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.