Blind-sided by the departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona’s summer descended into a farce with numerous key targets to replace the Brazilian not signed.
Fans were promised many and in the end signed few so we examine the stars they missed out on.
On the face of it, Liverpool were never going to sell the Brazilian even if Barca were to go anywhere near their apparent €200m.
But there is also a theory that, in fact, contrary to claims by Albert Soler, Barca’s director of institutional relations, the Catalans never properly wanted the Brazilian – at least at the prices quoted by the Premier League club – and instead made a series of half-hearted pursuits to satisfy fans, knowing full well they would fail, preferring instead to bank half the Neymar money having signed Ousmane Dembele.
The end result is the board appear to have been busy, Liverpool have made a strong statement but the one caught out is Coutinho himself; the 25-year-old so upset at the breakdown of the transfer with Brazil team-mate describing his “great sadness”.
As interest in Coutinho petered out, Barca bizarrely turned their attentions to Di Maria. Strange because of his Madrid associations and the likely backlash from supporters already furious at the inactivity of a board already on borrowed time.
Reports indicate personal terms had been agreed but PSG were playing hardball over the fee, demanding €70m with Barca only prepared to go as high as €40m for the 29-year-old.
Again, was it a face-saving exercise or was their interest genuine? We will never know, but it’s unlikely any genuine desire to bring the Argentine winger back to Spain will ever be revived.
PSG have haunted Barca at every corner of this transfer window and rumours of their intervention with Seri caused this deal to collapse just as everything appeared to be signed off.
Barca had agreed €40m but PSG reportedly then made a higher bid of €50m which caused Nice to raise their valuation and scare the Catalans off.
Soler claiming on Saturday, in relation to Seri and Inigo Martinez (more on him in a minute) that: “Yes we did show interest in Inigo Martinez and Seri but in the end we thought it’d be best to not sign them”.
Seri, understandably, was livid, having prepared for the move for weeks. Nice have been left with a disgruntled player, caught in the middle of a power play between two of the world’s richest clubs.
Why and how Barca never signed the Spain international centre-back is somewhat of a mystery. Talks were held with Real Sociedad in July, the €32m release clause was more than affordable and the 26-year-old was keen to make the switch and yet just as it appeared it would be signed off, Barca backed out.
As Soler said, the interest was there but “in the end” spending that sort of fee was not seen as wise.
Admittedly, this was before the Neymar windfall but beyond the ageing Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano – who could be a huge benefit for the team if he moved into midfield – and Samul Umtiti, central defence could do with some degree of strengthening.
Maybe, Barca will learn the error of their ways and return in January, or maybe this was another fad for a board running out of ideas.
Barca tried to unsettle Verratti to the extent he had to issue a personal apology to PSG following comments from his agent Donato Di Campli, fuelled by knowledge of interest from Catalonia.
Indeed, it caused such a furore Di Campli lost his client with Verratti shacking up with Mino Raiola.
How much that affects his long-term prospects in Paris, given his new representative’s previous form, remains to be seen but the whole drama angered PSG to such a degree, Barca may never be able to sign the Italian (and, if you want to delve into the realms of conspiracy, even enhanced their desire to sign Neymar).
PSG coach Unai Emery claimed Barca’s interest was never concrete, something refuted by sporting director, Robert Fernandez. Either way, what once looked an inevitability, with Verratti the sort of Xavi/Iniesta-type hybrid midfielder who could glide into Barca’s system, for is now a distant reality.
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