Panic looks good on no one

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.

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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.

12 Comments

  1. PPos
    September 1, 2017

    This crazy transfer season. Bartomeu is inept. We have barely reinforced our squad. Things aren’t looking good for Bartomeu and his chances against the vote of no confidence.

  2. Davour
    September 1, 2017

    Thanks, a clear overview of a confused club. As you point out, we have an unfortunate tradition of chasing difficult transfers (notably Brazilian CBs) all too often at, or on their way to, PSG. Dembele came at last, but nobody can say it was a great deal by any measure – even though I would say it was worth it, considering. Semedo looks like good business, and Paulinho could have been bearable had they brought some more creativity into the mix (was Coutinho the only target?) It all reeks of lousy planning, which is another sad tradition of ours – current phase has been going on since the failure to replace Puyol, which lasted until Umtiti, basically. Add to that the inability to offload players. Quite baffling, really.

    Still, as long as Suarez come good again and Iniesta stays relatively healthy, we have a pretty strong team. Coutinho (or someone like him) would have been useful to cover for, and complement, Messi, who will remain the Atlas of this team, seconded by Busi. It is too much to ask that Dembele is a roaring success, even though I’m sure he will do fine.

    In the best of worlds, the club will finally learn and start working more long term – preparing transfers thoroughly, while supporting youth development. Alas, nothing points towards any kind of learning curve, so expect someone to be fired as a scapegoat and then a bunch of suits keeping their fingers crossed, flashing some revenue. But who knows, perhaps they will not even remain for too long?

    Ok – some optimism: hoping for a consolidation season for Umtiti, RB dominance for Semedo, minutes for Alena, a good start for Dembele and Paulinho, and Messi to remain. Anything can happen.

  3. TITO
    September 1, 2017

    What if the board knew earlier that Neymar will leave and take that matter seriously when the first signs emerged?
    Im saying this because with that in mind they could have started negotiating with suitable replacements or reinforcements much earlier. Behind the frontlines. Where other clubs have no idea how much money we have and will have so the prices stay normal.
    The moment the football world realized that we have 250 mill in our pockets it became extremely difficult to get what we wanted and not by inflated prices.
    Ill say it again, it’s all about negotiating skills when you make a deal. I mean wthf, the player wants to come by openly expressing his wishes, you go to his club’s offices and hand them a check of 150 mill euros for a player that normally is valued at half that price and they still say no? Something is wrong here and no, it is not about their sporting project. They can and will survive without Coutinho as we are witness and with 150 mill to spend.
    In the end im glad that we did not spend all that solly money, however this season goes. Next season we will get him much cheaper.
    Now i read something about Parejo…wthf???? Why????

  4. Víctor
    September 1, 2017

    I dont understand the grudge some people have against liverpool for not wanting to sell. I mean, Barca didnt want to sell Neymar either. Should we have bash the board for trying to stop that sale.

    Theres a lot of trash-talk about PSG bullying purchases… yet it seems that people in here want Barca to employ those kind of tactics.

  5. hereiam
    September 1, 2017

    We never bid for Verratti because we never had the money to bid for him in the first place, unless we manage to sell Gomes, Turan and others who we wanted to sell but have no actual plan to.
    There’s a lot of things Barca want to do but have no actual plan to do so. Like keeping Neymar, bidding for Verratti, signing Messi contract, signing Coutinho, and so on.
    Even the things we actual managed to do like signing Dembele we kind of stumble upon the chance in a terrible shape and ended up paying an extortionate amount of money because of the fact that we had no plan.
    So the next time you look at Bartomeu, please ask yourself: does he look like a guy with a plan?

  6. September 2, 2017

    Lack of a clear plan seems to be the main problem. We neither had any clear idea whom exactly we needed nor did we know whom exactly to sell. And this points to something else too. Lack of effective leadership, forget an excellent leader. Even when it was clear Neymar would be going, I wonder if Bartomeu called an emergency meeting with the coaching staff and the scouts and requested them to make a clear plan for buying and selling? We dont know, it more looks like nothing of that sorts happened.

    Finally the only good outcome is that we didnt spend all that 250m. I just wish we had at least sold players like Gomez, Turan, Vermaleen.

  7. Ron
    September 2, 2017

    A few points:

    We atleast managed to replace Neymar (the position, not the player) with Dembele so it wasn’t a complete disaster of a transfer window..

    If I was told before the transfer window, that we would sell Neymar and get Dembele Paulinho and Semedo in the transfer window, I would say that is the most stupidest thing I’ve heard, but given the circumstances of Neymar himself wanting out, things could have been much worse so I’m glad we finally got out of the transfer season with some decent buys..

    Regarding the Turan and Gomes transfer bids we rejected, I’m not sure that was the right idea and we would have surely sold them had we got Coutinho but since we would be really light in squad strength the board must’ve thought otherwise.. fair enough! I still maintain they are dead weight, (Turan especially) and we atleast should have sold him since we got Suarez and Deulo to play his position ..

    The board seems to have a very inexperienced way of dealing with clubs for players though.. . Our board seems to be like that creepy guy in a bar that keeps asking the same chick for a date even though she rejected him multiple times before…

    Oh and looks like we have loaned out Munir which I guess, seems reasonable seeing as Deulo is back.

    On a side note, I don’t see what everyone else sees in Coutinho. Granted he plays for the Brazil NT and seems like a decent player, but is he worth 150m??? I’m not sold on it just yet. For me, not getting Coutinho isn’t all bad and may just be a blessing in disguise allowing more time for Sergi Roberto and Alena to stamp their authority on this team.

    And regarding all the hate heaped on Barto, I doubt he could have predicted the fiasco waiting to happen this transfer season, thought once the rumors came in, it might have made sense for him to look for a replacement and start negotiations once the rumors that Ney was sure to leave. ( I read that Neymar told Messi and Alves that he was going to PSG as far back as on the day of Messi’s wedding, not sure how true that rumor is though.) I’m sure if we went ahead and bought Dembele before selling Neymar, we could have got him for a fair bit lesser that what we finally paid for, hell if we didn’t have the money we could even have made a deal like PSG did for Mbappe where we loaned him for a season with an obligation to buy next year. Most of these issues stem from, as I’ve said many times before, our board setting buyout clauses that are relatively attainable over the next few years. Just look at Madrid and the buyout clauses they have set, Is anyone really going to pay 300m for Modric??? 500m for benzema?? well those are their clauses.. meanwhile we have Messi’s buyout clause at a value on the same level or below Modric!!! Am I the only one that sees the problem with this?? And don’t give me that BS “transfer market is F’d up right now and nobody could have predicted the values argument,” If Madrid had the foresight to set the clauses of their stars at such exorbitant values I don’t see how we couldn’t .RIght now PSG will make a profit on Neymar just based on the Revenue he will generate for them which is insane! Would setting his buyout higher avoid this debacle? who knows? but We sure aren’t seeing Madrid worried about someone coming and paying the buyout clauses for Ronaldo and Benzema…

    Finally ending on a somewhat optimistic note, I agree with Davour that we are still not out of it yet, though Madrid just beat us 5-1, and the situation seems just as gloomy as before in the previous treble season after the Anoeta game and our players definitely have the ability to turn this around and win everything again! I just want us to knock out PSG in the CL again and would consider this a fine season.

  8. hereiam
    September 2, 2017

    If I were a guy with a plan, the moment I got wind of the fact that Neymar wished to leave and the fact that PSG does have the finance capacity to buy out his contract, I would have asked, nicely, both Neymar and PSG to delay the transfer until we sort out his replacement instead of being in full denial about the whole thing, and then tried our best to make it as hard as possible for both of them even though they eventually have had their way anyway.
    Why are we trying our best to ruin relationships with clubs we knew we eventually have to buy from them? Why did we force PSG to pay the tax on Neymar’s transfer? Why did we try to sue them for a clause we signed with Neymar for a paltry 6 million and after that have the gal to bid for Di Maria? Do they look like they need the money?
    Why did we try to unsettle their players and fuck up their clubs to sign them on the cheap and then still have to pay an extortionate amount for them? Then repeat the whole routine again?
    Who do we think we are? God almighty?
    It’s perhaps time to take a long hard look at our practice, and perhaps learn something, or else we will be universally reviled as some kind of evil empire soon enough.

    • Jtoolz
      September 2, 2017

      we’re deeply messed up from all angles.. nothing seems to be working

  9. Messiah10
    September 2, 2017

    The excuses from board are laughable. After Ney deal was done they came out & said they knew he was leaving. That he almost left last summer. So, in the face of that, they should’ve been working since last summer to line up a couple of names. Dembele wasn’t one of them at that point because he hadn’t even played a game for Dortmund. Shambles. Inept

  10. Víctor
    September 2, 2017

    For me, this transfer season wasn’t all that bad. Dembele is a good player and Paulinho can improve a lot being at Barca.

    As for Neymar’s departure. I do think that it isn’t really that bad as many make it out to be. Yes, Neymar is a great player… but he wasn’t the 2nd best player at the club… let alone worldwide. Afterall Barca managed to defeat RM at the Bernabeu without him. This team was never really depedant on Neymar. So, it seems to me that getting 222m for him was a great deal for this club.

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