Barça’s transfer window, aka ‘Boulevard of broken dreams’

Imagine if, during election campaign season, Laporta said, “The summer is going to be a salary dump. I will probably have to move Messi on, and a bunch of other players. Bear with me, though, as we get through all of this together.”

He still would probably have won, but eyes would have been open. And even if we presume that he had absolutely no idea how dire the team’s books (allegedly) are, once he found out, the transparency would have been welcome.

There was a lot of movement, mostly outgoing, from Barça in this transfer window, one that, oddly, hasn’t left the team in significantly worse shape, even if the club is in much better financial shape after being lightened from the weight of some salaries, notably Messi and Griezmann. It also turned a small profit by moving the recently presented Emerson Royal on to Tottenham, and wantaway Ilaix Moriba on to Salzburg.

Supporters have dreams of a transfer window, and players being added. Laporta talked about more promising transfers after Memphis Depay rolled into town, all sauce and style. Presumably he didn’t mean Aguero and Luuk de Jong, but that’s what being poor does for a club. So let’s talk about what happened, and what’s next.

The biggest news, aside from the already-covered Messi departure, is Antoine Griezmann returning to Atleti, a loan with an obligatory buy clause that is just a fraction of the 120m the club paid for him. They should improve, and Barça doesn’t get harmed all that much because Griezmann was, generously put, a flop. Muhammad Butt lays out the case for exactly why, and how deeply he flopped, for those who haven’t read it yet.

Losing him doesn’t really damage the team, and it makes space for young players such as Demir and Gavi, not to mention the unfathomably still trusted Coutinho. And most notably, yay, salary! It’s safe to say that Griezmann’s time at the club didn’t work out the way he wanted it to, either. Back in the day my nickname for him was French Pedro. In hindsight that moniker was flattering. He’s an odd player because so many say he’s world class. My contention is that he’s been elevated by circumstance and association, and is about as much a 120m transfer as I am. The price that he is moving to Atleti for, about 50m, is more like it.

Moriba moving on is significant only because it’s the story of a promising youngster, Masia-raised, who didn’t feel that Barça was the place for him to continue his trajectory. Koeman had him in the first team orbit, even subbing him on as the team needed a result in the Classic. Everything looked set for him to continue and shine at his boyhood club until it all went off the rails. And now he’s gone. What was the loss? Hard to say, and the team is well-stocked in midfield, especially with the explosion onto the scene of Gavi.

But it is interesting for what it represents about the modern game, agents and how romance stories about youth players making the rise to the first team, in a dream move, can be quite easily derailed. Is romance dead, or just delayed? Time will tell, but the move is potentially a nice bit of business for club and player. He gets his wish to move, the club turns a pure profit and gets 10 percent of a future sale, should be grow into the kind of player some think he can.

Speaking of the death, or rather delay of dreams, Alex Collado is now at Sheffield United, taking the loan move (no buy option) to get playing time and blood into a game, things he wasn’t going to get by staying in Barcelona. His departure doesn’t really hurt the team.

Emerson Royal (yay, profits!) is now at Tottenham, after posting a heartbreaking chronicle of his path to his dream club, that included a picture of young Emerson in a Barça shirt. Hooray for you, kid. Get out. He wasn’t at the club long enough to really be able to show anything, but anyone who watched him at Betis with any regularity knows the potential he displays, and why some of us were so excited that the club pulled the trigger on his arrival. And to my view his departure makes the team worse.

Dest isn’t ready. People love him because he scurries forward like an ambitious chipmunk, but he gets punked in possession and is grim on defense. Yay? The hype attendant to his arrival is still strong, so his performances are still Teflon-coated. The first thing people said about Emerson is “He doesn’t go forward enough.” Well, neither did Abidal. And maybe, just maybe, having a fullback who could defend might, just might, be moderately useful. No matter. There was profit to be taken so Emerson is now “Hello, I must be going.”

Mingueza is a very capable right back, who will work in with Dest. Emerson being moved on doesn’t really hurt the team short term, but it might well be argued that longer term, when the team is looking for a talented right back because Dest still hasn’t worked out, that small profit might not seem like such a nice piece of business. We’ll see.

Griezmann’s move was part of a conga line of moves that brought Luuk de Jong to Barça, the decidedly lesser De Jong in Catalunya. On loan from Sevilla, who is also said to paying part of his salary, De Jong is Dutch Giroud, but his hair isn’t as nice. Scores the occasional worldie, nicks the poacher’s goal and that’s about it. Rey Manaj left, De Jong, who will be more useful, arrived. Braithwaite should be very worried about De Jong’s arrival as, his enthusiasm notwithstanding, he isn’t up to standard.

That the team lost its second-leading scorer from last season in Griezmann was mentioned by some people, who clearly haven’t watched him play. He’s a mug. Good riddance. In three matches so far this season he was utterly worthless. “He defends and runs around.” So does Gavi, but he didn’t cost 120m. The club made a bunch of money in the window, and the team isn’t any worse except for the potential of Emerson.

Other moves were made, most notably registering Demir as a first team player (duh, he was only registered for B to get around the financial stuff), and giving Ansu Fati the 10, a massive move for the young talent toddling his way back into life on a surgically repaired knee. It’s a lovely move by the club, a charming piece of good news that deflects a lot of the “UGH” in the wake of deadline day.

What did NOT happen in this transfer window is the even more significant salary dump measures from moves by players including Pjanic, Umtiti and Coutinho. Yes, Koeman said that he counts on Coutinho, etc, etc, but don’t kid yourself. If the right offer comes, he’s gone. Koeman also liked and wanted to keep Emerson. Fat lot of good that did. The club is still in financial trouble. How MUCH trouble? Who knows. Accounting is fun with numbers. Sandro Rosell rolled in and said, “Everything is a disaster, these losses were massive and we can’t make color copies.”

His predecessor, Laporta, said “Get outta here. We turned a small profit.” And now Laporta is saying “Everything is a disaster, these losses were massive, we can’t even keep players we just signed.” Ultimately, who knows. The only thing real is the pitch and what’s on it. So let’s look at that, idealized and probable.

My dream would be for Koeman to go young, establish a style of play and let’s have some fun. That “wheeeee!” XI would be:

Ter Stegen
Mingueza Araujo Garcia
Nico Gonzalez
De Jong Pedri Gavi
Depay Demir Fati

Now, Koeman is about as likely to choose that XI as I am to be selected for the next Mars mission. Reality will be more like:

Ter Stegen
Dest Pique Lenglet Alba
Busquets
De Jong Pedri
Coutinho Depay
Braithwaite

The only real change is Coutinho for Griezmann, and Braithwaite will be there until Fati approaches full fitness, per Koeman’s insistence that the club isn’t going to rush him back. The team still has exactly as much opportunity to do something fun with results this season as before the window. And if Wrong De Jong can pop in something like 10 goals or so, that transfer will be a rousing success.

There are of course many question marks, most notably how will Fati and Dembele return, and can Demir be as quick a study as Pedri? Nothing has changed for the team in that defense is still its biggest worry, with a pair of fullbacks that aren’t up to the level of the team’s ambition, which is as always to win trophies even as the club’s ambition is to both save and make money. Whether both are possible remains to be seen.

By Kxevin

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.