Neymar, De Ligt and the great boondoggle

As Denzel Washington as Malcolm X said, “You been had. You been took. You been hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Led astray. Run amok.”

When the people who ran the club took over from Joan Laporta’s board, they screamed, howled about fiscal shenanigans, said that because of the accounting lies that had been told, Barcelona was now an austerity club. Couldn’t even afford to make color copies, said Sandro Rosell with a sigh, such was the damage done. And people fell for it.

Today, Barcelona is no longer an austerity club. It can afford to make color copies, can afford to have the highest wage bill in football, can afford to giggle at the recommended 70% ratio of wages to revenue. It’s a Nou Galacticos project, and people fell for it, and they’re falling for it again.

De Ligt. Neymar. Griezmann. They are counting on the lure of shiny things keeping the masses docile, ignorant and willing, throwing transfers around like a multi-million dollar siren that lures you to the rocks of morals and common sense, then dashes us upon them. We don’t care, because it’s hard to think clearly in the face of so many shiny things, about huge revenue numbers, about all the glittering stars coming to the club. Just as with Real Madrid’s Galacticos project that promised so much and delivered so little, we are seduced and blinded by possibility.

It’s gross.

People are discussing the Neymar transfer and rationalizing it as a football decision, “if it makes Messi happy,” etc, etc. He is accused of rape. At the beginning and end of it all right now, there is that. If the rumors are true then the club, as the case hasn’t been resolved yet, is saying that it doesn’t care one way or the other. People who support the transfer are also saying they don’t care one way or the other.

The question isn’t one of guilt or innocence. But it is one of morals. If the case plays out and the accusation proves to be false, the accuser will have perpetrated a shameful act that damages and smears everyone involved. But right now, we don’t know. All we know is that there are the charges, and that Neymar outed her publicly in an effort to shame her and tilt public opinion in his favor, as if he needed such a thing. Famous footballers are always right and innocent, because their legions of devoted supporters say so, and that’s that.

Neymar’s Brazil teammate Arthur dismissed her, saying that she just wants to be famous, to have more Instagram likes, another in the blizzard of disgusting comments about the alleged victim in a case that has yet to play out.

What is the harm in letting the case play out? Why the rush for a transfer that won’t even really solve any of the problems that faced Barcelona last season. From a footballing perspective, the team needs to get younger and faster, so that it can play the kind of football that supporters want to see. Guardiola’s teams kicked ass because they attacked AND defended with eleven. Not six or seven. Formations aren’t going to change the reality of this current team. Neither will “Valverde Out” til you puke. Old dudes are still going to get run off the pitch by a younger, pressing team at the top level. Neymar won’t help that. Neither will Griezmann. Neither will De Ligt.

Many of us predicted that the board would look at splashy signings as the balm to smear over the camera lens of how the club really is: a morally bankrupt edifice ruled by avarice. How much money is enough? We’ll tell you. Until then, give us more. More.

Trophies lead to more money, more sponsors, more. What gets trophies? Splashy transfers. Neymar. Griezmann. De Ligt, all three luxury signings for a team that needs a striker and two fullbacks. But sure, sign a CB with a moneygrubbing agent, a winger who was figured out the last time he was at the club, and a whatever he is, all for astonishing sums. Griezmann will cost 120m. Neymar will cost — well, the latest rumor is Rakitic, Coutinho and cash. De Ligt will cost substantially more than any rumored fee because his agent, Mino Raiola, will have big payday, and will work a release clause into his player’s contract wherever he goes, because agent’s fees never sleep.

And we buy into it. Looka that front line of Neymar/Griezmann/Suarez/Messi. Only one of them tracks back on defense, so the same problems that were present last year will be present this year. But yay for expected goals and massive wage sheets, yay for hubris and deception. Masia is a mess, the board is bickering, weird trade deals are worked for players whose value is fiddled with but hey, shiny things. Dembele who? Sell him, let’s go back to the past, choosing to remember only the good parts, the treble.

Neymar scuttled down the ratlines in August, spitting in the face of the supporters who backed him, the club that wooed him and Messi, who deferred to him. At the absolute worst time of the season he danced off to Paris to run his own show, for a lot more money. He and his father saw the golden chalice. Now, chastened, he wants to return. To hell with him.

Griezmann was supposed to come last season. Instead he made a video with the help of Gerard Pique’s production company, saying that he was staying at Atleti, so too bad, so sad. To hell with him, too.

Rumor has it that De Ligt “wants to come to Barcelona,” but only if they match the money that Juvenus is offering him. His teammate, the most coveted midfielder on the market, signed for Barcelona and accepted a wage that was in keeping with the team’s structure, because he wanted to come. He came knowing that despite being a big transfer, he would need humility, would need to fight for a spot with the likes of Busquets, Rakitic, Vidal, Puig. Alena. And he came anyhow. To paraphrase the late Johan Cruijff, if you want to come to Barça, welcome. If you don’t, or if you need to be convinced, we don’t need you. So to hell with him, too.

As a supporter, what do you want from your club, aside from the trophies? And yes, the trophies matter, all that stuff about being fine with losing if the play is correct is theoretical. It’s easy enough to make play that doesn’t win trophies “wrong,” after all. But what do you want from your club, that is just another big club run by a money-hungry board?

For two seasons in a row, a Champions League opponent overturned a three-goal deficit. “Valverde out, everybody expensive in.” Let’s schedule those victory parades. Not for me. I don’t want any of them. If the club was serious about solving problems, it would be making lots of players available, including Rakitic, Vidal and Sergi Roberto, for starters. It would choose between Wague and Semedo, keep one and sell the other, then nail down an RB in addition to the LB it would already have acquired. It would also have a striker, rather than a player who plays everywhere except in a position the club needs help at. There’s still Suarez as the sole option.

Dani Alves announced he was leaving PSG, and the rumor flared up that he made himself available to Barcelona, and people seriously considered that nonsense for the same reason they’re bubbling over Neymar’s possible return. The past is good, because going back in time means that all the conditions will be exactly as they were then.

Neymar is four years older, skills dulled by a lower standard of competition. His fitness, by all reports, have also slacked off. But let’s say he gets in the shape he used to be in, apologized to the club on his hands and knees for leaving the way that he did. He’s still accused of rape.

What is Griezmann going to solve? Where does he play on a team with Messi, Suarez and Dembele. The biggest problem with the Barcelona attack last season was Dembele’s hamstrings. Is Griezmann a faith healer? How does he, at 28, help the team become younger and faster? He doesn’t.

Fans want to win. A board wants to stay in unruffled power, to bring in piles of money. Players want to win. Everybody thinks they know how to win. Very few ask at what cost, and whether a decision is the right one. One Catalan journalist said that he wouldn’t take Neymar back if he crawled on his hands and knees. That’s fair.

The board is throwing money and shiny things at a fanbase that is falling for it. Meanwhile, in the exact same situation as at Anfield, what would the XI be? Let’s say it’s Neymar or Griezmann subbing for a broken Dembele. Alba still got rinsed, Pique and Ter Stegen got flummoxed, the defense stood around and watched a guy head a ball home. But there certainly are expensive players standing around watching. So yay for the Nou Galacticos.

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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.