Do Barcelona actually know what they are doing?
When we’re talking about one of the biggest and most powerful sporting organisations in the world, with annual revenues exceeding the billion dollar mark, you would certainly like to think that those in charge at the Camp Nou are working to a clear and organised plan.
You would like to think that, but sometimes you have to wonder. And Barca’s current activities in the transfer market are certainly rather puzzling to fathom.
As things stand, it’s looking highly likely that both Antoine Griezmann and Neymar will be added to the Catalan club’s roster this summer, with both players currently in the latter stages of extricating themselves from their current employers in similarly unseemly fashions.
In one sense, it’s perfectly logical for Barca to seek the services of two of the game’s best forwards, which Griezmann and Neymar undoubtedly are.
How, though, can they be expected to play together? Neymar on the left, Griezmann in the middle and Lionel Messi on the right of a front three would appear to be the most obvious solution, and a very tantalising one too, it must be said.
Where, though, does that leave Luis Suarez? ‘On the bench’ would appear to be the answer to that question, but whether such an influential member of the dressing room, and not exactly a shy soul, will be prepared to countenance such a suggestion is another matter. Major ructions could lie just around the corner.
Another perplexing matter, of more immediate importance, is how Barca will possibly be able to afford the €300 million-plus required to secure both Neymar and Griezmann, especially at a time they are supposed to be reducing the wage bill, not adding to it by splashing the cash on a pair of players who will be past their peak before too long.
The ready-made solution there, perhaps, will be to recoup the cash and lighten the salary load by selling Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho, both of whom have failed to live up to expectations since their own big-money moves to the Camp Nou a couple of years ago.
Hang on though…not too long ago, the top brass deemed Coutinho and Dembele worthy of becoming the second and third (at the time) most expensive players in history. And now they are just to be discarded, sacrificed in favour of even more expensive imports? If foresight in recruitment is the subject matter, that doesn’t bode particularly well for Barca’s level of insight.
Added to these concerns, of course, is the fact that both Griezmann and Neymar have already publicly shunned – indeed, rather humiliated – their potential new club in the recent past…the former by turning them down last season, and the latter by leaving two years ago.
At least Barca can be credited with consistency for pursuing the same players irrespective of their past treatment of the club, but it’s unusual to say the least for such a mighty organisation to show such free forgiveness to former betrayers.
Actually, though, it’s wrong to talk of strategies dreamed up by ‘the club’ as though that entity constitutes one unified whole. More accurately, we are looking at the whims of one man, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and his small, select group of confidantes. And even they aren’t all pulling in the same direction, as seen by the recent resignation of long-serving director Jordi Mestre and the possible departure of general manager Pep Segura.
What, then, are Bartomeu and his band of loyalists doing? Perhaps they are simply giving manager Ernesto Valverde a dazzling range of agreed options to unleash a bewildering array of attacking line-ups upon unsuspecting opponents next season; perhaps it’s all part of a plan to gradually phase out 32 year-old Messi; perhaps a global marketing strategy is at play, motivating multiple moves for glamorous and camera-friendly superstars.
Perhaps. But right now, it looks uncannily like Bartomeu is simply making things up as he goes along.
And meanwhile, the squad still only has one left-back.
Barcelona presented Brazil goalkeeper Neto on Tuesday, following his move from Valencia.
Neto signed a four-year contract with the Spanish champions.
The transfer was part of a swap which saw Barcelona sell Jasper Cillessen to Valencia.
Barcelona paid €26 million plus another €9m in variables for Neto, while Valencia paid Barcelona €35m for Cillessen.
Neto will replace Cillessen, who played as a backup for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Champions League and the Spanish league and only regularly started in the Copa del Rey.
The 29-year-old Neto helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-place finish in La Liga in the past two seasons.
There is an odd paradox to Ousmane Dembele.
Wanted by some of the best clubs in Europe yet seemingly cast aside by another, the young Frenchman could well be on the move this summer.
It is worth noting his agent has said there’s zero chance his client will leave, but what Dembele wants and what the club desires are two totally different things.
And there is a very select group of elite clubs with the combined spending power and draw to lure Dembele. In truth, there’s only four and we’ve analysed who might be the best fit for the former Borussia Dortmund star.
Having lost the iconic ‘Robbery’ duo, Bayern are desperately scouring Europe to pinch the best young wing jewels in a bid to crown their exponential summer investment.
Their attempts to convince Manchester City to sell Leroy Sane have not gone well while Lille’s €80 million valuation for Nicolas Pepe has rightly deterred the Bavarian giants.
The Goldilocks principle applies here, the hunt for Sane has gone cold and Pepe’s price tag is too hot to touch, everything about Dembele is just right, though.
Barcelona want €100m which is less than what City are willing to even start negotiations at for Sane and obviously more than Pepe, but for a better talent.
At the moment, Niko Kovac possess just two wingers, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry, both can be improved upon.
No doubt Gnabry was superb on Bayern’s right last season, but the 23-year-old doesn’t carry Dembele’s wild attraction. Coman is undeniably talented but his injury history is equally obvious.
One big element in Bayern’s favour as well, is Dembele’s familiarity with the Bundesliga after emerging as the world’s most precocious attacker at Borussia Dortmund.
Taking into consideration Bayern’s signature style is to line up in a 4-2-3-1 – unless there’s a tactical revolution over the summer – they desperately need Dembele. The big question is how much?
SUITABILITY = 9/10
PROBABILITY = 8/10
The city of Liverpool was a living and breathing beast as the triumphant Reds returned from their Champions League success, but it’s since made way for overwhelming silence.
The win in Madrid means the fan base is still feeding off that glory with little need to draw joy from a mega signing. There is quiet both externally and internally, although, that doesn’t necessarily mean business isn’t being done.
Aside from an understudy left-back, one area which Jurgen Klopp could do with some extra depth in is the forward slots for his 4-3-3 set-up.
Genuine competition for either Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah will ease the weight of games expected on those two and considering Liverpool’s heavy fixture schedule in 2019/20, those two aren’t quite untouchable.
Stylistically, Dembele is a match for a team which plays as if on fast-forward. His raw speed and ambipedal traits means he is lethal for a counter-attacking unit like Liverpool.
Add in the ability to play off either wing, the crucial goal contributions last season, the natural skillset which places him alongside the most gifted on the planet plus the possibility of working alongside Klopp and Dembele is an even more attractive proposition.
So what’s the downside? Dembele trashed the home he rented from ex-Dortmund boss Klopp and when personality is given equal weight to talent by Liverpool’s recruitment team, that will likely have left his chances of moving to Anfield in the same state as the house.
SUITABILITY = 8/10
PROBABILITY = 6/10
This transfer is tricky. Perhaps the best metaphor to define Dembele moving to PSG is if the routes to Liverpool and Bayern are on Google Maps, then for Paris it would be using Apple Maps with it likely directing him back to Rennes instead.
The course to the French capital largely hinges on Neymar going in the opposite direction and that deal in itself has several layers of complexity.
Now, it’s easy to see Dembele being used as a makeweight with Barca trying to sign both Neymar and Antoine Griezmann.
Spending north of €350m on two players in one transfer window dictates asset stripping and if PSG are to lose one of their prized possessions, then taking one of Barca’s carries plenty of incentive.
From Dembele’s perspective, PSG is a destination which could provide a fillip to his career. Indeed, his talent is not in question but there have been several incidents in Barcelona of disciplinary issues, arriving late to training, diet and things of that nature.
These are all understandable results of a developing young mind on big money who is largely alone in a foreign country.
Perhaps returning to familiar surroundings in his native France would help him create chaos on the pitch as opposed to off it.
For PSG, twinning two of France’s biggest and brightest stars in their attack has obvious marketing benefits beneath the frightening prospect of Dembele and Kylian Mbappe operating together on the pitch.
SUITABILITY = 9/10
PROBABILITY = 8/10
Dembele ticks off just about every box in United’s wing wishlist. He’s young, possesses blurring speed with dexterity off either foot, has a proven record of scoring and creating goals and he can play on either wing.
Borussia Dortmund’s breakout star Jadon Sancho is reportedly their top target with the right side a key area to resolve, but Dembele is arguably a more realistic – at least this summer anyway – and in some respects a better buy.
Sancho is still only 19 and as he proved at Dortmund last season, there remain areas of his game to refine, particularly in terms of consistency within games and across consecutive fixtures.
Dembele on the other hand is further along in his development and he is the type of player United can build around.
No team on this list needs Dembele more than United.
The issue is that despite the reality of possessing enormous financial power to potentially offer the biggest package to both Barca and player, Dembele at Old Trafford is a delusion.
Without Champions League football to offer, or an immediate Premier League title challenge, United are at the moment shopping in a tier or two below talents like Dembele.
SUITABILITY = 8/10
PROBABILITY = 5/10