Copa del Rey final. Barcelona’s European internationals have left to join up with their national sides ahead of EURO 2016, the South Americans have left for the States in order to battle it all out in the Copa America Centenario, and those with no commitments have already started their holidays. For one man though, the end of Barça’s season signified the start of a crucial period. We are of course talking about the club’s technical secretary, Robert Fernández, who faces his first summer in charge of the blaugrana transfer dossier.
Over the past year, Robert Fernández only appeared in the papers in order to comment on the occasional rumour that required an official response from Barcelona or for the odd interview. This summer though, the ex-Villarreal, Barcelona and Valencia midfielder will be exercising his duties as Barcelona’s technical secretary in full for the first time since his appointment last July, which came shortly after Josep Maria Bartomeu won the popular vote for the presidency. Robert’s predecessor, Andoni Zubizarreta, had good and bad dealings, as it has been said time and time again. Barto’s man of choice needs to get it right from his first summer.
Although we can’t say that Barcelona are a club in flux, it must be noted that this summer will be an important one. There is some serious work to be done. The club won the treble last season, but otherwise Barcelona have reached the Champions League semi-finals just once in three seasons. Barcelona’s old guard, the over-thirties, has been reduced to a core of three loyal servants in Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves, and Andrés Iniesta (Claudio Bravo and Jérémy Mathieu aren’t on the list because they have been at the Camp Nou for just a couple of seasons). Iniesta, as club captain and the man who embodies the Barcelona spirit won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, but there is a cloud of doubt surrounding the futures of both Alves and Mascherano.
The Brazilian right-back after a number of scares over the past few seasons, now appears to genuinely have one foot through the exit door, with Juventus ready to welcome him in Turin. Some view the task of replacing Alves as a pretty straight forward one, but in fact, Robert will have a very hard time sanctioning a deal for new right-back to replace the former Sevilla man. Alves has not just been a feature of Barcelona starting XI since 2008; he is the man with whom Leo Messi likes to combine the most on the flank, and an indispensable attacking outlet out wide (despite his not-so impressive crossing stats).
Many names have appeared in the press, some more promising than others, but Barcelona should really make the correct interpretation of the situation. Alves’ replacement should be as close to the Brazilian in every aspect. He should have the Brazilian’s attacking prowess, his durability and his ability to defend one on one even against the very best attackers. Above all though, Barcelona, and Robert in particular, must be 100% sure about their choice. Not all full-backs have what it is needed to play at Barça, and as with all positions, Barcelona is not a club where everyone can fit in.
Sevilla’s Mariano Ferreira and Valencia’s João Cancelo have been rumoured as potential replacements for Alves, but both would be approximate fits for the job. The Brazilian is almost 30 and there are no guarantees that he will be as good next season, while Valencia’s young Portuguese, although promising, is a Jorge Mendes client, and has had an irregular season with a team that has disappointed.
Arsenal’s Héctor Bellerín has also been mooted as a potential target and, to be honest, the 21-year-old Arsenal man looks like the perfect signing. Young but already considered among the best in the game, having been named the Premier League’s best right-back for 2015-16, the Barcelona native has the “Barça DNA”, having spent eight years at La Masia before Arsenal’s financial terms lured him to London as a 16-year-old. Bellerín may claim he wants to stay at Arsenal, but it would be a massive surprise if he were to reject Barça if the blaugrana show a genuine interest. If Dani Alves eventually leaves, Robert must think no further than Bellerín.
Yet there are some who think that the Spanish international would not be right for Barcelona. It is true that buying the 21-year-old would command a sizeable fee, but there are many reasons to suggest that the youngster is worth it. First of all, any quality player in the upcoming transfer market is likely to be overvalued, from goalkeepers to forwards. Last summer, Real Madrid has to pay upwards of €30 million for right-back, an emergency substitute for Dani Carvajal in last Saturday’s Champions League final.
Secondly, Barcelona must show their nerve in negotiations. Robert will win over the hearts of many should he manage to negotiate a better price, and thirdly, Barcelona aren’t as financially pressed as people think. Josep Maria Bartomeu pulled out a rabbit from his hat when he announced a landmark kit deal with Nike that is set to run to 2026. With Barcelona set to earn more than €100 million per year only from that deal now on, Susana Monje and the rest of her financial team will be able to relax a bit, especially if the president lands another mega-money deal for shirt sponsorship in the coming days. The major consideration in financial terms is of course the club’s long term financial future, given that the Camp Nou renovation project is set to cost more than €600 million, 4 years’ worth of the full rewards of the Nike deal, agreed at €155 million.
However, this summer and the one that follows should not see the sporting project sacrificed for the Camp Nou. Arsenal did that for the Emirates and haven’t won the Premier League since 2004. Bellerín, a young and extremely talented player available for a high, but still reasonable cost considering market realities, should be the type of signing Robert must aim to make during his tenure. It is doubtful that Barcelona will need to make a Luis Suárez-Neymar type move over the next couple of years, so Robert must aim for substance over glamour.
Bringing players in is just one part of Robert Fernández’s business though. The cases of those leaving are equally important, and Barcelona still have a long way to go before being considered tough negotiators. That has been clearly illustrated over the past three transfer windows. Barcelona all too often make things easy for potential buyers, especially compared to arch rivals Real Madrid, who despite their ridiculous overspending have got good money for their players. In 2013, the scorer of 18 goals in 44 matches, Gonzalo Higuaín was sold to Napoli for €40 million. During the same transfer window, Raúl Albiol, well down the centre-back pecking order and a back-up for Spain, went to the same club for €12 million, having played 26 matches for Real Madrid during 2012-13. The then 28-year-old Albiol’s situation is strikingly similar to Marc Bartra’s current situation, yet Bartra, now aged 25, can leave Barcelona for just €8 million due to a clause in his contract.
Barcelona have been careless with their contract dealings, and worryingly enough, the demands players are making and the plans of the coaching staff aren’t reflected in the terms agreed between the players and the club. in 2013, another contract mishap took Thiago, the future of Barcelona’s midfield, to Bayern for just €25 million. A year later, Real Madrid negotiated a 20-million-euro deal with Italian champions Juventus with lots of special clauses for their reserve striker Álvaro Morata, a deal that in retrospect looks like a masterstroke, as Madrid now have complete control over the fortunes of the highly coveted Spanish international. The list of Barcelona’s atrocious kindness to buyers goes on and on. Adama Traoré’s ten million move to Aston Villa seems like the only time in recent years when Barcelona got a club to actually pay above the odds. This entire exchange is closely followed by Americans gambling online. They follow the Bestuscasinos.org real money guide to football. What can I say? Live and let live I suppose.
To cut a long story short, Robert Fernández and his negotiating team have to prove their wit during the summer. Barcelona have to buy cleverly, and sell even more cleverly. With things looking increasingly rosy on the financial front thanks to work of the marketing department, the sporting project has the chance to reap the benefits. Robert has to make sure it doesn’t go amiss.