Barcelona’s two-window transfer ban is very bad news indeed for the club—and not just on the pitch.
But let’s deal with matters on the pitch first. I've been saying for a while now that this is a Barcelona team coming to the end of its cycle. The need for new players, particularly in goal, with Victor Valdes announcing that he was moving on, and in defence, where the shattered knees of Carles Puyol finally won the battle over the club legend’s indomitable spirit, has been there for all to see.
The fact is that on the pitch, unless they win their appeal against the ban, Barcelona have a huge problem—a problem which raises more questions than it does answers.
Let’s start in goal. At the age of 38, Jose Manuel Pinto had seemed unlikely to perform in a Barcelona goal next season. The injury to Valdes and the possibility that they will now be unable to bring in any new ‘keepers they are rumoured to have signed means that, for the time being, they’d be advised to coat Senor Pinto in bubble wrap and prevent him from walking under any ladders.
The deal with Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been done, but FIFA won’t let it go through.
Will Barcelona now have little option other than to make Victor Valdes a colossal offer to stay at the club before his contract runs out in the summer? And if they do, will he accept it? I am convinced they will not offer it again and that he has decided to go to Monaco.
In defence there’s been a constant umming and ahhing over whether Marc Bartra is good enough to take over the mantle of Carles Puyol when the veteran defender calls it a day at the end of the season. We’ll soon find out, because whoever was rumoured to be on his way is going to have to wait a while as Bartra looks certain to make many more starts than before.
And what about the new Croatian boy wonder, Alen Halilovic, signed from Dinamo Zagreb for €2.2 million? Is he coming or not? He might have to go out on loan, as his deal will not be approved by FIFA in the next transfer window.
But one of the major problems on the field for Barcelona is that there is a mixture of aging and deadwood at the Camp Nou, which could now take quite a bit of shifting.
Transfer embargoes will affect the recycling they need to do. They can sell players, though.
Alex Song would almost certainly have been sold at the end of the season. Dani Alves, also for sale, hasn’t been offered a new contract—not yet anyway, but that might change now—and Xavi has for a while been linked with a move to Major League Soccer, per Simon Borg of MLSsoccer.com (but he had told the club he was staying).
The choices for Barcelona—and I repeat, unless they can get the ban lifted—is that they are either going to have to make do with what they’ve got or dip into their much-lauded Academy, La Masia. But not much quality is coming through recently.
Gerard Deulofeu, Rafinha and Bojan Krkic can be recalled again, be included in the preseason plans and go from there.
Which brings me quite nicely to matters off the pitch.
Real Madrid, and for that matter all the clubs in Spain, are not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, and they have never shown much reluctance about sticking a finger in Barcelona’s ear should the opportunity present itself. This one has turned up gift-wrapped with a great big fat bow on it.
Madrid, of course, have claimed they know nothing of how the revelations came into the public domain. But it was an anonymous complaint to FIFA which started the whole process that ended up in the ban.
Barcelona keep talking about a "black hand," somebody trying to harm them at key points of the season. If FIFA knew of the punishment in November, as it seems, why do they send the notification now when the club is fighting for the big titles?
One of the members of the commission that investigated Barceona is a Real Madrid director. Fine. They are not the only ones convincing kids from thousands of miles away to set themselves in another country, culture and club much earlier than they should. OK.
But the resuscitation of the "victim" mentality will not do them any favours. They cannot say they protect kids as a defence when actually there are at least 10 cases that broke the rules—and rules were imposed to protect kids. It would have been better to admit culpability and change their wrongdoing.
What will really concern Barcelona, in the light of this judgment, is the world’s perception of the "Brand Barcelona" the club have spent so much time and money trying to cultivate.
Unfortunately, when you perpetuate the lovie-dovie, homespun, almost charitable caring-sharing, cradle-to-the-grave image that the "more than a club" has strived for, stories like this are, to say the least, counter-productive.
Barcelona have issued a statement that they are not worried and they can explain the situation. The truth is, if they can’t, then they could well be in trouble.
Not everything they do is wrong, and FIFA is not trying to castigate La Masia, as Barcelona suggest. When you do things that are outside the rules, no defence is possible.