At the end of the official transfer season, things have gotten really interesting.
When business ended on Friday and the club had signed nobody, despite assertions of its sporting director that at least one more player was coming after Ousmane Dembele, a press conference was announced. It was a bombshell that, as it turns out, sat atop a minefield.
In brief, sporting director Robert Fernandez said that the club tried for Coutinho, but Liverpool’s valuation of 200m was extravagant. But they tried. They then tried for other players, to no avail. So they won’t resign, because they did their jobs.
They also said that they understand fans’ frustration with the process, but they wanted to underscore that the squad was, in their eyes, excellent and ready to compete. He also said that no, Messi hasn’t officially signed his renewal yet but that it is agreed, and you can book it. It’s done and will be signed. Boom.
After this presser, Liverpool weighed in with its evaluation, one that was, essentially, “Those guys are full of crap.”
In a statement the club said that it never had any intention of selling Coutinho, never put a valuation on him and that stance was unchanged from when the rumors first popped up. Boom. What is amazing about this is that in effect one club is calling another club a liar after the first club called the other club a gold digger.
Suffice it to say, heads spun, particularly in the wake of the deadline day drama when Agusti Benedito visited the Camp Nou to officially begin his censure motion.
But things weren’t done.
What broke a few hours after the presser was a rumor that Messi has no intention of signing his renewal before year’s end.
Suffice it to say, the culerverse is now in a tizzy because nobody knows what is going on. There is, quite naturally, silence from the Messi camp, as there traditionally is when things such as this arise. This, naturally, makes people believe that the rumor is true, which makes them think that Messi could leave on a free transfer in summer, which makes people think that this is not only the worst board in the history of football, but the worst administration in the history of mankind.
That is a lot to unpack.
Prima facie, the rumor is a very effective tactic from a player who loves his club and would never, ever leave it. Let’s start there. Being silent about it underscores the effectiveness of said tactic. Fear works.
In the past, Messi has said that in his view, the team deserves managers that are worthy of it. When he agreed to his renewal (something that was announced by the club), was he planning this all along? Who knows. Was this an opportunity for the greatest player and culer to make the ultimate power play? Who knows. Everything is speculation, even the rumor about the rumor. But man, is it all fascinating.
One way to interpret the rumor and the attendant silence is that Messi has underscored Liverpool’s assertion that Barça are a bunch of liars. Not only did they not put a 200m valuation on Coutinho, but he isn’t signing his renewal.
Another way to interpret the rumor is that someone made it up, like a lot of other crap in this transfer window, but consider the source, a respected journalist in Alfredo Martinez. To make something like that up damages his relationship with the club as well as the player involved, a man to whom every journalist wants access. You also have to consider the value of making up a rumor such as that. There is no payoff for the journalist, only a quagmire.
This leaves us with a lot to unpack, with a single bottom line: the FC Barcelona board is in trouble, and frankly it should be. It is difficult to remember a time since the days of Gaspart when the club has been more mismanaged. As noted in a past post, they are money managers who have forgotten about the human side, something that permeates every level of the club dealings. They say and do things without considering the human consequences. Two players sundered relations with their clubs, and only one was signed. The club let them do it.
Yes, the players were silly for doing that. But as a club, what is its role in this situation? Did someone reach out to Coutinho and Dembele and say “We’re trying, but you shouldn’t do this?” No evidence of that. This and a host of other actions points to a self-serving nature that puts the board before the club. That isn’t new. What is new is the effect. The most powerful player in world football is making the ultimate power play. Is this an effort to make them sweat, or underscore the Bendito censure motion with a tacit imprimatur?
In the wake of a defiant press conference about the team’s transfer activity, the board has a significantly bigger problem to contend with — will they be the ones who let the greatest player in the history of the game leave on a free? Further, key players said, “Sign some people,” and they didn’t. The coach they just hired said that he needs some more people to be able to fully do his job, and they didn’t provide those people.
When Iniesta noted that he has been having feelings about continuing at the club, feelings related to the people running it and how they treat their employees, it was a remarkable thing to say from a player who is traditionally quiet about such things. We have a lot signals, all leading to one inescapable conclusion: some folks are in trouble.
Is there a way out for them? One isn’t apparent right now. Player mutiny, coach probably vexed, been called liars, fanbase up in arms, censure motion in process. What is for sure is that the kind of defiance that underscored the Saturday presser is not the answer. What is? Conntrition? A group hug? An understanding of their actions and legitimate efforts made to rectify them?
The time has passed for gestures. Mismanagement doesn’t just mean not making money or doing your job. It doesn’t matter how much money is in the bank if everybody is unhappy and make no mistake, everybody is unhappy. A lot of people are screaming incompetence. This isn’t accurate. They are competent at making money, at dudgeon, at hubris. Mismanagement is different from incompetence. It’s easy to be president when the team has just won a treble and you have just won re-election. It’s easy to be president when the team is on a U.S. tour among fans hungry to see their heroes in person, and all is full of love.
But Barça is rolling downhill, and fast. It’s second-best player left for a key rival, and left the club reeling, with no response. Recall at the birthday party of Neymar’s son, and the pictures of the key Barça players, including Messi, present and showing their love to a player that the club and board was beefing with? A statement? Some say yes, others say no, was just friends hanging with friends. But now its best player has made his own statement, an earth shaker.
It might come out in subsequent days that no, Messi will sign, no he would never leave Barça, etc. And from this chair, Messi loves the club too much to consider leaving it. He’s loyal, and is a culer to the core.
But why not make the people who have put the club into such a state sweat a little bit, men who are, as this is being typed, if they are at all aware of the implication of any of this, renting backhoes to dig out from the deep mess they are in.