Is Barça doing ‘bad business’?

-66, -2, -85, -73, -32. These five numbers crudely offer an impression of FC Barcelona’s net transfer spending over the past five seasons. In a brutally quick analysis of these five figures, one can say that Barcelona is a club that every year pays extraordinarily high amounts of money for players, only recouping a tiny amount from sales. That is true, but the million-dollar question is, does this constitute bad business?

To answer this question, things must first be put in context. First and foremost, the fact that Barcelona is a buying club must be stressed again and again. Barcelona will never be Benfica or Porto, who buy in order to make profit. Barcelona always buys for the betterment of its own squad, to raise the quality of the team and appease its members by ultimately winning titles. In no way whatsoever does Barcelona come close to the Moneyball approach.

The paragraph above does go a long way towards justifying a number of deals, and sales in particular, which one would consider bad business. Over the past five years, and even beyond that, Barcelona have followed a very clearly defined approach with regards to player sales. Those players who are deemed useful to the team plan are simply declared non-transferrable. Players are moved on only when they are no longer useful to the team. This was definitely the case with Adriano this year.

This is a stark contrast with other teams in terms of approach. Barcelona would never, ever put themselves in a similar situation that Real Madrid did in 2014, when Ángel di María, arguably the X-factor in Carlo Ancelotti side’s successful pursuit of the elusive tenth Champions League/European Cup was sold to Manchester United for €75 million. Madrid managed to get that amount of money, simply because they were selling a top player in top form. Imagine if something like that happened in Barcelona, with the club selling, for example, Neymar. If we put the fact that such a deal would spark a genuine revolt aside, it is beyond than certain that Barcelona would have comfortably been able to cash in the full €190 million release clause that was stipulated in the Brazilian’s previous contract.

We could even look for examples of Barcelona selling marketable players. When Barcelona sold Alexis Sánchez and Cesc Fàbregas in 2014, nobody was yelling about the club doing bad business, simply because Barcelona was able to get a combined €77 million for two players who never quite seemed to fit in at the Camp Nou. And all this came after the club’s only title-less season to date after Pep Guardiola became coach in 2008. Both deals were a commercial success, and proof that Barça is not a hopeless seller, but rather an opportunistic one. In fact, over the years, the market has taught us that it’s all about opportunities.

There is also of course the complaint that Barcelona always buy for unreasonable prices. Take a quick look at the market. The prices being quoted for some of the deals being made are indeed crazy. Was Paul Pogba worth his price? I highly doubt it. It is worth though plotting Barça’s buys against the rest of Europe’s top clubs and top spenders. José Mourinho’s Manchester United paid €38 million for Eric Bailly, a player who showed huge promise in La Liga but is still raw and has never played in the Champions League, which will ultimately become United’s target in the near future. Nobody complained about the price, but when Barcelona paid €25 million for Samuel Umtiti, an equally promising centre-back with Champions League experience who did well on the biggest European stage during the EURO, some were quick to accuse Barça of overspending. Clubs who wish to buy are forced to spend in an inflated market, and this is an undeniable fact. Bayern spent €35 million plus another 45 million in future add-ons for an 18-year old called Renato Sanches. The guy’s got bags of talent, and can certainly become one of the very best, but the price he Bavarians paid for him is a big gamble, because the Bundesliga is not the Portuguese Liga and well, Bayern, just like Barça, is quite a special club to play for.

Real Madrid, who most critics of Barcelona’s transfer strategy point to as a role model, has had its own fair share of failures over the years. They shelled out over €30 million on Asier Illarramendi in 2014, who had just played one (very) good season of La Liga football, and last summer they had to make a more than 50% loss when they sold him back to Real Sociedad. This pretty much proves the point that for the giants, there will never be 100% success in the market. A mixture of successes and failures will always be there. Barcelona has made some good deals, and it has made some bad deals as well. But hasn’t it been the same for the others too?

A final point needs to be made about the other big accusation Barcelona faces at this time. Many have accused Robert Fernández of missing out on several big opportunities in the market. We were having a little discussion between us at totalBarça the other day, and my colleague Aara pretty much hit the nail on the head. “Was there some perfect right-back or forward available that Barça didn’t sign this summer?” It is true that Barcelona missed out on Nolito. The current Manchester City player was a good option but does missing out on him warrant such a reaction for the press? The club also missed out on Gameiro, but it would have hardly made any sense for Barcelona to repeat a 30-million-plus gamble on a player who nears the third decade of his life and who wouldn’t even be a regular. Arda Turan’s struggles have taught Barcelona a lesson. Critics have also pointed out at the lack of opportunities for players from La Masia. I don’t think there is a better way to deposit trust in La Masia than handing Sergi Roberto a chance at right-back.

Barcelona is not the average club. Every move on and off the pitch comes under great scrutiny from the local press, which frankly, is always on the lookout for a chance to criticise. There have been some grey patches in the club’s transfer strategy, that’s for certain. Marc Bartra shouldn’t have left for a meagre 8 million, and the club could have made something out of Martín Montoya, Alex Song and Bojan Krkić. However, Barcelona is learning how to make the most of its status. This season’s famous shift to 22-year-olds is a strategic move. If something doesn’t quite work out with André Gomes, Samuel Umtiti or Lucas Digne, Barcelona will still be able to sell the players on without having to suffer a huge loss. We should always remember though, that Barcelona are buying with an intention to build, not to sell on. So for me, this summer’s business is in fact good business.

*All facts and figures courtesy of transfermarkt

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  • Eivind Niclasen

    A highly relevant article, but I personally have yet to read any criticism of the signing of Umtiti. Quite the opposite, I thought he was like a breath of fresh air, the elusive physically strong, ball playing CB that culés have been pining for ever since Chygrinski was sold back to Shaktar Donetsk.

    Not all aspects of Barca´s transfers have been successes. Let´s not overlook the fact that the club has in many cases insisted on letting players leave for free rather than get money for them. Off the top of my head, I can name Afellay, Montoya, Tello, Adriano more or less, the same with Villa, Cuenca, Vermaelen, and Song. Bad business all across the board and a puzzing reluctance to make money from letting players go. Other than that, I am delighted with this summer´s transfers. Deadwood players have been moved on to pastures new, quality players have arrived and we finally have the bench we have been missing for so many years. Even Pep didn´t have much of a bench during his four years in charge. In the hopes of injuries being few and far between, fatigue shouldn´t threaten this upcoming season in the way it did after the gruelling international break right before last season´s clásico at the Camp Nou.

  • ForzaBarca Messi

    Good article. But you forgot to mention the debacle that is Douglas, worst transfer ever…There must be an explanation that I’m missing for that.

  • Abhishek Gour

    Yes we are bad at doing business not from the players being bought point of view but the ones being sold. We had several bids for Vermaelen in the range of 10-15 Mil Euros but we let him go to Roma on loan with an option to buy. Now the best case scenario is we sell him for 7 Mil, but if Roma refuse to buy him next year he would be pass 30 and with his injury record nobody would pay a penny for him. Similar was the case of Song, when he went to West ham in his first season he was in high demand and clubs were willing to pay 15-20 Mil for him, but again we didn’t sell and he eventually left for free. Take the case of Tello, Swansea and Liverpool were willing to pay 15 mil for him but again we let him go on loan and will finally end up getting only 7-8 mil for him.Montoya left for free as well and so did Adriano. Now these players may not fetch too much money but would it make sense to send them out on loan with at least the possibility of getting more money for them then letting them go for free. I think Barca pays too much respect to the players and yield to their demand of the preferred clubs even if those clubs are not willing to match the price paid by other interested clubs. We made a total profit of 30 Mil Euros last year, I’m sure if the above transfers were handled carefully we could have recouped 20-30 Mil euros from the above transfers which is 66%-100% of the total net profit earned by the club.