Summer 2016: A golden chance

Photo by Miguel Ruiz-FCB

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 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.

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  • Niki

    totally agree.great article. Bellerin and only Bellerin even if he costs 40 M €, while RM buys a reserve right back for 35 M.

  • Eivind Niclasen

    Fernandez will have the club´s reputation in the transfer market against him. It would be surprising if he makes any shrewd deals in the market, but one can hope. I still doubt it, though. Bartra is leaving for peanuts, while Sandro is leaving for free. That has happened under his watch, and doesn´t signal much in the way of business acumen by the club´s current sporting director.

  • Denis Melo

    I have no faith in Robert. Hopefully he’ll prove me wrong, but I think this window will be a fiasco. Can’t wait to see Bartomeu saying Neymar renewing was the best signing of the summer.

  • yaofengchen

    I’d rather keep the current roster intact for another season at least. I wish we can keep Alves. Just imagine how close we were to repeating the treble.

  • Andiko Putro

    His first task is up : searching replacement for Alves (or not, depending on how much Lucho trust Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal).

    Alves has decided to leave.
    From @barcastuff :

    Robert (sports director): “Alves? Dani has decided to leave, he has informed us about that.”

  • Tarra

    I get this feeling that Alves’ transfer includes something about Pogba.

  • Muhammad Shahab

    I wonder who can replace Alves… And I hope the Alves transfer to Juve is part of a deal with Pogba…

    • Eivind Niclasen

      I doubt it. Alves is too old to be an effective bargaining tool, even for a league like Serie A, which has a lot of aging players. Pogba is more a player destined for a club like RM or PSG. Total galactico.

  • Steven Rogers

    Bellerin wll be a tough buy. He is still under contract to Arsenal, and shows no inclination to force the issue by demanding a transfer. Arsenal are in a position where they have to show their fans ambition and a desire to retain their best players. It’s not impossible, but it will be difficult; the price would be steep.

    The Alves deal might have ramifications, but a deal for Pogba would stretch the wage structure badly. He would want a lot, and if he gets a lot others might want more as well. Midfield moves will be interesting, as we will be seeing the early stages of planning for a post-Iniesta midfield… not that Iniesta is finished, but someday he will go and the team needs a vision for what the midfield will be after he does. As with Xavi, there will be no like-for-like replacement, more an evolution to a new type of midfield play. Rafinha, Halilovic, and potentially in that picture, but are any of them at the level require? We’ll see what the team thinks.

    The team needs a reserve forward… tough buy also, since anyone good enough will be reluctant to take a position that will involve a lot of bench time. I expect some movement in the CB slot as well… Bartra is already out, no real surprise as Lucho clearly didn’t think he’s good enough. Vermaelen will probably go. At least one pure CB and a left sided CB who can back up LB as well may be on the list (maybe Samuel Umtiti), though the team might decide to keep Mathieu for another season in that latter role. Adriano and Douglas I expect will move on.

  • Catalan784

    I really hope that Barca don’t go for Pogba unless we sell Neymar. Our key issue last season was fatigue which was partly because of Turan n Vidal absence in the first half n then lack of faith in them by coach during the 2nd half. I reckon if we get Denis Suarez (likely), Bellirin (hard to get) and one decent CB (hard to find at reasonable price) then we are good for the next season. I hope that Samper is either given more time or loan out to another la liga team as it would be criminal to keep him where he is for another season.

    • Grega Kavčič

      It was all in the draw. If barca had a road to Milan like Real we would have repeated the double. It would only be possible with luck.

      I am mad that bartra is leaving becouse I cannot see a replacement that is definetely better.

      • Hector Narez

        Luck Madrid got easy road? There is corruption at hand. Since Florentino returned, Madrid have gotten the easiest draws possible.

  • Hector Narez

    I think we need to strengthen the midfield, without a strong one we will not succeed. Rickitic is not a first class player, Iniesta old, Rafinha unproven, Turan not found form yet. We can talk about having the tridente but if you don’t have a supporting backfield you’ve got nothing. We need to bring a top midfielder like Couinho, Ozil, etc.

  • Hector Narez

    What do you all think about this. Corruption?

    Since the return of FLORENTINO to Real Madrid, in 14 Champions draws in round of 16 and quarter finals, BARCA, BAYERN, CHELSEA, PSG, JUVE, ARSENAL, MILAN , AND INTER have faced each other a total of 24 times between them.

    Never against Real Madrid, who in the same 12 participated drawings has faced APOEL, GALATASARAY, CSKA, Schalke (2 times), twice OL and SPURS, ROME, a dismantled BVB, a descending UNITED, ATLETICO, and WOLFSBURG.

    They have avoided BAYERN 7 times, INTER 3 times, MILAN 4 times, ARSENAL 4 times, BARCA 5 times, CHELSEA 5 times, JUVE 5 times, PSG 7 times, and CITY 4 times.

    • Eivind Niclasen

      RM under Perez is in many ways similar to ManU under Ferguson. The red devils were also notorious for getting easy draws in the CL, year in and year out. RM´s latest Champions League toprhy is devoid of merit. They were carried to the final and only managed to win thanks to a referee “error” which eventually took the game to a penalty shootout.
      Zidane is still not considered a top 10 coach on a global scale. Why not? Winning the CL after only a few months on charge ought to be a historical feat, but somehow his name still rings hollow in a coaching sense. We all know why, don´t we? He didn´t achieve anything. He was the poster boy of the fake resurrection of a comparatively mediocre side, that was never really challenged. He was even allowed to rest most of his starters before the Clásico, which he only managed to win through negative tactics against an opponent weighed down by fatigue. Compare his season to Lucho´s first season with Barca, especially in the CL, where Barca exclusively faced tough competition from beginning to glorious end.
      The last many RM teams have not been impressive, and Ronaldo is no longer a world class player. No amount of easy tap-ins and free penalties can disguise that fact.

      • Peter Tinkler

        I don’t really care that Real won the CL this year, as you have already pointed out, it had no merit to it. Not once in the competition did they have an outstanding performance. It looks alright on paper, but even highlights of their victory would be dull, devoid of moments of brilliance or any kind of inspiration. They struggled against Roma, who should have been 0-2 up in Spain if they had of only taken half their clear cut opportunities. They were completely outplayed against Wolfsburg, and they should have scored an away goal. The semi final was beyond dismal. Shamefully bad, with nothing of interest to report. And the final Atletico were the better team and they were robbed. Contrast that with Barcelona last year. Every single game was memorable, with a plethora of outrageous goals and skills. And no one can take that away. 🙂