The summer sagas that appear every year can frustrate and irritate fans, who are left wondering if a player will join their club, if a huge volume of money is available...and who else might be on the radar in case it all falls through.
Barcelona are, more often than not, used to getting who they want in the transfer market—but with new manager Ernesto Valverde in place, work to do to catch up with Real Madrid and one of their most prized assets in high demand, it is proving a difficult offseason to keep faith with for some.
The asset in question is, of course, Neymar: Paris Saint-Germain want him, according to every media report out there—BBC Sport breaks down how the French club might afford the £200 million asking price—but team-mate Gerard Pique intimated the Brazilian forward was going nowhere over the weekend, saying simply "he stays" on Twitter.
Neymar's will-he-won't-he potential departure would impact incoming deals significantly, but what if Barca could only sign one more player? Which position and role would they go for, and who should it be? We want it to stay within the realms of reality here—Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates are off the table—but it's Barca: They have great appeal and plenty of money if required.
Valverde taking over from Luis Enrique presents a tactical question before personnel is considered; while Lucho played 4-3-3 and, later, 3-4-3, Valverde was a straight-lines 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 man at Athletic Club.
It suited the players, it's the team's go-to system for players being promoted through the youth set-up and it was Valverde's stamp on team selections, even to the point that players got new roles within the formation when necessary.
Either way, the point at Barca will be to keep releasing Lionel Messi as often as possible, while summer recruits need to replenish power and technique throughout the defensive and middle thirds.
Nelson Semedo brings that at right-back, a problem position last season, while the signing of Paulinho is reportedly ever-closer, per Sport—so for the purposes of our discussion, we'll assume Paulinho is a soon-to-be Barca man, and we'll focus our "only one signing" arguments from that point onward. Elsewhere, Gerard Deulofeu rejoined this summer to provide depth in the wide areas of attack.
Even with Paulinho, though, there's still an element lacking in Barcelona's midfield department: someone to dictate play—a metronomic, visionary outlet from defence into the final third.
Andres Iniesta's powers are waning, Andre Gomes is a thousand miles from the required level, and Paulinho, though bringing the element of steel and physicality missed at times, isn't the controlling force in question.
For several seasons, there has been a transfer-in-waiting that seems an obvious fit to most of the football world—but the clubs in question have never come to an agreement. Indeed, it's the same two as referred to earlier: Barca and PSG, but this time over a would-be move for Marco Verratti.
The Italian midfielder is a perfect fit; he's technically gifted, aggressive in the middle of the park, mobile, strong, has tremendous vision for short or long passing between the lines and has great experience at the highest level, winning trophies along the way.
One minor obstacle: as perfect as he'd be for Barcelona, he's already that good, and that much of a good fit, for the Ligue 1 side.
And, let's face it, PSG are in no need of funds.
In a double pivot, he'd work extremely well with Sergio Busquets, controlling the midfield zone between them and being the option to push on somewhat more to link middle and final thirds. In a three-man centre of the park, he can play with any of Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic or Rafinha ahead of Busquets—but, critically, he also has vast experience playing as the deepest option, offering rotation possibilities and cover when the No. 5 is absent.
Verratti is our standout must-sign for the Catalan club—but not just ours.
Put to football fans everywhere on social media, he came in way ahead of other options.
Earlier in the summer, we also ranked Verratti as the second-most exciting signing Barca could make, and that was a feeling replicated throughout conversations with social influencers of the club.
Xoel Cardenes was adamant that Verratti would be a perfect fit, while acknowledging the issues with the signing. "The Italian's game appears to have 'Barca DNA' all over it, if you will. He'd bring a style of play some would compare to Iniesta's. An heir in the making? Possibly, but it would cost a fortune."
"In the last two seasons, Barcelona evidently lacked a creator in midfield," Truica said. "Even with Iniesta in the squad, the Catalans seemed to miss a further orchestrating brain in the middle of the pitch.
"To get back to their best, with their usual dominance of play, what they need most is a ball-playing, smart, technically gifted midfield maestro as an addition—and clearly Verratti ticks all these boxes (and some more). He'd be my first-choice signing; it's the type of player they need now."
There's no question: Verratti is a positional fit, has the required level of ability and is tactically perfect for the club. If there's only one more signing, it should be the Italian.
Paris Saint-Germain are capable of throwing a spanner in the works, though, and not just to deny Verratti free passage to La Liga.
The search for a new attacker and the constant Neymar rumours are ongoing, and if he leaves Barca, forget the midfield—it's the front line that will need reinforcements.
In the conversations with the journalists and club influencers above, Ousmane Dembele was similarly mentioned with regularity, though the prevailing train of thought was that he was a longer-term option, someone to mature for another year or so before becoming a key figure. That plan may well have to be accelerated, however, if Neymar moves on.
While Philippe Coutinho edged out Dembele in our Twitter poll above, social media is awash with Barca fans proclaiming the Borussia Dortmund man to be the heir-in-waiting to one of the wide front spots. Coutinho's selection, meanwhile, would likely point more to the midfield needing boosting rather than being a Neymar replacement, despite occupying a similar wide-left role at his current club Liverpool.
Even Barca's own centre-back, Samuel Umtiti, has given his blessing to the move, per Goal, saying: "He would bring a lot to Barcelona with the quality he possesses and with the things he is capable of. I would welcome him with open arms."
Dembele shares plenty of traits with Neymar but can be a much more direct attacker at times, too. He's a long way from being as consistent as the Brazilian, or as potent in front of goal, as relied-upon on the international stage and even of having the same aura around him in a dressing-room scenario, but he's an option for the future.
That future might just happen to be a lot closer than expected if Neymar makes his move to PSG—but if not, then the opposite direction is the transfer Barca want to make happen, finally snaring Verratti as Valverde's marquee addition.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless stated.