Gut rehab or refresh? A Barça crystal ball

Something silly happened today, and the culerverse is in a tizzy.

Whether the Nike website was hacked or someone pressed a button early, a Nike advert about a Barça shirt with Coutinho printing being available for a special price through January 6 showed up on the official Nike site. Some are discounting the hacker explanation because the advert appeared in all languages, even Catalan, all with flawless grammar, etc, rather than Google Translate clunkiness and other nonsense.

So of course, the place is going wild. Will he or won’t he? Some are saying that the deal is difficult if not impossible to swing, that Barça have too many other squad problems to solve. others, like me, suggest that the team can splash for a big player, sit tight with the rest and still be okay for a season or two. It’s worth taking a look at this notion. Let’s start with the squad that we have:

GK: Cillessen, Ter Stegen
FB: Alba, Digne, Sergi Roberto, Semedo, Aleix Vidal
MF: Busquets, Iniesta, Rafinha, Rakitic, Paulinho, Gomes, Turan, Denis Suarez
CB: Pique, Umtiti, Vermaelen, Mascherano
FW: Messi, Suarez, Dembele, Alcacer, Deulofeu

Of that group, let’s look at who is old in football years, and if they are likely to go anywhere.

Busquets is 29, still brilliant. Iniesta will relegate to a sub role. Rafinha is young. Rakitic pushing 30, likely gone. Paulinho will stay another season, even at age 30.

Messi is 30. Going nowhere. Suarez? Never say never.

Now let’s look at the current squad, and who is likely to leave:

Cillessen could well decide he wants first-team football somewhere. Don’t exclude that notion. Digne could be surplus to requirements if Cucurella is all that is advertised. Otherwise it’s easy to keep him as a backup for Alba. Rafinha will likely move, unless his injury comeback finds him finally at the quality his talent has long hinted at. Rakitic will move. His end-of-life cycle is fast approaching. Turan is gone, probably in January. Gomes wouldn’t be a shock departure. He can command a nice fee, and it gets the salary off the books.

Mascherano will leave in January, for China. Deulofeu and Vidal are being talked about as possible departures, on loan to various clubs. Vermaelen won’t survive the summer, despite the excellent service he has provided, post-injury.

Rumored transfers in are Yerry Mina and Coutinho, if we consider the strongest rumors in the “where there’s smoke” notion. Griezmann and Arthur are also lapping at the edges of the rumor mill, but no way in hell the club has the money to do those deals. Coutinho will well and truly exhaust the rest of the Neymar kitty. The club doesn’t have 150m laying around, which is what the latter two players would likely cost. Griezmann’s clause is known, but Arthur’s would need to be negotiated. Gremio says 50m. Unlikely.

Likely promotions will be LW Arnaiz, MF Alena, and expect Marlon to return from loan at CB. Palencia and Cucurella will be ready for decisions, whether loan or as first-team subs. If we assume everything happens, the roster next season looks like this:

GK: Cillessen, Ter Stegen
FB: Alba, Palencia, Sergi Roberto, Semedo, Cucurella
MF: Busquets, Iniesta, Coutinho, Alena, Paulinho, Gomes, Denis Suarez
CB: Pique, Umtiti, Mina, Marlon
FW: Messi, Suarez, Dembele, Alcacer, Arnaiz

This roster leaves the team significantly lighter on the salary front, while also spending money wisely on big targets to make the largest splash. Rumors about Brazilian Arthur and Frenchman Griezmann are likely to be discounted if the club spends what will likely be necessary to land Coutinho.

Figure the XI to be Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Coutinho, Sergi Roberto, Messi, Dembele, Suarez

Two seasons from now, the oldest full-time players on the roster, Messi and Pique, would be 32. Suarez would be gone or in a sub role by then.

The club has a number of issues pressing at it, most significantly wage bill and potential stadium project. The aging roster is also significant, but look for the board to argue that the team can tread water for a season or two while the stadium project gets rolling, now that the most significant censure motion has failed and they can rest easy in the regard.

But in two seasons, significant measures will have to be taken. Also in two seasons, the club’s transfer kitty will have recharged, dependent upon whether they decide to pump fees from stadium naming rights into the team or the stadium project. By that time, Pique will be close to done, Suarez and Iniesta gone, as well as Paulinho. The first three of those will be significant departures.

Between Mina and Marlon, Pique’s demise shouldn’t be that huge an issue. Replacing Suarez and Iniesta will be massive. That year will also be Valverde’s last as coach, if the usual three-season cycle is in place, and the club will be wanting to splash in the transfer market to welcome the new coach properly.

Even if the Coutinho stuff is nonsense, the same problems will present themselves to the club over the coming seasons. Money is the biggest problem, as it is for any club except the petro clubs, Manchester City and Paris St.-Germain. The biggest thing that Barça has left to sell is stadium naming rights. Once that is gone, grim fiscal reality will await, and the club will need to get exceptionally lucky with youth players coming through the system.

That’s a bridge to cross when we get to it. For now, over the next two seasons, things don’t look as bad as some would have us believe. But that is usually the case.

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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.

3 Comments

  1. ciaran
    December 31, 2017

    Happy New Year all.
    I don’t really buy the supposed financial restraints that we are supposed to be under. We comfortably spent €60m+ most summers and last summer we would have had an increased amount available from the improved sponsorships that we signed. We then sold Neymar for huge money and took the second biggest wage off our books.
    Even when you add the 105 for Dembele, the 12m for Deulofeu, 40 for Paulinho and 30 for Semedo we should still have 40m plus whatever our budget was in advance. If we do spend 100m, or somewhere close, we should be around evens from last season’s budget. If we sell Masch and Arda and either Deulofeu or Vidal as has been rumoured then we could easily afford spending a few quid on a CB even if we are borrowing some of next summer’s budget.
    Either way, having more creativity in midfield or the left wing is going to be very welcome.
    Here’s to a great 2018

  2. Yaredinho
    December 31, 2017

    I would argue we had 100m+ last summer. But if we still go by the usual 60m as you mentioned, including the left over from Neymar, we can have 100m.
    My plan, between now and the coming summer, would be more radical than most of you here. I would let go Arda (free), Masche (10m), Rafinha (15m), Vermalen (free), Vidal (10m), Deulofeu (15), Denis (20), Munir (5+), Samper (free), and Gomes (40m+).
    If Coutinho’s transfer can be done with, say 120m + 30m add ons (which I believe is very expensive), it can be covered from those sells ignoring the add ons.
    Now, if club can make a little more effort and budget 100m for this summer, we will have 200m between now and the coming summer in addition of Coutinho. With this money I would buy Stefan de Vrij’s, his contract with lazio is to expire this summer, in about 15m, De Ligt for 45m, Arthur about 40m, and Auoar of Lyon between 25-30m. Still we would have 70m left. With this, depending on Suarez’s situation on the coming months and if left side issue after seeing Coutinho remains (assuming we can buy him this month) the same, we can spend on Timo Werner or Fekir or Mertens( if we decide to go cheap and short term for different reasons). The Belgian costs only 28m.

    This would leave us with:
    GKs: Ter Stegen, Cillessen.
    DFs: Pique, Umtiti, Stefan De Vrij, De Ligt, Alba, Digne, Semedo.
    MDs: Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic, Roberto, Paulinho, Arthur, Auoar, Coutinho
    FDs: Messi, Suarez, Dembele, Paco, Werner/Fekir/Mertens.

    We can leave De Ligt and Auoar in their clubs for one more year to gain some more experience and bring back Marlon from Loan, and have Alena in the first team.

    Finally…
    Give Alena, Oriol, Arnaiz and Abel Ruiz more minutes…,keep an eye on Frankie De Jong of Ajax. No need of buying Yerry Mina for me, unless we want to do some business…

  3. Jim
    January 1, 2018

    First, happy New Year to all !

    You get the feeling this is going to be an interesting window, much more so than normal. I reckon PSG pinching Neymar could have set in motion a cycle of hostile snatches.

    Us in a minute but keep your eye on RM this window. They are in bother, Perez will be twitching and when he does that he spends big. Rumours of fallout with Ronaldo ( an obvious precursor to saving his face if he’s moving on), more persistent rumours regarding a bid for Hazard whose dad has apparently said he’s stalling on a new contract despite a big increase because he wants to see what Madrid offer and a forward line where nobody is firing could all result in some movement there. Still can’t believe they don’t value Isco more highly but if Hazard comes in we might want to sidle up to Isco to check the Iie of the land?

    Bayern are also in big for Goretzka so it could be time for another sidle up to Thiago to see how he’s now feeling about his German adventure. If they don’t win the CL this year, and I’m not sure they can, his resolve will be sorely tested. He’s an ambitious guy, knows he will fit in here, knows he’s one of the few who could take over from Iniesta so things could align. It would also fit the club’s current MO of staying under the radar for signings ( well, Coutinho apart obviously.).

    Anyway, where are we getting all the money for these purchases ? Coutinho seems settled, sounding more likely in January than before after being left out of their 2018 calendar, but I worry that Liverpool will still try to extract more from us after the Nike debacle resulting in us playing hardball and calling a halt. I like the January 3rd deadline for a deal we seem to have set. If they’re not playing ball, move on. I’m with the others who reckon we have the funds but just as important as bringing in is pruning what is already here. Our squad is literally filled with players who aren’t of the quality we need and never will be.

    We can get money of sorts for Masche, Gomes, Denis, Rafinha, Vidal, Deulofeu, Turan, Digne, Rakitic and possibly Paco who will never replace Suarez. (Btw, seeing them all together highlights how awful LE’s choices were ). Now, I’m not saying they all have to go, we need to look at what we need for cover, but they’ve all now had the year settling in and none of them are hacking it so when appropriate they need to be moved on.

    I love the faith folks are showing in Marlon, Mina ( who?), Alena and Arnaiz. I’ve seen Arnaiz and I can see some promise but based on very little so far, Alena, given the build up he’s been getting has been disappointing for me in his outings but maybe others have seen something I haven’t so he’s worth an extended look ( as long as we lose the notion that any Barca player is gonna improve away from home on a loan. Has anyone, ever? ) Marlon and Mina are punts by any stretch of the imagination so if any more than one of the four ends up as a first teamer I’ll be surprised.

    More worrying for me are the possible snatches from us. SR, I’d accept if someone offers us silly money as I still wonder where he’s gonna hold down anything other than a Mr Versatile role although I’ve been really impressed by his attitude in the last six months or so. Is he really good enough to play RB against the best ? Have we ever seen him dominate or even shine in the midfield for a whole game or series of games ? To be fair to him, we need to decide his best position and give him the chance to show us that.

    Umtiti’s, meanwhile, is apparently a favourite to be picked up by City with the bookies. This one interests me. His buyout is about 53m (?) that’s easily within their grasp so it comes down to the player. I know nothing about him but if he is a stayer look for a new contract and upgraded buyout in the next week or so. You’re not telling me the club haven’t been pushing it after his performances since he joined us ? I’d be surprised if it isn’t ready and waiting for him to sign and slightly concerned that it hasn’t happened before the start of the window. I remember asking towards the end of last season if I should be worried about Neymar with his lack of progress and attitude. I’ll now be kinda concerned if we don’t hear from Umtiti soon to quash any thoughts City have. You have to think he sees the value in being at Barca but if not we really are seeing a change in the way we are perceived.

    While I’m on the subject, why do Spanish sides put up with buyout clauses ? Are there any advantages ? Anyway, enough. Im off to see the latest Coutinho update. . . .

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