Cesc Fàbregas, Alexis Sánchez and Barcelona Transfer Policy: Fab or Foolish?
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Watching Barcelona's characteristically mesmerizing performance in last year's Champions League Final victory over Manchester United, I counted seven La Masia graduates in the starting eleven.
Had usual captain Carles Puyol started the match, the Barcelona lineup would have included a remarkable eight players from Barcelona's world-renowned youth system.
Naturally, I was quite surprised when a side with such undeniable homegrown talent agreed to purchase Udinese winger and Chilean International Alexis Sánchez in a deal potentially valued at just under €40 million.
I was even more surprised to discover that manager Pep Guardiola apparently finds it necessary to invest at least a further €30 million to secure the services of Arsenal skipper and former La Masia graduate Cesc Fàbregas.
€70 million to bolster the European Champions? Really?
Does Barcelona actually need any new transfers?
When I began writing this article, my answer was a resounding "No!"
Beyond returning every key player from last season, Barcelona had already been strengthened by the emergence of recent La Masia graduate Thiago Alcântara and January acquisition Ibrahim Afellay.
Earning the Golden Boot at the U-21 European Championship this summer, the 20-year-old fantastically demonstrated that his pace, deft touch, and world-class long-range shooting qualified him for a regular role with Barcelona.
Similarly talented, Afellay first attracted international acclaim for his impressive substitute appearances for the Dutch National Team. A ambidextrous attacker who can play either in a central role or on the flanks, Afellay was surprisingly effective in limited appearances last season.
Costing only €3 million, the 25-year-old Dutchman could surely prove his worth to be far greater if given the opportunity.
Nevertheless, I've since decided that the addition of Sánchez should help club continue its dominance of European football.
Somewhat reassuringly, Pep indicated that he would use him at all three attacking positions. meaning that he would not simply displace Pedro in the starting eleven.
While I was originally skeptical about the 5'7" winger playing as a center forward, I've since realized that Barca's attack is rather unconventional. Just ask Nemanja Vidić who remarked after the 2011 Champions League Final, "It’s surprising. They don’t play with a forward."
Instead, the Catalans generally play with two wings who cut inside from the flanks and a deeper-lying central attacker who plays ahead of Iniesta and Xavi in the midfield. Occupied by David Villa, Lionel Messi, or (formerly) Bojan, this role is more of a trequartista position which requires the incumbent to demonstrate the creativity, touch, and composure to operate anywhere within the opponent's third of the pitch, not just the opponent's box.
Demonstrating that he can absolutely shred opposing defenders from virtually anywhere on the pitch, Sanchez should fit in nicely.
With 20-year-old attacker Bojan moving to AS Roma in what amounts to a glorified loan deal, the more experienced and dynamic 22-year-old Chilean will assume the former La Masia graduate's role. While Sánchez might not immediately feature in the starting eleven, he will provide an added boost to combat Real Madrid's ever expanding roster of superstars.
Can they afford Sánchez?
The initial transfer fee will cost Barcelona €26 million, but the amount may increase to €37.5 based on his performance.
While this seems like a hefty sum, Barca won't incur a single loss but will rather report the transfer cost evenly over the five-year length of his contract. Even if he reaches all performance-based incentives, the club will report a not-so-horrible annual loss of €8 million for his services.
Considering the Chilean will make similar wages to Bojan (who will have his wages covered by new club Roma for the next two seasons), Barcelona will essentially break even on this front.
While there are varying accounts regarding the extent of their debt, Barcelona have increased their already enormous revenue with the new €30 million per year shirt sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation.
Furthermore, with the sale of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Oriol Romeu, and Jeffren Suarez raising an additional €33 million, Barcelona seem more than capable of managing the transfer fee.
What about Fàbregas?
According to the latest reports coming out of England, Cesc Fàbregas appears to be headed to the Nou Camp in a deal which will see the Catalan Outfit pay Arsenal a €29 million fee plus an additional €6 million based on his performance (probably number of games played).
Despite unwavering support from the Barcelona players, I really don't see how this deal benefits the club.
Barcelona already have legendary playmakers Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta pulling the strings in the midfield, and at 31 and 27 respectively, the Spanish duo will likely feature regularly in the starting eleven for at least the next two or three seasons.
As previously mentioned, Thiago and Ibrahim Afellay are two emergent playmakers who appear talented enough to provide cover from the substitute's bench and perhaps eventually earn a spot in the starting eleven.
Fàbregas would seem to be awkwardly sandwiched between the two pairs of players.
As former captain of one of the top teams in the world and costing the club nearly €30 million, he would appear to demand a place in Barcelona's starting eleven. Yet with Xavi and Iniesta firmly entrenched in Pep's lineup, Cesc could spend the better part of the next three seasons on the substitute's bench.
Unlike 22-year-old Sanchez who is young enough to spend his first season on the substitute bench before forcing his way into the starting lineup, the 24-year old Fàbregas is in the prime of his career and should not waste his best years waiting for Xavi retire.
While Cesc has implicitly suggested that he would accept a role outside of the starting eleven, such a move would both halt his meteoric rise as one of the world's top footballers and prevent Thiago and Afellay from receiving the opportunities they deserve.
If Guardiola does sign the estranged Gunners' captain (presumably to a five-year deal), the club will pay him €4 million per season in addition to posting annual €6 million losses for the roughly €30 million transfer fee.
€10 million a year seems awfully steep for a poor acquisition...
Should Guardiola make any other moves?
With so much hoopla surrounding Sánchez and Fàbregas, fans and the media have ignored a very important piece of information: center half Carles Puyol is 33-years-old. While the Heart of Catalonia may yet survive another couple of seasons in the starting eleven, his recent injury struggles should motivate Guardiola to at least identify if not purchase his successor.
An ideal candidate would be Belgian center half Jan Vertonghen. Plying his trade with Ajax where he progressed through the youth system, he embraces total football and would form an excellent pairing with the multi-talented Gerard Piqué in the Barcelona central defense.
While Puyol exemplifies stalwart defending, Vertonghen is far more dynamic and would provide Barcelona with another fantastic scoring option.
I'm going to guesstimate that his transfer fee would be somewhere in the region of €20 million making him still quite expensive. Nevertheless, he would still cost less than Fàbregas while fulfilling an immediate need.
Assuming Puyol sticks around for another couple of seasons, the left-footed Vertonghen would thrive at left back where he would provide a more offensive option to the oft injured Éric Abidal.
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