Why Does FC Barcelona Make Stupid Transfer Decisions?
Barcelona are one of most storied football clubs ever, but recently, they've been failing in the transfer market.
We all know about the 21 La Liga titles, 26 Copa del Rey cups, one European Cup, three UEFA Champions League triumphs and Barça habitually dominating the FIFA World Player of the Year/FIFA Ballon d'Or gala events.
The success of the Catalonian club has conveniently swept inept transfer market dealings under the rug.
But let’s have an in-depth look at the Blaugrana's transfer mishaps and why management makes the same mistake over and over again.
Attacking Talent Overload
The main facet of Barcelona's recent transfer dealings is a heavy emphasis on attacking players, even if they don't fit in the starting XI.
In order for us to understand why Barça make what you'd call "luxury signings," let's look back at the decisions of past Blaugrana regimes.
It's 1950, and Barcelona head scout Josep Samitier stumbles upon Hungarian defector László Kubala in a friendly game.
According to former Barça chairman Enric Llaudet, Josep used underhand tactics in recruiting Kubala (via Jon Carter at ESPN FC):
Kubala came to Spain thinking he was going to be signed by Real Madrid, but because he was half-[drunk] he didn't know whether he was coming or going ...there was a real confusion on the train and Kubala suddenly turns to Samitier and says 'Hey, we go to Madrid, don't we?' 'Sure, we are', says Samitier. 'But the sign says Barcelona,' insists Kubala. Then Samitier says: 'Don't you worry. We are going to the club now.' And that is how he brought us Kubala.
In 1999, László was voted the club's greatest player ever.
Alfredo Di Stéfano signed with Barcelona in 1953 only to end up at Real Madrid thus changing the entire history of Los Blancos for the better.
Barcelona signing Luis Suárez from Deportivo La Coruña was another masterstroke because he became the club's first Ballon d'Or recipient in 1960.
The productivity of Cayetano Ré (signed from Elche in 1962), Sándor Kocsis (signed from Young Fellows Zürich in 1958), Evaristo (signed from Flamengo in 1957), Eulogio Martínez (signed from Libertad in 1956) and others opened the door for more grandiose attack-minded signings.
Hans Krankl (signed from Rapid Wien in 1978) would have won another Ballon d'Or for Barcelona if not for Kevin Keegan.
Bernd Schuster, who came from Köln, was a breakout success in the 1980s for the Blaugrana.
How about going left field and acquiring an Englishman in Gary Lineker from Everton (1986)?
Txiki Begiristain and José Mari Bakero (signed from Real Sociedad in 1988) blossomed at the club.
Ronald Koeman (signed from PSV Eindhoven in 1989) scored as many goals as some full-time attacking players.
Michael Laudrup (signed from Juventus in 1989) was the creative outlet of Cruyff's Dream Team.
Hristo Stoichkov (signed from CSKA Sofia in 1990) scored some audacious goals for the club and won a Ballon d'Or.
Romário (signed from PSV in 1993) was a genius inside the penalty box and became the club's first FIFA World Player of the Year.
Yes, Luís Figo (signed from Sporting Lisbon in 1995) betrayed the club, but he was one of the best players of his generation.
What if Ronaldo stayed at Barcelona? He only played one season for Barça after signing from PSV in 1996. He was the bigger, stronger and quicker version of Lionel Messi.
Deportivo La Coruña standout Rivaldo joined in 1997 and left some indelible memories like rising to the occasion with a hat-trick against Valencia in the last league game of the season to secure a UEFA Champions League spot.
Patrick Kluivert (signed from AC Milan in 1998) scored 120 times in 255 games.
If Ronaldinho (signed from Paris Saint-Germain in 2003) was a 10/10 on Florentino Pérez' looks scale instead of a 4.5, the Brazilian would have been a Los Merengues legend.
Wait a minute. Isn't this article meant to critique Barcelona's transfer dealings? Yep, read the next slide.
When It Began to Unravel
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Gambler Archie Karas once turned $50 into $40 million but lost it all.
Barcelona went on a run like Karas where most of their attacking signings didn't just produce but turned into stars and in some cases, legends.
After a few decades of rich success in signing attacking players, management became lax in determining if "x" player was the right fit.
Instead, they signed player "a," "b," and "c" then prayed that it would work out (Chelsea have adopted the same strategy).
Giovanni Silva, the 1995 Bola de Ouro winner who was signed from Santos, could have been something special, but his career was hindered at Barcelona.
Same with Sonny Anderson (signed from Monaco in 1997). However, the club saved face by selling both players for profit to Olympiakos and Lyon respectively.
Christophe Dugarry (signed from AC Milan in 1997), Juan Antonio Pizzi (signed from Tenerife in 1996), Meho Kodro (signed from Real Sociedad in 1995) and Gheorghe Hagi (signed from Brescia in 1994) didn't work out, but they weren't disastrous decisions.
Mallorca forward Dani García, who cost the Blaugrana €16 million in 1999, violated the No. 1 transfer rule: "Don't overpay for "potential."
Three years earlier, Real Betis broke the world transfer fee record for Denílson based primarily on potential, and that didn't get them anywhere.
García ended up having his contract rescinded. In the same transfer window, Simão (signed from Sporting Lisbon) and Jari Litmanen (signed from Ajax) failed to live up to expectations.
All these signings happened in the latter stages of Josep Lluís Núñez' tenure as President.
Joan Gaspart, his successor, surely couldn't do much worse, right?
Photo via totalbarca.com
Sid Lowe's hyperbolic statement of Joan Gaspart is quite fitting (via The Guardian): "Gaspart has built a horribly imbalanced squad with 73 creative and not-so-creative midfielders but only one decent defender (Puyol)."
Arsène Wenger sold Barcelona a bill of goods when Gaspart was desperate enough to sign Marc Overmars for €40 million. Good player, but €40 million good? No way, Joan.
In Marc's three seasons with Arsenal, he wasn't included in the PFA Team of the Year let alone in contention to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Gerard was Cesc Fàbregas before Cesc Fàbregas.
Gerard, a La Masia alumni, wasn't given a chance with the first team. He became a star at Valencia and Joan bought him back in 2000 for €24 million.
Gerard was a tidy player, but the €24 million transfer fee weighed him down.
Philippe Christanval, who had a red flag of concentration problems, cost €17 million.
The Alfonso signing was hypocritical since Gaspart screamed "Judas!" at Luís Figo yet signed the former Real Madrid player from Real Betis for €16.5 million in 2000.
Gaspart knew he had messed up €8.25 million per league goal later (this isn't even including the wages Alfonso was on).
If Alfonso was worth €16.5 million then by Joan's logic, Salva—who won the Pichichi with 15th placed Racing Santander—would have been worth €33 million.
Speaking of €33 million, that's how much Gaspart sent River Plate in return for Argentine prodigy Javier Saviola, who never scored 30 goals in the season for the Catalonian club.
The next season, Joan overspent on potential again (evidently, he didn't pay attention to the Denílson sage at Real Betis) and plunged into the deep end with Geovanni (signed from Cruzeiro in 2001) for €21 million.
Geovanni didn't last three seasons and never came close to justifying his significant transfer fee.
Then there was the talented but undisciplined Fábio Rochemback from Internacional, who once gave himself an extra day over the Christmas break to avoid coming back to training which was €9 million down the drain.
When Gaspart sealed the deal for Juan Román Riquelme from Boca Juniors for €11 million, Joan was brimming with joy (via UEFA.com):
We're talking about an exceptional player. We had to make sure he didn't get away. Van Gaal will decide the best for the team, but he said that he would only accept the transfer of Riquelme if we found a solution for the non-EU players.
At the time, Joan's quote about Louis van Gaal seemed innocuous, but little did we know that LVG felt slighted that he wasn't consulted.
He deemed Riquelme as Gaspart's "political signing" and wrecked what could have been a fantastic career at Barcelona for the majestic Argentine.
You see, even when Joan makes the right move, he still loses.
This anecdote from Emmanuel Petit summarises Gaspart's forgettable tenure (via Ed Needham at The Spoiler):
I was making 150,000 euros a month [at Arsenal]. So I asked Gaspart for twice that. He wavered but agreed eventually.
The night I arrived, the boss [Lorenzo Serra Ferrer] asked another French player, Richard Dutruel, to translate.
Richard, visibly embarrassed, told me not to laugh, but said the boss wanted to know what my best position was!
I thought he was joking. But I soon realised I was only there as part of Gaspart’s plot to become president.
Joan Laporta: More Misses in the Transfer Market Than CR7's Free Kicks
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
If Florentino Pérez didn't do a U-turn on his original stance of buying out Samuel Eto'o's rights at Mallorca (Real owned 50 percent), Barcelona wouldn't have signed Eto'o.
What if Ronaldinho had Cristiano Ronaldo's looks? The Brazilian probably would have been signed by Pérez.
Then there's Lionel Messi being Barça's godsend.
These three events saved Joan Laporta's legacy from being as lampooned as Joan Gaspart's term.
Laporta's Worst Transfer Deals
1. Zlatan Ibrahimović, Signed from Inter Milan for €49 million + Samuel Eto'o in 2009
You're probably thinking Massimo Moratti had balls of steel to negotiate this hard. Not, really.
Keep in mind, there was still ill-feeling from Moratti's side that he had broken the transfer fee record to sign Ronaldo from Barcelona yet spent more money rehabbing him from injuries.
Massimo was playing with house money since if Barça didn't play ball, Zlatan would stay with the Nerazzurri, and the Catalonian club would have to find another suitor for Eto'o.
Not only did the transfer deal heavily favour Inter, but Laporta didn't calculate Messi's feelings towards Zlatan.
Guillem Balague told Hawksbee and Jacobs:
Not exactly [Pep Guardiola's] mistake, it was the club that wanted to get rid of Eto'o. Nobody wanted to pay the amount of money Barcelona wanted for Eto'o.
They got an opportunity where they swapped players and Ibrahimović went from Inter and Eto'o went to Inter.
All in all, it was a club decision, more than a Pep decision.
But, he was asked and he said: 'Yer, I tell you what, we'll just have another alternative to our Barcelona. We can play it long. He's [Zlatan] also a deceiving player because he can play the ball well as well as holding it, he can be an assistant.'
What he [Pep] didn't realise, but he did after five months, is that he [Zlatan] was eating away the space that Messi needs to grow.
So there was a moment on the coach [bus] after a game. At the end was Messi sitting with Pinto [backup keeper]. Up the front was Pep Guardiola with Tito [Vilanova].
And Messi sent a text message that said: 'Ibra or me.'
Supposedly Eto'o had personality clashes with Barcelona management. Well, why sign the biggest "my-way-or-the-highway" footballer in Ibrahimović?
2. Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Signed from Shakhtar Donetsk for €25 million in 2009
Made several errors for Shakhtar in high profile games like against AC Milan and Sevilla. Didn't play much for Barça but when he did, he struggled. Lasted a season at the club.
3. Keirrison, Signed from Coritiba for €14 million in 2009
Joan's easy money scheme epically backfired on him. The plan was to sign Keirrison, loan him out to Benfica, let him score 20 plus goals and sell him for a profit.
Except, was he going to get playing time over Óscar Cardozo or Javier Saviola?
Oops. Laporta didn't think about that.
4. Alexander Hleb, Signed from Arsenal for €17 million in 2008
Didn't know sitting on the bench was worth €17 million plus, give or take €100,000 per week.
5. Gianluca Zambrotta, Signed from Juventus for €14 million in 2006
Good signing on paper, but he was a massive liability and consistently missed his defensive assignments. Communication problems?
6. Martín Cáceres, Signed from Villarreal for €16.5 million in 2008
Great motor, very aggressive tackler and has the ability to be an elite defender. Never really given much time to settle in at Barcelona since he was always on loan.
7. Henrique, Signed from Palmeiras for €8 million in 2008
The defenders' version of Keirrison.
Laporta swung and missed a lot in the transfer market.
If he was playing baseball, he'd be well below the Mendoza Line.
Also, Maxi López (signed from River Plate in 2005) and Ricardo Quaresma (signed from Sporting Lisbon in 2003) were calculated risks that failed.
Just Use La Masia?
Barcelona are too big to fail, and management knows that. Hence why they've engaged in such risky—and at times, stupid—transfer dealings.
It's ruined decades of great signing after great signing.
The club thought they had the Midas touch with every signing hence why they stockpiled players and generally overspent when they didn't need to.
Recently, Barça fielded an entire XI against Levante composed from La Masia and won 4-0.
Víctor Valdés; Martin Montoya, Gerard Piqué, Carles Puyol, Jordi Alba; Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fàbregas; Pedro, Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta
The team started with Dani Alves at right-back, but when he pulled his hamstring after 13 minutes, Montoya was subbed on to make history. Later in the game, Thiago was brought on, meaning the club played 12 academy players in one La Liga game.
Look at those names. Why does Barcelona need to spend exorbitant amounts on imports?
If you're going to sign players from opposing clubs, do it the Porto way, who sign low and sell high.
Also, what is the deal with signing world-class midfielders and playing them as defenders? In case you forgot, Javier Mascherano (signed from Liverpool for €24 million in 2010) was one of the most dominant midfielders a few years ago.
Alex Song (signed from Arsenal for €19 million in 2012) should never play at centre-back ever.
By the way, he led the Gunners in league assists last season but has also created a single shot in six starts in midfield for the Blaugrana. Did they really need to sign him?
Alexis Sánchez, a €26 million signing from Udinese in 2011, has looked down and out this season.
Sooner rather than later, Sandro Rosell will have to decide if Santos' highly rated Neymar is worth in excess of €50 million.
Maybe if Gerard Deulofeu lives up to expectations the club won't need to sign Neymar.
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