From the here-today-gone-tomorrow Paulinho and the Roma robbery of Malcom, Barca are having a peculiar summer – but is it all made-up or a masterplan?
Fans and press alike don’t really know how to assess Barcelona’s weird sense of timing these days. Take the current transfer market as an example. In a summer where Real Madrid seems absolutely paralyzed after the sudden departure of their manager and biggest star, and where Atlético Madrid is doubling down on creating a squad a mighty as the one owned by the Big Two, Barça are in no-man’s land. They do sign players, yes, but there’s nothing flashy about it.
However, there’s a lingering feeling of ‘improv’ in the air surrounding Barça’s scouting and transfer planning. Take Malcom’s signing, for example. In one the summer’s weirdest soap-operas, the Culés literally snatched the winger from the plane that was going to take him to AS Roma and put him inside another one which flew him to Barcelona. Other explanations and additional information was delivered later, but that was the gist of it. Not really the most sensible way to proceed.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 27, 2018
The source of Barça’s planning troubles possibly lies in the fact that, for a number of years, their sport management has been reactive to the talks and deals other big sides performed, and never tried creating an identity of its own.
Signing Ernesto Valverde as the coach can be pinpointed as Robert Fernandez’s biggest achievement before the former sports director was sacked; leave that aside and the last ten or twelve players recruited ought to be defined as ‘fiascos’ for the most part.
Paulinho came for a large sum of money ($47 million) in the midst of the Neymar crisis, played decently, and left one year later back to the Chinese League for a similar sum. Ousmane Dembelé was signed for a ridiculous $123 million plus another $47 million in bonuses, and both his injuries and lackluster performances prevented him from becoming a successful player in his debut season. Paco Alcacer ($35 million), André Gomes ($43 million), Gerard Deulofeu ($14 million)…all of them are set to leave the club over the next few weeks.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 28, 2018
Only two signings have been undeniably excellent for the Blaugranas: Samuel Umtiti, an absolute beast in the defence; and skilled attacker Philippe Coutinho, one of Leo Messi’s best ‘socios’ on the pitch even though he was only able to play from January onwards.
Why are Barça having trouble with their signings? Again, no having a clear, defined course of action severely penalizes them. That’s why bringing in Eric Abidal as their new sport director seems a smart move: a former player for the club, soft-spoken, highly-regarded by other sides, with a huge symbolism and gravitas (he overcame a cancer years ago) and a deep knowledge of central-European football, Josep Bartomeu and his board hope that the Frenchman can put their relationship with other powerhouses back on track.
In fact, Abidal has been busy trying to rebuild the burnt bridges of last summer with Paris Saint-Germain, as he knows that’s the only way of potentially persuading them to negotiate for Barça’s target Adrien Rabiot.
Madrid’s slowpoke-like strategy this summer also allows Barça to take their time. Los Blancos might be the Champions League winners, but Barça conquered a ‘Doblete’ themselves and have a manager in Valverde who knows his craft. Their challenge this season will be repeating the excellent performance both in La Liga and Copa del Rey, while avoiding a catastrophe like the one happened in April in that gloomy night in Rome.
At the end of the day, usually the best strategy is sitting down and listening to Ernesto Valverde. ‘El Txingurri’ is often spot-on in every assessment he makes, and he was keen on making a point last Friday: “I like having a small squad”, he said, “and it’s likely that we will add more players this summer. We will try and set up the most competitive squad we can, but our style must remain untouched”.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 28, 2018
He also encouraged Dembelé (“this will be ‘his’ season”), welcomed Malcom (“he will add competitiveness to the squad, we can’t play every single game with only eleven players”) and praised Real Madrid, Atlético and Valencia, considering them “candidates” to the La Liga trophy.
Finally, one last ‘little’ detail: Leo Messi. After his unceremonious exit in the World Cup, the number 10 is enjoying his holidays and rebooting his mindset towards the new season. Getting Messi back to work will surely speed-up some of the transfer talks, as the Argentinean has been as important as the manager and the sports director when deciding on a new player. Having the best player of the world in your team has, it seems, both its perks and downsides.