If you are FC Barcelona, you are going to consider a certain type of player when looking at the transfer market. It isn’t a matter of prestige as much as it is that you already have top-quality talents at your disposal.
As a consequence, players of a certain level, one necessary to even have a shot of making a team that includes such talent, will almost certainly be the best or one of the best players at a given club. And yet, culers believe that Barça should just be able to walk up, say “Send him” and the selling club will willingly do so.
Why should it?
This is the most telling statement from the communication issued by Borussia Dortmund on the Dembele talks:
“… the representatives of FC Barcelona submitted a bid which did not correspond to the player’s extraordinary footballing and other abilities nor to the present economic market situation of the European transfer market. BVB therefore rejected this offer.”
The other big rumor involves Phillippe Coutinho over at Liverpool, a player who just signed a new contract in January, in a league without release clauses. Is he their best player? No, but it’s difficult to think of a better one. He is also a player who is important to his coach and his plans for the coming season.
But even more importantly, he is a player with whom, as with Dortmund, his club feels it is important to make a statement. Note that both Liverpool and Dortmund have said that they aren’t selling clubs. In a crazy summer in which a fiscal bully is strutting around, buying what it likes from a bottomless well of cash, other, “normal” clubs have a different situation.
Aside from Neymar, have there been any other big transfer moves this window? Lukaku? Morata? Those have been about the biggest. Real Madrid has been filling in squad needs, even pulling out of the Mbappe hunt. They have also bought from Liga sides, where players have release clauses. Pay and go.
Barça is in a very different situation, because it lost a key team member in Neymar, whose clause was paid by PSG. The pressure is on, because a club at the level of Barça can’t lose a player such as that, and not replace him, even as Neymar isn’t replaceable.
Compounding the complexity is timing. FC Barcelona’s U.S. tour included promotional demands that were tied to Neymar. So despite all the silence, and all the questioning, and all of the speculation, the reality is that the club’s board should have been planning for the player’s departure so that they weren’t sitting there on August 1 with 222 million Euros and nowhere to spend it.
Were they, and are now facing the reality of that “best player” difficulty?
Supporters always think that transfers should be easy. Player wants a move, club wants to buy him, selling club comes up with a price. Supporters of big clubs are also used to getting players that they want, and when it comes to transfer dealings, there are bigger and smaller clubs at every level. Liverpool supporters are snarling at Barça like Southhampton supporters would snarl at Liverpool. Everyone has a potential bully. Even the big clubs.
Clubs also need to make statements, and pick and choose those times to do it. Liverpool is making one. So is Dortmund. They can do that as they are in leagues without release clauses, and players who are under long-term contracts. Dembele joined Dortmund last year, Coutinho signed a new deal in January. What incentive is there for them to sell? Keeping an unhappy player? That athlete will be a professional because he won’t want to affect his future value.
So a club can say, in the case of Liverpool, “No,” or in the case or Dortmund, “We’re sitting on a gold mine, so pay up.”
And a club like Barça is in the position of being cash-rich, with nowhere to spend it. But what if the club had taken stock and said, “We know that you, the supporters, want and deserve a certain level of player. We also know that at the moment, the transfer market is too unstable and overvalued for the club to reasonably participate. So the club, even as it understands the difficulty involved with the loss of a talent such as Neymar, don’t see any targets that could be acquired, given the unstable and inflated market conditions.”
Would supporters have lost their minds, or lauded the club for showing that Catalan value of seny?
Instead, the club made offers for Coutinho and Dembele, two of the players of the quality required to make such a team as Barça, and have been rebuffed in both cases. So what next, aside from us understanding the arrogance of supporters assuming that their big club can just roll in a buy another team’s best player?
La Liga is hamstrung by release clauses, a legal right that governs free player movement. Spanish law treats its footballers like any other employee in that they can switch to a better job, provided the employer is compentated. Pay and go. The clause is, usually, related to a ratio based on the player’s salary. Many have wondered by Barça set Neymar’s clause so “low.” 222 million is not low. It doubles the game’s transfer record, and makes any potential deal worth, all said and done, something around a half-billion Euro transaction. That sum should have made Neymar untransferable and it would have, except to the one team backed by a sovereign nation with deep pockets.
In this window, PSG is has bought Neymar, and is rumored to have closed a deal for Mbappe from Monaco, for 180m. The club’s chairman is also in Madrid, looking to nail down Oblak from Atleti. Again, the price is known because of La Liga buyout clauses. What of Financial Fair Play? Ah. That rule was devised to stop clubs from going fiscally mad, and making them live within their means. And it has, by and large, done that. But what of PSG? From this chair, that situation cannot be allowed to continue if the game’s governing body has any kind of power or control.
The Neymar deal was structured so that the money isn’t coming off PSG’s books. This leaves them free to spend their 250m per year “sponsorship” from the Qatar Tourism Authority in other ways, such as Mbappe and Oblak. Technically, PSG isn’t in violation of FFP as it stands, because FFP isn’t really about financial fair play as much as it is making clubs live within their means to ensure that teams and leagues aren’t going bankrupt.
Should PSG vex in tnat context? Qatar isn’t going broke anytime soon, so neither is PSG, who is indeed living within its means. So what’s the problem? That they can buy whatever player they like? That’s only a problem from the viewpoint of the club trying to resist that financial colossus. PSG doubled Neymar’s salary and paid Barça 222m without a second’s hesitation. It was a statement transfer for them, just as Coutinho and Dembele are statements for their respective clubs.
Is there a solution to all of this mess? Assuming Spanish law isn’t going to be rewritted to eliminate buyout clauses in La Liga, the game will have to consider player movement and the restrictions placed on it by the current contract structure. A contract is a legally binding document. Players want security so they sign long ones. Clubs want to be able to count on players, so they ask for long ones. The problem arises when the prospect of a better job comes up.
Should a player be able to move freely? What of the contract?
The game should make release clauses standard, tying those clauses to a multiplier of a player’s salary with a set maximum. Messi’s release clause is 300m, which is roughly ten times his salary. Dembele and Coutinho have no release clauses because their leagues don’t. So their value is, essentially, whatever the club wants it to be. The club doesn’t even have to sell if it doesn’t want to.
The Bosman ruling brought the free transfer to football, a form of free player movement. How long will it be before a player lawyers up and challenges the current buyout clause structure, or how long before a Liga club decides that its league is at a competitive disadvantage and heads to court?
And what of Barça? What if it had made the above statement about the market being silly, and filled in squad holes. It picked up Deulofeu and Semedo. Finish off with Jean Seri from Nice, and call it a summer. What then?
Well, midfield depth and right-sided fullback would have been addresed, as well as having a player capable of playing left wing to a level of proficiency more than necessary to meet the needs of the structure set up by Valverde. It also keeps a light burning in the window for Carles Alena, who is already ready for the first team and will certainly be next season, along with Palencia and Cucurella.
The gala XI remains intact except for Neymar, who is replaced by a left winger that depends on the opponent. If a midfielder type is needed, put Denis Suarez over there. Or even Iniesta, because Seri or Sergi Roberto can be deputized for midfield duty. Messi and Luis Suarez are intact, with Semedo solving the right back difficulty and Aleix Vidal able to come in when a winger type is needed.
At CB, Pique and Umtiti were always going to be the starters, with Mascherano in the mix and Marlon shuttling back and forth as needed. Another CB is needed, unless the club just has to tread water until January, when the rumored Yerry Mina arrival happens.
Don’t forget that the current, woeful XI (if you follow the worldview of some supporters) would have beaten RM home and away last season, were it not for a brain cramp leading to a late set piece, and what should have been called a foul in the buildup to the equalizing goal. And that is at the end of a season filled with mental lapses seen nmost notably in the absent concentration that affected finishing.
Barça doesn’t suck, and should be in for a legit shout for a treble. Meanwhile, the transfer market is a mess, and it is very difficult to buy a team’s best player, particularly when there isn’t a system that defines the value of that player. Why is anyone surprised at that?