to grab the bulls by the horn and take our destiny into our own hands and go for top talents that could tick those boxes.

    Its time the board define our transfer policy. Are we going to build home grown talents or go for established young talents. presently We are not doing any of the two right.

    On thing is sure, if we fail to get it together pretty quick. We will keep loosing trophies to our rival, keep loosing great talents to them and eventually keep loosing investments due to lack of success on the pitch. Nobody wants to associate with failure.

  4. Messiah10
    July 9, 2017

    Thanks for the piece. I was one of the hopefuls that Verrati would join us. In this day & age a contract means nothing. It’s only significance is how much another team will have to pay. Players can force the move & make it happen. Something I’ve never entirely understood since it doesn’t happen often in the states. There is need for salary caps & transfer caps or as Kxevin points out, only a handful of teams will continue to buy the best players available. It’s already been that way for a while. With the birth of the “super rich” clubs. I.E. Chelsea(where it all started), Citeh, & PSG & Oil. Spanish & German clubs will always struggle to make enough to compete with those clubs bc they are privately owned. We are lucky enough to have dominated the era when television coverage ramped up. Think of our spending power had we not.

  5. Lionel Richie
    July 9, 2017

    Now that we can move on from this veratti stuff, can we please just move swiftly and get Seri and Semedo? Just get it done, pay the cash, sign the guys, and start training. I am from Perpignan and I’ve watched Seri a lot and he is a CM who is perfect for Barcelona. I don’t understand what the management is doing. They are either completely clueless or probably playing some stuff very close to their chest. But knowing this board, I can’t see them being so clever.

    • omoh
      July 9, 2017

      Clueless or playing stuff?

      I’d go for the former anyday anytime.

  6. ciaran
    July 10, 2017

    Well his club confirmed that they are not going to sell Paulinho. I support any player who is brought here but that one sure was perplexing. I just couldn’t see what he would have brought.
    I fail to understand that going into the off season our two biggest transfer targets were both unobtainable, Veratti and Bellerin. Surely groundwork could have been done over the past 5-6 months with their respective owners and they could have been ruled in or out by June. Moving from one target to another at this stage looks like poor planning.
    I also find it unusual that we haven’t found buyers for the players that should be moved on. It feels like the board want to save face rather than tell someone that they aren’t wanted. Declaring our players non transferable is one tactic for negotiation but trying to start a bidding war by saying that someone is available is probably more beneficial, Real Madrid normally get way more than market value for their cast offs and everyone knows that they are on the market.

    I still don’t think that we are a million miles away from being ultra competitive this coming season. Move the midfielders more central, getting a defensively solid right back and getting Neymar closer to goal and we are going to be around at the business end of the season.

    • Davour
      July 11, 2017

      Very good point. From the outside, the club looks lost on the transfer market, considering that some needs have been clear for some time. Might have to do with late agreement with Valverde (no excuse), but players can be bought anyway. It will be interesting to see who these 2-3 quality transfers are. that Bartomeu has mentioned.

  7. July 11, 2017

    @Davour
    If true, rejecting 45M for André Gomes is madness. A lot better midfielders can be bought with that extra money. The problem with Valverde choosing a set position for him (again, if true) is that this position should be at DM. He has neither the technique nor the quickness of feet to play further upfield for us. Truly a terrible decision if we keep him and not use him right.

    @kevin

    Transfers the New Hope? That’s how it used to be but this summer the name of the game has changed to Transfers the New Dread. First came Deulofeu and now we are waiting for Paulinho and Bellerín. God why have thou forsaken me.

    I can go along with a lot of what you wrote about Verratti, but as far as the starting lineup goes:

    “What if Barça was forced to roll out an XI of Ter Stegen, Vidal, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic, Messi, Neymar, Suarez? What if? Would that really be so awful? Is there anyone rumored on the market who would stroll into that XI?”

    I think Barça can still challenge for the league without making any move this summer, as the difference between first and second place in La Liga is often down to at most 3 points. Nevertheless there are two glaring issues with this starting lineup:

    1) How you can put Vidal as a starting right back for one of the best teams in the world on the basis of a run of 7 decent matches over one and a half season is beyond me. Even if you see what he can bring to the team, to expect that to happen after he only showed it briefly before a long-term injury is wishful thinking, is it not?
    2a) How many games Iniesta will start and be effective is a question mark at this point. Last season was not his best. This season he is one year older.
    2b) Rakitic is a lot of things, but his value to the team is significantly less when Iniesta is not on the pitch, as he does not make up for the loss of control and creativity when Iniesta is not there. This means that not only do we miss Iniesta, but our second-best midfielder becomes less effective as well.

    Also a lot will depend on Suarez. He still put up good numbers last year, but for large stretches of the season he was very poor. Alcacer is a decent sub, but he is nowhere – nowhere – near as good as an in-form Luis Suarez.

    I suspect that if we don’t make any signings, 3-4-3 will be our best bet, as long as Rafinha remains healthy. Deulofeu is also an option, but with his work rate, this might become known as the suicide option.

    • Davour
      July 11, 2017

      Well, this is assuming Gomes will be staying – 45m would be sell for me. I think he needs to know what to do, that’s why I favour a (reasonably) set spot. He cannot be relied on to improvise. Maybe DM is his “best” spot for us, so far, though I felt he had a few decent moves when playing on the wing (with more time on his hands) in a 3313, for instance. We’ll see.

  8. Hamid
    July 11, 2017

    Alex Ferguson once declared that the BOSMAN RULE has created a “free-for-all” in football. Once with the club, power shifted to the players and saw the rise of the Agent. Initially meant to create a player/team balance, the phenomena developed into a speculative, mindless, short-sighted and nonsensical exercise.
    I could not help but be amused by the buzz and hype that the prospect of buying this or that player has created in the culer sphere. To the point where things were portrayed as matter of life and death (No Verrati = We are doomed).
    A team is always a project in the making. Just look at what the Germans did with their national team. Let’s carefully review what Zidane is trying to do with Real Madrid. Those among Barça fans who think that the team should be a treble-winner each season are plainly clueless.
    Yes, there are certain areas in the current lineup that we can improve on. But I think we have enough talent and depth to be competitive. Focus should be on creating coherence and trust between the players, on playing as a team of 11, not 3 and on knowing that nothing delights a true fan more than seeing their team play the game beautifully.

  9. Lionel Richie
    July 11, 2017

    For some weird reason, it feels like Verratti to Barca is a likelier prospect now after he publicly came out and said that he is committed to PSG rather than when he expressed his desire to quit PSG for Barca.
    There is a game of poker being played by PSG.
    And it appears that if Barca really want their man, they are gonna have to pay.
    And pay BIG.

  10. Davour
    July 12, 2017

    Appears Dani snubbed City for PSG due to doubled salary offer (rumour has it). The “great project” bullshit he churned out after signing is hilarious! The ternal project, signing ‘elderly’ post-Barca, Brazilian wing-backs. Perhaps it was all smoke and mirrors anyway, but it just does not feel right. Anyone else believes PSG signed him just to give it to Barca in light of recent events? Weird world; as always, not what it used to be.

    • Messiah10
      July 13, 2017

      To me Dani signed bc Dani loves life. What better place to enjoy the twilight of your career than Paris? Not sure there is a better city. When comparing Manchester there is no contest.

  11. seattlefan
    July 12, 2017

    Lack of progress on the right back position is worrisome. While Vidal has improved, I think we need a world class player in this position. I don’t see Vidal in a Champions league final. Sergi is going to be a great player but not at right back but as the premier mid-fielder of the post-Iniesta, post-Busquets generation. Forget Veratti, we have Sergi. For one of the top three teams in the world, having a make shift fullback is just indefensible. Would RM or Bayern use a make shift fullback?

    Unless we intend to become a 3-4-3 or any variation of a 3 backline, the Right Back position is the biggest hole in the lineup. If Valdeverde does plan for a 3-4-3 w/c makes sense in the Messi in his 30s as AM role many envision, then that means we need a new world class Center Back. I’m fine with Pique and Umtiti and I like Masch a lot more than most people but again he is a make shift Center Back. Marlon might be have a solid future but we need more than him to be dominant. Would RM or Bayern or Juve use a make shoft Center Back in a CL final? I know Masch was our starting CB in the great 2011 team but we also had Abidal.

  12. Half and Half
    July 13, 2017

    I am hoping for lots of signings………. The signing of names that is, on a vote of no confidence, so we might be rid of this board and allow the opportunity for the club to be run properly and with values again.

    That would be one great transfer.

  13. July 13, 2017

    This update is just for Seattlefan:

    The club has apparently signed Nelson Semedo. Sport, MD and ESPN FC all reporting it. The tech staff is in Portugal. Most crucially, the Mr. Wolfe of the transfer team, Sanllehi, is there. He only shows up when there’s stuff to be signed.

    • Davour
      July 13, 2017

      Haven’t seen him play, really (apart from highlights), but from what can read he seems to fit the profile. Indicating a 4 man defence, I suppose. Promising start to the transfer summer (not counting Deulofeu & Marlon), after all the noise!

  14. PPos
    July 13, 2017

    Well here’s hoping that Semedo brings the balance that we have been lacking. The right side of the team was a black hole for us last season. Sergi Roberto did the best he could, but he was always a midfielder playing right back not a person who has been a right back all of his career. Same thing with Aleix Vidal. Vidal was a winger at Sevilla, hence his atrocious defending. Sergi is best at running a midfield not tackling, crossing, and recovery running when off the ball. Semedo has tremendous pace. It seemed that last season Sergi Roberto was always in no man’s land, and unsure of what to do, because his instincts are not honed to play right back. Now here’s hoping that Arda “Molasses” Turan leaves the club, and finally we will actually have some mobility and alacrity in the midfield from players that actually want to play here. Turan’s attitude has been very disappointing in his time at the club. Apparently Madrid’s entire midfield was 20 million more than Pogba’s fee. It’s sad to see that we have turned into Madrid 10 years ago, just spending widely with no purpose, let me remind you how much Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, and Iniesta cost in transfer fees. 0 Euros. It’s not about how much you spend, but that you spend what you spend right.

  15. Lionel Richie
    July 13, 2017

    Semedo done.
    Good stuff.
    Now If we do acquire Seri & Dembele, that’s my entire transfer wish list.. but at best, probably only one of them happen.

  16. Kd
    July 13, 2017

    Finally we have managed a right back!! Welcome Semedo.
    Now a top class midfielder and I think we are good.

  17. seattlefan
    July 14, 2017

    Yup, Semedo is the type of RB signing I was hoping for. A lot of potential, not that expensive really considering today’s market. And if we play 3-4-3 more often than before gives him time to develop and yet we have the tactical flexibility to also play a top class 4-3-3 lineup.
    That means Roberto can move back into the mid-field where he becomes our Verrati. So no, I don’t think we need any more mid-field signings.
    What we need is another center back. We are too dependent on Pique being on-form. Umtiti was the best signing of the Enrique era after Luis Suarez but he’s not ready to lead the backline , Marlon is still too inexperienced and Masch as much as I love him is still a makeshift CB that leaves us vulnerable in set-pieces.

  18. CentreBackJockey
    July 14, 2017

    Semedo feels like a really good signing. There’s no saga and no guilt with the price the club paid. I feel it can put less pressure on the player. Do we consider signing Semedo as under the radar? I’m impressed by the turn around time after giving up on the first choice target.

  19. Ron
    July 15, 2017

    The Semedo transfer is a breath of fresh air from the usual way our transfers have been managed! If the reports are correct and we signed him for around 30mn Euros its a bargain compared to the 50 they were asking for.
    Now if we can get a CM and CB we should be in a great position for competing for the major trophies in the coming season!

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