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.