Archive | Transfers/Transfer Rumors

Burn Baby Burn

Note (1): This article is based on rumor and speculation. In fact, the player in question and his agent have come out and denied said rumor and speculation. Nevertheless…

Note (2): Guess who’s back? Kevin chimes in with what he claims is a guest post called Luck, la Masía and winning the lottery.

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Confession time. I have a soft spot for Arda Turan, who is possibly my favorite player in world football that doesn’t sleep in blue and red pajamas. Or maybe he does. So I must have been ecstatic when his imminent arrival to F.C. Barcelona was announced through various Catalan media outlets, right? I’m not so sure. Let’s examine three aspects of this deal.

Technical

There are a lot of things to like about the Turkish Magician. His trickery and guile. His passing. His strength. His never say die attitude. His I laugh in the face of death attitude. His if I have to die I’ll kill the linesman with my shoe before I go attitude. Exactly how this goes hand in hand with his I’m leaving because Simeone makes me run too much attitude would be a paradox for Luis Enrique to solve. I have three words for you: rotation, rotation, rotation. Presumably the reasoning behind the Turk’s thinking is that the intensity of being a pillar of the most intense team in the world has left him battered and bruised to the point of missing an assorted 194 days to injury over the last four seasons. If this is indeed the case, then managing his appearances is a solution that would play right in the cards of a coach who is already quite dedicated to rotating his players.

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He can play on the left, right and center of the midfield and on either wing. In our squad, theoretically he would compete for a spot with the forwards and the central mids. As far as Neymar and Messi go, we should note that they only like to share playing time with Neymar and Messi so for all intents and purposes the rotation would be between Iniesta, Rakitic, Rafinha and Pedro. Is he an upgrade over any of the starters? It is tempting to say he isn’t. A lot of culers like to believe that our players are by definition the best players in the world and even more after a the treble year, but how does one compare and judge accordingly? His average rating of 7.08 as calculated by the stat geeks on whoscored.com is exactly the same as both Iniesta and Rakitic. He scores significantly higher in the couple of games he played on the wings and even more so when compared to Pedro. The latter, however, knows how to play in a system which might give Arda Turan trouble.

It gets complicated when you try to figure out how he would adapt from Atletico Madrid to Barça. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to judge any player coming from the Calderón. Filipe Luis looked like one of the best left backs in the world under Simeone but, despite the fact that Mourinho’s teams are set up in a comparable fashion, he has not done well at Chelsea. All Atletico players count “defensive contribution” as a strength, but are those individual skills or is it down to Simeone threatening to shove their heads in an oven and cut off their pinky finger if they don’t defend? Also, it is easier to make defensive contributions if remaining compact and well-organized on defense is your team’s main priority. How would they do against opponents that park ten players in their third of the pitch and break out on the counter?

We know that Turan is a team player who likes to play short passes and also that there is a fiery directness about him, all of which are qualities that could help him make the transition to Luis Enrique’s Barcelona. How he would adapt to a three-man midfield in a team that is always on the attack remains to be seen but, even in case he doesn’t make the gala eleven, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Turk would not improve our squad.

 

Ethical

Social media, coffee break areas and the streets of Barcelona are rife with discussions about whether the interim board have the right to purchase a player or not. Some will tell you that they should not even negotiate. Article 32.4 of the club’s statutes offers the following:

The Managing Committee will perform all governmental, administrative and representative functions that are normally attended to by the Board of Directors. It shall limit its acts to those that are necessary and essential in order to maintain the club’s regular activities and to protect the club’s interests.

This is the only passage in the rulebook that relates to what the Managing Committee can and cannot do. It is up to debate whether spending 35 million euros on a player is an essential act to maintain the club’s normal activities and / or protect its interest. The argument could of course be made either way and a lot depends on the interpretation of what those normal activities and interests are, especially in July. As is often the case, how people feel about this is influenced by which candidate they prefer. Laporta supporters are crying foul from the digital rooftops. Bartomeu supporters, well, Bartomeu supporters aren’t all that loud and usually don’t have a Twitter account. The points of view are further influenced by whether or not a fan wants the player at the club.

bartomeu

I still haven’t figured out whether Arda Turan suiting up in our colors would make me happy or not and I distrust both Bartomeu and Laporta. However, for me the difference between the Arda Turan deal and the Aleix Vidal transfer is three weeks and little more. If the rumored negotiations are true, they are conducted by an interim board acting upon the planification made by the technical committee and, apparently, the express wishes of the head coach. If a target had been decided upon months ago, should the club lose said target because of the elections? Should the club hold off negotiations with say, Paul Pogba, and risk losing a player both main candidates claim they would sign? Should they not sell Deulofeu, a player who was sent away on loan by his coach last summer and has struggled to convince anyone but his mother in Sevilla? Are these matters not normal activities at this time of the year? Is it not in the club’s interest to act? I’d say it’s up to interpretation, and until the statutes of the club are modified to further specify what a Managing Committee can or can’t due, it is impossible to judge too strongly either way.

Of course, the board that is now being criticized for the Aleix Vidal transfer and the current negotiations are the same people who criticized Laporta for signing David Villa at the end of his presidency in 2010. Again, one’s judgment is often colored by one’s sympathies. At the moment of writing the Managing Committee is reported to have reached an agreement with all parties involved but will wait for the incoming president to sign off on the deal. I see this as a slick way of avoiding to give Bartomeu’s opponents the ammunition that a risky signing would provide while at the same time providing the voters an unexpected carrot, albeit one with a beard. For all we know, there isn’t any deal to begin with. After all, according to the carrot and its agent, F.C. Barcelona hasn’t shopped in their market stall.

Strategical

It’s easy to agree that Arda Turan would improve our squad. That much is clear. But would that make him a good signing? Xavi has left. That leaves only three players, Iniesta, Rakitic and Rafinha for two midfield slots*. Iniesta and Rakitic were starters in the gala line-up for all big matches in the business end of the treble season. However, 31-year old Andrés will need to be replaced eventually and it is better not to wait until he is 34. Rakitic, despite all his qualities, is not a player an elite club should build their midfield around.

pogba and rafinha

To many followers, the answer is Paul Pogba. It’s certainly an opinion I share and, if Bartomeu and Laporta are to be believed (a big IF), the next president of the club will sign the Frenchman for 2016. While it is obvious that three midfielders for two slots is insufficient, five midfielders for those same two slots are too many. I’m not sure it make sense to buy a big name to compete for a position for half a season – remember that Turan would not be able to play until January – only for Iniesta’s replacement to arrive next summer. We would then be left to find minutes for four midfielders who are accustomed to start important games and one whose growth will be completely stunted.

While the colchonero is definitely the better player right now, it’s worth asking ourselves whether a 22-year old Arda Turan was as good as our 22-year old Rafinha. Unlike his brother, the Brazilian wants nothing more than to succeed at the club that raised him. He might never become a star, but he has certainly shown signs of promise and he is still young enough to give him plenty of time to improve. F.C. Barcelona takes great pride in the Masía. What does it mean if we deny a talented kid from our own academy who is dedicated to our colors the chance to consolidate himself as a squad player?

However, a combination of two other scenarios come to mind that very few people have talked about so far. One is that Pedro might decide to leave. Between the Canarian’s minutes and midfield rotation, Arda Turan’s playing time would not interfere with Rafinha’s growth. The other scenario is that we sell Turan in one or two years. Luis Enrique gets to cover his butt this year (imagine Iniesta gets injured) and Pogba’s arrival will go forward as planned.

Wow… Based on these if’s, I think I just might have talked myself into liking this transfer. Too bad it’s a lie… Unless it’s not!


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*From what we’ve seen last season, I assume Sergi Roberto will only fill in at the defensive midfield position.

Posted in Barcelona, Elections, Team News, Transfers/Transfer Rumors24 Comments

Dani Alves and the duration of an athlete’s time at a club

Let’s begin at the beginning:

If Dani Alves had come from La Masia, his renewal would already be finished. Whether this is a good thing is another question. But because he isn’t, his case is really an excellent one as it lets us sit back and reasonably think about progression, and precisely when it is time for a club to allow an athlete to move on, or when an athlete should decide to move on. The reasons aren’t always sporting.

We forget that athletes are human until they evince human qualities. Dani Alves is one of the favorite whipping boys in the Barça XI. Cules talk crap about his defending, his crossing, his clothes, and have for some time. It is only now, when they think that the club only has crappier alternatives that Alves must be renewed at all costs.

The loyalty question is interesting. Dani Alves isn’t definitely leaving. When asked if he had ruled out staying at Barça, his answer was “Right now, yes.” He also said that the club knows what it has to do, and that its offer is way behind that of others that he has received. And the telling quote, for many: “I am with the team 200 percent. The club, about 10 percent.”

That quote draws a very clear distinction between the club and team, that the two are not the same. Further, if Alves feels that way, you can probably surmise that more than a few players who would never say such a thing at a presser are also feeling the same way. This obviously has the effect of damaging the board a bit before the elections in the eyes of some, but it’s a safe bet that the conservative socis aren’t that fond of Alves and his antics anyhow.

“I am a Barça player until June 7.”

In the wake of the Alves press conference, the words most often heard are “Douglas” and “Montoya.” Culers firmly believe that these are the only two RB option the team has to consider and for that reason, Alves is priceless. “At any cost” is another phrase being tossed about, one that we should look at a bit.

Alves wants big money, and a guaranteed 3-year contract. Barça would be stupid to give him that. If that means that he leaves, then so be it. The succession planning for that position has been poor for years, because clubs tend to believe that because a player likes winning and playing with a great team, that he can be left hanging until they are ready. Alves has surprised them, but I am not sure why. An athlete, like anyone else, wants security. Xavi isn’t going to Qatar for humanitarian reasons. Dude is going to get paid. Alves wants to know that when he hangs up the boots in a few years, he will be set. There is no shame in that game, and anyone who begrudges him that avarice is misguided.

Football usually isn’t about loyalty. It’s about money. The board has calculated, for the moment, that it would be too expensive to keep Alves at the terms the player wants. Alves has decided that it would be too cheap for him to stay at the terms the board wants. At with any negotiation, the ultimate value of something is what each side determines the worth is.

From my seat, the Alves presser is kinda bullshit, because it was supposed to be about his future and the decision. Instead it is a bold-faced (albeit entertaining) negotiation ploy. It isn’t a distraction, because the team knows what it has to do. But if Alves hasn’t decided, he shouldn’t have had the presser. Sit tight, let your team work, and make a decision. There’s plenty of time for pressers after the two finals the team still has to play.

This was a negotiation ploy that a daring player pulled off, and hats off to him for it. We bought it. During that presser, he said that he is happy to be working with Douglas and Montoya, but Enrique chooses him because he works harder. Again, it’s a negotiation ploy. He knows the qualities of those players, and he knows what a fanbase thinks about those players. No shame in using that perception to light a fire under the club. “If they don’t renew me, you will have Montoya and Douglas,” is what he has said in effect.

Alves said that he was having the presser because a lot of nonsense was being said in the media. But there are easier ways to manage that. The only thing being said about Alves is that he was leaving the club, with PSG the most likely destination. So you find a favored journalist, and give him the quote that such a thing is rubbish. Done. Instead he holds a presser that rather blatantly capitalizes on the negative perception of the board in many eyes, say that he doesn’t feel valued.

“They said I only think about money, but it’s not like that.”

Okay. But then don’t mention that Barça’s offer trails the others, discuss the intangible things that you feel should be part of that offer. The simple fact of the matter is that Alves is on the fence because the club isn’t offering him enough money or a long enough guaranteed contract to stay.

“I am not thinking about money, but about what I do being valued after everything I have done, everything I have achieved for this club.”

Let’s return to that Masia question. The only reason culers are wanting Alves to stay is because a better alternative isn’t clear. If Montoya had panned out, folks would be helping Alves pack his bags. When Alves wasn’t playing all that well, people were ready to pack them for him anyhow. He is a cause celebre at present mostly because he has raised his game at contract time, as many athletes do. Can he sustain that game? Interesting question. Play for pay is an interesting idea. Teams hate guarantees because why should a player keep working hard to prove anything? Players love guarantees because security is good.

Victor Valdes left the club, it seems, for many of the same reasons that Alves is thinking about leaving, that much-heard “respect.” For Valdes, it wasn’t about money. He got paid, but left the club for some reason only he knows. What is the Alves motivation? If it’s respect and damage done, this presser is, like the Valdes one, cut and dry. “See ya later.” Is it for Alves, and how different would the perception of the player have been from supporters and the club over time, if he was a Masia product instead of a paid transfer from Sevilla, and again, would his renewal have been done if he was a Masia product?

Keep Alves at any cost? What would the cost have been to keep Xavi, and would it have been worth it? Xavi has a guaranteed, 3-year deal for a metric shit ton of money, when he has maybe another season of top-flight football in his legs. It’s worth asking how culers would have felt had Xavi stayed for big money on the same deal as Qatar, playing in spots and essentially hanging out with the team his last two seasons. Xavi didn’t want to do that because of how he feels about Barça, but also how he feels about himself.

“I do not have the feeling that the club values what I have done for this club.”

Again, there is that distinction, and the message is clear: I have been dissed by this board, a group that is on the hot seat for many socis. Alves also mentions that he has been contacted by a presidential aspirant, but that his mind will be made up long before the election. So why mention it, except to stoke the flames that are already engulfing a hot seat? Alves says that the question isn’t contract duration, then what is it? Is it as simple as Bartomeu having him over a dinner? Does he want a mini statue?

“I still want to stay here, but not at any price. And I’m not talking about money but about respect.”

Alves is brilliant in how he worked the situation, but he’s also a little desperate. If he had the offer from another club that he wanted, he wouldn’t have had the presser. He would have taken the offer, told his teammates and had his presser after the season. Valdes didn’t have a presser saying “Well, I’ve been dissed, etc, etc.” His presser said “I’m leaving, and that’s that.”

Alves would like to stay, but should he stay, purely from a sporting perspective. What’s the cost? Recall the last year at the club of Thierry Henry and how that sat with culers. Alves would be making one hell of a lot more than Henry, but his shelf life as the kind of RB that he is, is limited. We already saw cracks in the armor, until a tactical shift allowed him to return to being a very effective player. Would the praise for Alves’ play be as high if he had faced Ribery? Good question.

“[The club] just started talking to me about this 3-4 months ago, because according to them I’m playing better.”

Well, that’s true. Why should a business entity give an employee not meeting standards a raise? This isn’t all about the board, though a club’s supporters often side with a player, particularly in the case of a board that for so many is on bad paper? Players want more money, but if a club tries to take money back when his performance lags, that would never happen, nor should it. Everyone seeks the best deal that they can.

From my seat, keeping Alves has to be weighed against the cost potential. If not having Alves as RB would cost the team a chance at ultimate success, then it’s worth it to renew him. If not, he can leave. It’s that simple, really. All of the other talk about respect, etc, is just clouding the waters. What is the real cost of Alves staying or going, and can the club bear the brunt of it?

This isn’t about the board, even as my views on that entity are well known. It’s about an employer making the best decision about an employee, and that employee seeking the best possible deal for himself. All the rest is blather. Today’s presser was well played by Alves. It basically said, “I want to stay, but it’s up to the board.” Yes, that same board that is facing perception problems, difficulties that would be washed away in a blizzard of confetti were the team to win the Treble. So Alves knows it’s now or never, and he took his shot.

“Loyalty” and “respect’ are often bandied about in conversations about players and teams. What isn’t often discussed is when it is really time for a player to move on. A club’s ideal is to sell a player a season before his performance drops, for the maximum fee. That rarely happens. A club nightmare is for a player with value to leave on a free, because they don’t get paid. A player with minimal value but a big contract would love to leave on a free, because any transfer fees can instead go into the salary kitty. And in the end it all comes down to money.

What Dani Alves does as a player and bon vivant is brilliant. If he isn’t at the team next season, it would be a loss. But his situation makes us face a very complex question about what a player has left in his tank. In other words, is the real Alves the last few months, or the time before that? Sport is “what have you done for me lately?” Contracts are “What can you do for me?” A veteran player, especially one of Alves’ age and type, sits at the complex nexus between those two realities.

Xavi was excellent as a bit player, but not a full-time starter. He had reached that point. Alves isn’t at that point yet, but how close is he and how much money is it worth to find out? That is the question at issue here. All the rest is blather and entertainment.

Posted in Analysis, Transfers/Transfer Rumors36 Comments

Resolving Thiago, aka “It’s just business”

Thiago Alcantara.

As the midfielder strolls onto the Camp Nou pitch next week clad in a Bayern Munich shirt, it’s safe to say that the culer world will erupt. Should the player do anything decisive, the rumbles will rupture social media and the space-time continuum. The mind strains to think of a more polarizing transfer than this one, for so many reasons. And it will probably be forever thus, for no rational reason.

When people draw sides in the Thiago matter, it’s pretty much “Traitor! You took advantage of the club!” or “That stupid board screwed up and sold a gem for a pittance.” Neither is entirely accurate even as both are true. The player did take advantage of a situation that he engineered, and the club did screw up, and sell him for below market value. But it isn’t that simple.

At my day job we, like every other company in the market, have a difficult time retaining talented young employees. If anyone reading this is talented and young, you probably know exactly what’s going on. Offers. More offers. It isn’t that the gifted young’uns aren’t being treated and paid well, but rather that they are in extremely high demand. If you are young and talented, companies will make promises and throw gobs of money at you. And they should, just as you should weigh those offers in the context of your future and your ambition. Duh.

Is it logical to be any more or less bothered by a young writer leaving than Thiago? Sport breeds passion, and passion ain’t always calm and rational. Throw in a board that nobody likes, a president nobody likes, a season that nobody liked and it’s pretty easy for taint to spread. Thiago left for a better job. That is his right and frankly, obligation.

He isn’t a traitor, nor a mercenary. He is just a worker who wants what is best for himself. In one situation he had a team with a midfield that was stuffed with icons in Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi. Fabregas was also there. There was board instability, an ill coach and a team that didn’t know which way from up, that might have even needed some rebuilding, which delays the trophy acquisition process for a hungry young player.

On the other side of the scales he had a beloved coach who had just taken over a juggernaut poised for world domination, a coach who said to him, “Come here and play for me.” A starting role and more money beckoned, as well. Certainty over uncertainty. What athlete in his right mind wouldn’t choose this?

“He doesn’t love the club” is nonsense. We see players and coaches leave a club and sit at a press conference, weeping like a baby with a full diaper. They love their club but they love themselves more, and need to make the decision that is best for No. 1. That isn’t avarice. That’s common sense.

On the other side of the ledger, all the talk about Thiago being upset over playing time, not starting more, being played less than Xavi, a player that people now throw themselves at the feet of, weeping, isn’t supported by logic, either. You don’t make life decisions in a fit of pique. Thiago isn’t that silly, nor are his advisers. He knew what his path to the XI was at Barça, and that surely factored into his decision.

And forget about the board choosing to sell him or forcing the sale, because those don’t stand up to the test of logic, either. “Hey, I got a GREAT idea! Let’s sell the brightest midfield talent to come out of La Masia since Iniesta to a major European rival, for a below-market price. Genius, right?” This has become part of the Legend of ZubiZa, as well as he and his team being stupid enough to negotiate a playing time clause for an irreplaceable gem. Would they have transferred Thiago had they had a choice? Of course not.

Some culers will say that Thiago negotiated a low buyout in exchange for other considerations, then took advantage of the club. That isn’t logical, either. Every negotiation is a risk. Does anyone think that, had the team played him enough to activate his higher buyout clause, there wouldn’t have been an unhappy player and Maxinho saying stuff to the press? Is the difference between 25 and 40m, for a club that churns a half-billion in revenue, worth dealing with for that? Xavi wasn’t going anywhere. Neither was Iniesta. Fabregas’ situation was still unknown, but Xavi and Iniesta STILL weren’t going anywhere, and Alexis Sanchez was also capering about in that worldview. It’s still a regular spot in the XI at a better team in Bayern vs sharing time. (Yes, those players are all different but in the same pot. Is it Total Football or not?)

The club wouldn’t have acceded to the contract stipulation had it not been fully aware of the possibility of losing the player to a buyout activation. If a club wants to make sure a player stays, a buyout clause is attached to him that removes doubt because a clause can always be negotiated down if necessary. It was a calculated risk that didn’t pay off for the club, as much from a P.R. sense as a market value one.

“Thiago was easily worth 50m.” No, he wasn’t. Not to Barça. It’s also worth asking whether Bayern would have paid 50m for him. No idea. Situations dictate a player’s price as much as the market does. How much would Thiago have gone for at auction? Considerably more than 25m, which doesn’t make that price a terrible one. Yes, board members saying that the transfer was good business rankles, but the challenge is always to step back from the passion, filter out the noise and ask questions.

One might be “What is love?” The follow-up would be whether players “love” teams in the same way in the here and now? Not likely. Not if he’s young and talented. It’s easy to love Almeria if you’re a journeyman. For a player like Thiago, there is too much money in the game. It was Alexis Sanchez’s dream to play for Barça, his promise to a dying relative. “Wait … how much?” There is a reason that all of the club legends, the one-team players are old dudes, and it isn’t just a chronological accident. Players such as Maldini, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi are unique, and not only in playing ability.

They are tied to their club in a way that makes that relationship special. I can no more see Messi, with prime playing time left in his legs, wearing the shirt of another club than I could imagine Puyol doing so. Taking late-career paydays is a very different thing. Those players love the club, grew up in the club, owe what they are to the club. The young, modern player often has a different view of his talent and obligation to a club.

“I played for them, gave them my all, now it’s time to move on.” And that’s a fair decision.

Thiago did what he had to do for the sake of his own ambition and development. So did the club. 25m for a talented youth player isn’t horrible business. Zlatan Ibrahimovic for 24m, in installments is horrible business. The prices of other players in the market are often cited, but they have zero bearing on Thiago’s situation, because a buyout is what a buyout is. When the clause is activated, that is the number. Bayern paid it and Thiago left.

To be sure, there is a fiscal cost and a sporting cost. When Xavi leaves, who will inherit the mantle of the greatest midfielder to ever play the game? Will the club have to buy a player, and if so, will that player cost more than it would have cost to keep Thiago, who it must be said is immensely talented, but isn’t Xavi, who is a once in a lifetime player. Too many questions.

Still other questions. Would the presence of Thiago have hastened the departure of Xavi? Thiago was the future, Xavi is the present. How would that have gone over? No idea, but worth considering. Kick Xavi to the curb, or take a risk on Thiago? Yikes. And imagine the muttering and grumbling in some quarters had Thiago been sitting on our bench for a year, rehabbing from various injuries while making the money it would have taken to keep him. Imagine lots of things.

Logic dictates that situations develop as they will. The club got a good amount of money and cruises on. Thiago got a better job, and cruises on. All the rest strikes me as rhetoric by people with a point to prove in an inflamed situation, exacerbated by idiocy such as “Sergi Roberto is just as good.”

When a talented young writer leaves for a better job, journalists celebrate with drinks, say “Congratulations,” and move on. Because that is life. No real reason for football to not be as complete a part of life as any other employment situation.

Posted in Analysis, Champions League, Thoughts, Transfers/Transfer Rumors79 Comments

Twisting in the wind, aka “Love, respect and legends”

rsoalves

When a player outlives his usefulness, it’s brutal. And nasty. An exceptionally useful part of a championship team is not any longer and a club has to manage what to do.

And that’s just the club. Supporters also come in to add many additional layers of nasty to the aging process.

There are three kinds of old players:

— Legends, of whom supporters deny any frailty. A 5-minute run of good play against an easy opponent brings the “See? Told you he still has it.”
— Undesirables, who nobody really wanted anyhow so there’s just an odd sort of indifference about that player’s continued presence.
— Damn Shames, players who should be legends but aren’t, and are treated shabbily by club and supporters.

Xavi is an example of a Legend, while Thierry Henry was the most recent example of an Undesirable. Unfortunately, Dani Alves is a Damn Shame.

At present, Alves is dangling in the wind. Barça apparently don’t want him, even though Enrique is on the record as saying he would like to keep him another year. Rumors fly about hither and yon about potential destinations, and many culers bemoan the fact that he’s still with the club even though he is still playing RB better than any other choices available. Every error is a capital crime, every good play a “Hmph! It’s about time!” moment. Jibes about crosses abound and too damned many culers can’t wait for the day that Alves leaves the club, so that someone “better” can take his slot..

For me, Dani Alves is a legend. This status isn’t because he came up through La Masia, or scored eleventy bajillion goals. He’s a legend because he has been an integral part of an excellent football club for an inordinately long time, and gives his absolute best each and every time that he pulls on the shirt. When a player does the best that he can, a coach doesn’t have the right … can’t, really … ask for anything more. “Best” in 2015 might not be the same as the “best” of 2008, but it is what it is.

Dani Alves deserves better than what he’s getting, from club and supporters. Seydou Keita was allowed to leave on a free so that he could have his pick of destinations. That was a lovely gesture that showed how much respect Guardiola had for the player. Meanwhile, rumors about Alves abound, gossip that forced him to take to Instagram to deny. And the rumors are present in part because as far as anyone knows, Barça has done nothing. And that sucks. Don’t leave him hanging. Not cool.

It’s business. Sure it is. But even in business there should be some humanity for a player who has done nothing except play the best that he could, match in and match out, rarely injured or even seemingly tired. Dani Alves, just running from endline to endline. He isn’t the best Dani Alves. But for a time, a LONG time he was, though underappreciated by too many culers, the best right back in the world. He was so good that he was overlooked almost because of that absurd quality. He made it look so effortless and simple, patrolling that side with a ease and grace that made him indispensable to Messi, Busquets AND Puyol.

He became trendy when he began to decline, like that performer whose absolute best work is in the past winning a major award. He became an automatic starter for the Selecao, a long-overdue honor that had as much to do with the quality of and comfort with Maicon as anything else. Detractors focused on his crosses, bits of ambition which even at their best were never paragons of accurate effectiveness. So what. A favorite Alves moment – the match escapes me – was when a loose ball was banged toward the sideline. Most players would have let it go out for the throw. Alves ran it down, turned and started a play that resulted in a goal. Effort. Always effort.

If someone wants to point out that a player isn’t what he once was, cool. But if that player has done what legends do for their teams, respect is still due. Xavi isn’t what he once was, but if the heavens don’t part and angels sing every time you type his name, there is something wrong with your worldview. Iniesta is no longer Ghostface Killah, but he’s still Andres MFing Iniesta. The game and time don’t care, but teams and the people who love them should.

Players sacrifice for the team. We begrudge them coach-approved trips to various places, vacations and the like but we forget how much they sacrifice. Yes, they are richly compensated for their efforts, but they sacrifice. When fathers are at family events, players are at training. Pregancies? They might be able to flit away by quick plane flight for the birth. It isn’t a normal life, and will never be for as long as they are doing what they do.

All that sacrifice, all that playing hurt, and limping around after matches, and recovering from injuries and dealing with stuff that, like Puyol, will affect the quality of the rest of a player’s life and at the end of it all is usually indifference and scorn. And that ain’t right.

“It’s ridiculous that the team still has to rely on Alves. Stupid board.” Okay. Find somebody, even now, who could be dropped in and be a big improvement over Alves. Danilo? Maybe. Eventually. Possibly. Lots of other names are out there, but there are none who do what Alves, when he was rockin’ it, did. So when it came time to think about players, and transfers, the first thing teams do is look at what they have from the context of can that person be improved upon, and how much of a row would it cause with supporters if that person was deemed “surplus to requirements.”

That’s the difficulty of having a collection of icons. For a period, FC Barcelona played the best football that anyone has ever seen. This wasn’t magic. It was hard work in the hands of an excellent coach and a top-quality group of players, every last one of whom would be considered the best or among the best at his position. As people sit, snuffle and deem this or that inadequate, hurl bricks at effigies of sporting directors past and present, the thing worth considering is, simply enough, who in the hell do you replace legends with?

Victor Valdes
Dani Alves
Gerard Pique
Carles Puyol
Eric Abidal
Xavi
Iniesta
Busquets
Eto’o
Henry
Messi

This game hangs onto old players like favored sweatshirts, except when that old player becomes somehow unfavored. Then he is deemed irredeemable, a mess who should have been gone eons ago so what the hell. But the rush to replace icons makes us forget just how brilliant the players whose heads on the block were. If you go down the above XI, is there a player of whom culers would NOT say, “There will never be another … “ Pique for now, but if he keeps on playing the way that he is these days, add him to the roster.

How easy is it to replace a player, and what is the price of an effort to do so? Name a right back that in the upcoming Classic you would be more comfortable with than Alves. Pique is excellent, but there is only one Puyol. The defense hasn’t been the same since Abidal took ill and then left. Xaviniesta isn’t any longer, Henry and Eto’o are long gone. Valdes blew his knee out, left on a free. There will be a time, very soon, when the only players left from the Treble side will be Messi, Busquets and Pique. And that will be weird, but it will also be what happens in the game.

The fate of Alves is unknown, but it should have been decided by now. There shouldn’t be stories about “The club will consider his future soon.” For me, that just isn’t how you treat a legend.

Posted in Thoughts, Transfers/Transfer Rumors48 Comments

Team vs club, aka “A chicken in every pot”

Well, this is weird. Somehow, FC Barcelona has gone from a team that was a clueless, rambling mess that didn’t stand a chance against the Liga champions Atletico de Madrid, to being a goal up (should have been more) and with a leg in the semifinals.

At the same time, an administration is flailing during the run-ups to elections, promising the equivalent of a chicken in every pot. The situation creates a “Yay!” “Boooo!” sort of quandary that needs a little bit of sorting out.

For many culers who disagree with this board and its tenure, a quandary presents itself. Sporting success tends to always buttress the claim of the incumbent. After all, Barça is a sporting project and all the rest is … well … the rest for many culers. Laporta didn’t get in trouble with socis and face a censure vote because of any of his peccadilloes — he got in trouble because of two silverless seasons, and barely survived the vote.

Yes, it’s politics and mes que un club, but the reality is that as long as that club is winning, socis have little interest in upsetting the apple cart that sits at the head of any victory parade.

So way deep down in the hearts of many a culer and soci lurks an awful feeling, too deep and dark to even face the light of day or utter even to themselves … it would be pretty good if Atleti mounted a remuntada, if the club went silverless because then that would mean that when elections are convened this summer, they would be gone for sure.

It is really a situation that, just as we separate the team from the club in thinking about who and what to support, flips itself in that many are wondering if some short-term pain for the team wouldn’t be worth it, for the good of the club.

It’s difficult.

The team has come together, and is playing wonderful football right now. Analyze all anyone likes, but I have just about zero interest in whether it is the team against its coach, the team and its coach against the board, us against them, them against the others, somebody against somebody. All I know is that the team is playing great football right now.

The board, in specific Bartomeu and Cardoner, have taken this opportunity to offer up some nifty keen stuff:

— More than 1k socis who have been on the season ticket waitlist, will get their precious ducats.
— Socis past the age of 70 and below the age of 14 get into home matches free.
— We have a foot powder sponsor! Yay, and phew!

When asked at the press event whether the ticketing stuff was part of the incumbent board’s election campaign, Cardoner (naturally) said “Why no, this is just part of our benevolent social strategy for the club.”

And to cap it all off, Bartomeu is adding fuel to the fire by saying that mean ol’ FIFA is unfair, and he doesn’t think that RM should be punished for their youth player transgressions, because Article 19 is just silly anyhow. And further, there is a transfer ban, but of course we can buy players. We just have to find somewhere to park them until January 2016. So … what transfer ban?

And to cap it all off, like Rip Van Winkle emerging, bleary-eyed from his slumber, Bartomeu is suggesting that hey, there just might be some complexities with the club’s title sponsor, that the situation with Qatar has changed recently, bla bla bla.

Don’t be fooled. I don’t have to go into what this board has done over the course of its four-year demolition project and frankly, I don’t feel like it anyhow, because I don’t want to get mad. But any, every and all things that they have done, from tickets and “Hey, Qatar might be naughty after all,” to appointing Jordi Roura as head of youth football and the latest bit, filling ZubiZa’s job with FOUR dudes, is an effort to say, “Vote for us. A chicken in every pot,” as the Depression-era politicians used to say. Promise everything, and let’s wait to see what we can deliver. Most important is to get re-elected.

Meanwhile the football team stands 90 minutes away from having an excellent chance at winning silver this season. Even though there is no sense counting chickens before any hatching, etc, it’s a pretty safe bet that the winner of this tie will be expecting to make the Copa final.

For me that is a blessing and a curse, and all that I can say is don’t be fooled. We know what was done and how they did it. We know. The real question is whether some benevolence and magic from the football team can be enough to keep a horrific board in power for another six-year term.

I’m confident about the football team, but less so about the board’s chances and the conservatism of older socis, who believe that this board is actually saving the club, but from a business worldview. And even as I will never, ever worry enough about this board to wish failure on the football club, it’s a struggle, a pitched battle between heart and mind, body and soul. Somebody has to win, and somebody has to lose. The problem is that it’s possible for different people to profit from different things.

But. Whatever happens, don’t be fooled.

Posted in Copa del Rey, Elections, Messi, Neymar, Thoughts, Transfers/Transfer Rumors67 Comments

Strange days, aka “Legends goin’ cheap. Get yours today.”

espmess

These days, the State of Messi is absurd. It is the worst part of the entorno as a player becomes, depending on who the person blabbing:

— Someone headed to England, just you wait …
— Like a bauble nobody deserves, so everyone worries about losing it
— An avatar for the Revolution
— A self-centered brat

Every statement is parsed. The day after … the VERY day after he said on Barça TV that he has no interest or intention of leaving Barcelona, he responded to a question posed at a Ballon d’Or event, a query about his eventual future with a reply that featured some existential uncertainty … and it started all over again, most dimwittedly of all, from many of the same culers who breathed sighs of relief after his Barça TV declarations.

Meanwhile the player himself, fresh off a performance that should have left precisely zero doubt about his happiness and commitment to the team and city, had to again explain what he meant. All Messi wants to do what he always does, which is strive to play the game of football better than anyone else alive, even better than himself.
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Posted in La Liga, Messi, Thoughts, Transfers/Transfer Rumors65 Comments

CAS appeal denied, so now what, aka “No shopping for you!”

slash

To start, there’s this:

I don’t care about the transfer ban.

Sorry, but I don’t. I can’t get mad about it, I won’t stomp my feet and talk about how heads must roll, junta dimissio etc, etc, ad infinitum. It’s because this board has been on bad paper with me since it took office and has only gone downhill from there. After someone kicks you in the gut, it’s pretty hard to decide that stepping on your toe is the intolerable act. So let’s deal with the transfer ban reality:

The club earned it by not having its business in order. It doesn’t matter that other clubs do it, it doesn’t matter all the good that La Masia does in shaping young talents to be rounded human beings, it doesn’t matter that it’s a silly rule. The fact of the matter is as with any other sanction, from that speeding ticket you got when “I was just staying with traffic,” to an offense on a larger scale, guilt is without question. Does the punishment fit the crime? Debatable, but it is what it is.

It doesn’t matter how the club came to the attention of the authorities because if you’re going to grab a coveted talent then say “Neener, neener,” the residual rancor makes it triply essential that your ducks are in a row. They weren’t, and Barça got popped.
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Posted in Analysis, La Liga, Supposition, Team News, Transfers/Transfer Rumors15 Comments

Douglas, scouting and risk, aka “The parade of incompetents”

"Wait ... what ... really?! So happy right now!"

“Wait … what … really?! So happy right now!”

It is safe to say that few transfer rumors in recent history have caused a greater stir than that involving Douglas Pereira dos Santos, aka just call me Douglas.

After a season of Cuadrado, and this spendy player and that spendy player, and what is Enrique planning, all of a sudden the name Douglas popped up and the reaction was “Who? What?”

Then frantic research began as well as anecdotal commentary, and the general consensus is that he sucks, and would need GPS and a telescope to even get within taxicab distance of Barça quality.

The player’s eventual fate is unknown, but this situation does spark some rather interesting thoughts about the transfer market, rumors and how supporters deal with them.
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Posted in Thoughts, Transfers/Transfer Rumors32 Comments

And here we go again … Gamper Trophy time, aka “Much ado about … what”

gamper

Is it that time already? The Gamper Trophy match, the traditional festivity that is also a Friendly That Matters, is a herald for a new season at FC Barcelona. Liga starts next week, but the Gamper shows off the squad and its new signings, sets up a festive atmosphere and has, of late, rolled out a patsy for the boys to beat up on.

This year, it is expected that Leon, a club out of Mexico, won’t put up too much of a fuss. Nobody is expecting the 8-0 that Santos took last year, but let’s be serious about this whole friendly business — what team wants a friendly in their home stadium that has the potential of leaving egg on faces?

It also gets away from the point of the Gamper, which is a celebration. At this time of the season, right before footballs are kicked in anger, it seems a perfect time to take stock of what has happened.
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Posted in Gamper Trophy, Match comments post, Preseason, Thoughts, Transfers/Transfer Rumors54 Comments

Mmmm, so satisfying, aka “A look back at transfer history”

toure

This will be a short one, in part because chocolate donuts await, but with the news of Thomas Vermaelen being all but done and the attendant wailing and rending of garments, I racked my brain to think of the last Barça transfer that satisfied everyone, and you know what? I came up with two, possibly: Toure Yaya and Henrik Larsson.

The former was because he was young, a giant who doth bestride the earth, and the price was right. Larsson came to us on a free, so that price was definitely right.

Let’s run down just a sampling of some, to give everyone a picture:
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Posted in Team News, Thoughts, Transfers, Transfers/Transfer Rumors80 Comments

McKuler is not impressed, aka “The summer of our discontent”

mckayla

Whatevs …

Summer is here, and after years of neglect of the sporting project, transfers are being made, players coming in that people — most notably the folks whose asses are on the line — hope will improve the team. Finally!

Whatevs … not good enough.
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Posted in Thoughts, Transfers, Transfers/Transfer Rumors357 Comments

The value of something worthless, aka “The Cesc Fabregas saga continues”

Cesc

Value:
noun
1. the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
verb
1. estimate the monetary worth of (something).

Value is a fun notion to contemplate. I like to think of it as two cars that passed through my possession. One was a big ol’ red sedan that looked really cool, but had … erm … mechanical complexities. It stranded me once, and I drove from the mechanic’s about a half-mile to the local Subaru dealer to trade that thing the hell in. Didn’t get max value, but part of that value was in having that thing GONE.

The other car, a hotted-up Subaru, I sold for something around 2k over its value, a price I could demand and hold out for because really, I didn’t want to sell it. It was one of those, “If you want to give me this much for it, okay.” And someone did.

Which brings us to players, transfers and in particular, Cesc Fabregas.
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Posted in La Liga, Thoughts, Transfers, Transfers/Transfer Rumors179 Comments

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