When Neymar told Barça he was leaving, it became the equivalent of a fellow whose life was going nicely until his girlfriend said she was leaving. He subsequently loses his job, has a car crash, gets arrested for DUI then cuts his hand on the jail cell door.
One of those kinds of windows.
Before Neymar (B.N), the club was doing nice work in grabbing Nelson Semedo and chasing Paulinho, both of whom were important profiles. And even immediately after Neymar left, the club grabbed (yes, at the end of a sloooow process, but still) Ousmane Dembele, the one player in world football who could be something like a replacement for the mercurial Brazilian.
The problems came in the wake, as the club promised “big signings,” but have come up with precisely … bupkus.
It’s about 8 p.m. on Liga deadline day and as of the moment my fingers are flying, the only decisive thing the club has done is definitively said it will not be signing Coutinho, a player it was never going to sign in a saga typical of the way Barça has all too often done business.
“Can we have Thiago Silva?” “No.” “Okay, we’ll wait for you.” “Now?” “No.” “Okay, just SMS us when you’re ready.”
On July 22, a Brazilian journalist broke the news that Neymar was going to PSG. At that time, a few things happened. Kylian Mbappe was offered to Barça and the technical staff, correctly, said “No, we want that Dembele kid.” More interesting is the video that showed PSG coach Unai Emery saying to Valverde, Verratti is crazy to come to Barça.
To recap, a rumor popped up that the club was interested in the PSG playmaker, and Barça Twitter went berserk. This group has had a love affair with the Frenchman since Xavi uttered the magic words “Barça DNA.” As the transfer rumor built, the fanbase began to treat Verratti like a birthright, like how dare he not want to come to a club that the same supporters never missed an opportunity to slag. Groucho Marx saying that he wouldn’t want to join a club that would have him as a member comes to mind.
The club never bid on Verratti. There was talk, and Bartomeu took a trip to Paris, ostensibly to prise the playmaker loose. He returned empty handed, saying, as with Thiago Silva, “We’ll keep a light on for you.”
And then came Coutinho, a player the club said it was going to buy, but who was never for sale. Liverpool categorically ruled out his transfer, and stood by those guns in the face of escalating prices, numbers so silly that the club’s stance looks foolhardy in hindsight. But principles are important, and it is more important to keep an unhappy player and take a stand than to do a deal that gives your club 150m to spend on reinforcements (like maybe a CB or two?). Apparently.
“How much for Coutinho?” “He isn’t for sale.” “How does 100m sound?” “He isn’t for sale.” “Um, 110?” “He isn’t for sale.” “Okay, we’ll get back to you. We’ll leave a light on for you.”
Meanwhile, in the further transfer misadventures of the shopper who couldn’t buy anything, Nice was contacted for its playmaker, another man deemed by Xavi to have “Barça DNA” in Jean-Michel Seri. An agreement was reached with the player, and the two clubs were talking. PSG got wind of it and rang up Nice to offer 50m, some 10m or so more than Barça was offering. Nice, rightly (but stupidly) so, said to Barça, “PSG just called. What ‘cha got?” Depor could have warned them about that, had Nice asked around. Too late. “Nothing,” Barça replied, walking away from the deal.
In the wake of this quest there are two heartbroken players, one who was never for sale but still faked a backache (from anxiety, you know?) to get his way, and the other who was for sale, but the price got silly.
And Barça, on the last day of the transfer window, is like a drunken sailor on shore leave on payday, but it’s only 20 minutes before the last bar closes. “Gimme something to drink! Anything!”
And time dwindles.
There is an inordinately narrow-minded view among supporters that the transfer window is the answer for everything, the cure for what ails. Don’t have it, go buy it, price be damned. As a team, Barça entered the window with a great many questions: would Gomes come good, can Alcacer, can Turan be useful, where’s Munir and what about Rafinha? Part of a club’s transfer window success involves selling as much as buying, and it never seened to occur to anyone until a few days before deadline day that “Hey, what are all these guys doing here?” Smoke signals went up.
Spurs talked about Gomes. So did Juventus, all allegedly. Super agent Jorge Mendes tried to find a forever home for Turan. Munir and Rafinha hid in the Jonathan Dos Santos Memorial Closet, that place in the bowels of the Camp Nou where players go when they don’t want to be found on deadline day. There wasn’t room in the closet for Douglas, who is now at Benfica, where he and Grimaldo can dish about Luis Enrique.
For a club that seemed to have a plan B.N., Barça turned out to not have much of one. If you enter the last week of a transfer window without the futures of players you don’t want sorted, be prepared to keep those players. And if you are, you can’t be shocked when new ones don’t quite want to come and take part in a bench rondo of 248 midfielders. Meanwhile names fly around: Di Maria, Parejo, Lemar, Coutinho (yes, still), Ozil — and nothing happens.
This transfer window has, in effect, been a right mess in which some of the exact right things have been done. But the biggest problem is perception. In the wake of the Neymar departure, with that 222m check burning its hands, Barça got stupid, and panicked. The damage is to the club’s sporting plan as well as the ambitions of a coach who should have been given every advantage in his quest to do right by his new employer.
Guardiola said, “Get me Ibrahimovic!” Inter said, “Watch this … Okay, we’ll take Eto’o plus 60m or so,” then giggled. Their faces changed when Barça said, “Done. Send him.” Luis Enrique identified targets, and the club got them. Now, the club has the perception — even as Semedo was fantastic business — of not being able to close a deal. That perception is making people who were already panicking, panic. And it ain’t a good look.