With just two days of the January transfer window remaining, Barcelona launched an unexpected £85m bid for Everton’s Richarlison. Perhaps just as surprisingly, Everton turned the offer down, and there were reports that Barcelona then targeted Willian, but by the end of January they had yet to acquire a forward who could help fill the void of the injured Luis Suarez.
If this seemed like a desperate late attempt to boost their squad with little thought or care, it’s because it was. In fact, Barcelona appear to have had little or no transfer strategy for years now.
Barcelona used to pride themselves on the players they produced from their famous ‘La Masia’ academy; the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta were all products of the Catalans’ youth programme. However, in recent years, the production line has not presented similar talent.
Sergi Roberto remains the only player to have graduated from their academy and become a regular starter in recent years; players like Cristian Tello, Isaac Cuenca, Martin Montoya, Marc Bartra, Adama Traore and Gerard Deulofeu all failed to establish themselves in the first team, and Barca have had to rely on the transfer market.
The signings of Neymar and Luis Suarez, who were both already world-class talents, both worked out, but in more recent times Barca have signed the likes of Phillippe Coutinho (£140m), Ousmane Dembele (£130m) and Antoine Griezmann (£113m), and with Coutinho on loan at Bayern Munich, Dembele yet to prove himself even worthy of a starting spot (may I reiterate, £130m for someone who isn’t even guaranteed to start) and Griezmann not fitting well with the system, these extortionate price tags are proving to be colossal wastes of money; there are even rumours that Griezmann was signed merely to prevent rivals Real Madrid from landing him.
Despite their poor transfer strategy, the sensational partnership of Messi and Suarez has helped them to keep on winning trophies, masking the club’s inadequacies.
However, Suarez now finds himself injured for possibly the rest of the season, and Barcelona spent the month frantically trying to sign a replacement.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Lionel Messi accompanied by two forwards who costed a combined £243m would be enough, but clearly this money was not spent wisely as Barcelona felt it necessary to replace Suarez rather than trust in World Cup winners Dembele and Griezmann.
After courting Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a bizarre attempt at a loan move that rather unsurprisingly failed to materialise, Barca then made a last-ditch attempt to hijack Inter’s deal Christian Eriksen. This also failed, and Barca were desperate, and that was when they offered £85m for Richarlison.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Richarlison is a good player. But £85m? Everton paid £40m for the then 20 year-old who had managed just 5 goals in 41 appearances for Watford, and although he has now scored 25 goals in 65 appearances for Everton, it is still up for debate as to whether he has even justified his £40m price tag from two years ago.
A half-decent Premier League player was clearly identified as the man to solve their problems with just two days left of the transfer window, and Barca threw a lot of money at him. But to no avail.
They then moved for Chelsea’s Willian, who they had previously failed to sign a couple of years ago. The out of form winger has struggled to nail down a starting spot in an average Chelsea side for the last couple of seasons, and they couldn’t even sign him.
The window has now closed, and no forwards were brought in. The 17 year-old Ansu Fati has been a bright spark in an underwhelming first half of the season, but despite his two goals against Levante last night, it seems unlikely that the teenager is really ready to perform at the highest level.
Furthermore, Suarez’s influence on the team cannot be understated. His near-telepathic combination play with Messi has created goal after goal for Barcelona for the past 5 years, and without Suarez’s intelligent movement to create space for Messi, not to mention his outstanding finishing himself, Barcelona are half the team they would be.
Messi’s late goal in their 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid earlier this season demonstrated their partnership perfectly; a one-two played at devastating speed on the edge of the box before Messi slotted the ball into the far corner.
With Suarez injured and no replacements brought in, Barcelona are finally being made to pay for years of an almost non-existent transfer strategy.
It remains to be seen whether or not new manager Quique Setien can instil his Cruyff-like philosophy in time to turn their fortunes around this season, and with Messi and Suarez creeping towards their mid-thirties, Barcelona’s future could be bleak. Spending all your money on Richarlison is not the answer.