Ever since Josep Maria Bartomeu took control of Football Club Barcelona, their transfer policy has been, for the better part, erratic and counter-intuitive. Barça seem to want to emulate Pérez’s Galácticos, often making marquee signings that make no sense and at other times making depth signings without much thought.
A case in point is the rumored Nelson Semedo-Mattia De Sciglio swap. If the rumours are to be believed, Barça are looking to offload Semedo to Juventus, in exchange for De Sciglio and Miralem Pjanić plus €25 million. That sounds absurd. For Juventus to offer two players plus a cash sum for Semedo is strange in and of itself; it is even stranger that Barça would swap their starting right-back for two players that, in essence, add very little to the squad. De Sciglio has similar shortcomings to Semedo (equally poor attacker and decision-maker) and Pjanić is a holding midfielder, a position in which Barça have more than adequate depth. The deal makes no sense for either side, although it may be worse for Juventus.
Semedo, for all his shortcomings, remains Barça’s starting right-back. De Sciglio, on the other hand, has served as a deputy to Juan Cuadrado and has only played four full 90s this season. To exchange Semedo for a player who, at best, is slightly worse than him makes no sense. That’s where Pjanić comes in, alongside a rumoured cash fee. With those variables, the deal becomes an enticing economic opportunity for the club, even if it still doesn’t make sense on paper.
Unfortunately, enticing economic opportunities are what have got the club into its current position, alongside a general risk aversion. Under Bartomeu, Barça have prioritised short-term gain and have neglected the long-term health of the squad. That has meant a general risk aversion has set in, in terms of moving senior members of the squad away from the club. As a result, Barça’s wage bill has got ever more inflated; this is something that does not bode well during a global demand/supply crunch. Barça are now left with a half-baked side, severely lacking in some departments whilst overloaded in others.
Deals such as these typify the current situation of the club. It is ‘mes que un club’ only in the sense that it is more a business venture than a sports club. Barça is looked at and managed by Bartomeu as a brand (which has its upsides, of course). In a twisted version of this capitalist reality, Barça’s on-field health has become inversely proportional to its image and power as a global brand.
However, have such panic deals become a necessity now? Until now, the board’s various errors have been tolerated by the players and club faithful because domestic success has been easy to come by. Now, it looks like the past has caught up. It wouldn’t be surprising if Barça’s finances were in severe jeopardy at the moment. Therefore, they are forced to use less influential players as pawns in quick cash-grabs (think Jean-Clair Todibo) and forgo claims to promising loanees, whilst trying their best not to upset the apple cart with the higher ups (the veterans). Really, Bartomeu & company are left between a rock and a hard place, right now. The team is in desperate need of a makeover and yet there could not be a worse time, not just because it’s harder to raise money for sales. Players, especially older ones, will be far more unwilling to relocate in the present circumstances.
So what can the board actually do, to come through this pandemic relatively unscathed? Well, a pause on marquee signings would be a start. Another thing would be to let the manager decide what positions need more strengthening. Barça’s transfer policy seems very top down in nature, which often results in failed transfers and all-round miscommunication. Moreover, now is the time to gauge the relative importance of positional improvements; the club has to outline certain positions as priorities, instead of looking for the next superstar. Bringing back some of the loanees wouldn’t be the worst either, all things considered.
Mes que un club when we want to be. That is Bartomeu’s Barça. Let’s hope for change.