FC Barcelona are currently basking in the worldwide admiration that their youth academy, known informally as La Masia, is receiving from all over Europe. With seven members of their starting line-up in the recent Champions League Final against Manchester United coming through the club’s youth setup (Puyol made it eight by coming on in the 88th minute), they certainly have the right to be proud of themselves. However, there is also another side to Barcelona Football Club, one that has a tendency to undermine the club’s image by wasting money the club doesn’t have on players that it doesn’t truly need.
First things first, Barça may be one of the world’s most successful and richest clubs, but it is also a club in debt. This debt will be down to many reasons, but one of them is a transfer policy that has seen the club pay over the odds for players who didn’t go on to live up to their high price tag. This summer has so far seen Barça linked with a €30-40m move for Alexis Sánchez and a €35m move for Cesc Fabregas. That is over €60m that the club doesn’t really have for two players that it doesn’t really need, especially after the current Barça team comfortably won both La Liga and the Champions League. So why do they see the need to spend so much money each year and put themselves in yet more financial trouble?
At the moment these two transfers are nothing more than speculation, but Barcelona definitely have a history of splashing too much cash and Pep Guardiola is one of the top culprits. Since his appointment as Manager of the first team in 2008, Guardiola has overseen 13 incoming transfers. Piqué (at a bargain price of €5m) and Dani Alves can be regarded as major successes, as can Mascherano and Villa and to a lesser extent Maxwell and Keita. The €115m or so paid for these players’ services can therefore be regarded as money well spent under Guardiola’s reign. However, the same cannot be said for the signings of Martin Cáceres, Alexander Hleb, Henrique, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Keirrison, which cost the club roughly €130m in just three seasons. Pedro and Sergio Busquets, regarded by many as two of Pep’s best ‘signings’, both accompanied him on his switch from Barça B to the first team and didn’t cost the club hefty transfer fees. Now while managers in Spain don’t have as much direct control over transfers as their counterparts in England, Guardiola is not the type of manager to sanction transfers which do not fit his own model or that of the team.
In many respects Barcelona should be incredibly grateful to La Masia for being so successful, since their recent forays into the transfer market have been extremely hit and miss. Many players were given very short periods of time in which to prove themselves before being offloaded, either because they were deemed not good enough or because Barcelona were desperate for cash. Ibrahimović was only given a year before being loaned out to Milan and eventually sold at a loss of more than €20m, and Chygrynskiy was sold back to Shakhtar at a loss of €10m after just one season also. Keirrison has yet to play a game for the Blaugrana, having been farmed out on loan for the last two seasons. Henrique has only played for the club during pre-season.
When Barcelona boast of the gems that they have coming through their youth academy it makes you wonder why they have this constant urge to throw money at any player who has impressed over the last 12 months. It wasn’t too long ago that Guardiola himself stated that there were many footballers of the same standard of Jack Wilshere in Barça B, and recent performances for Spain at the Under-21 European Championship by Thiago Alcántara show that they have another star in the making. Martín Montoya, Jeffren, Rubén Miño and Bojan (although he now seems destined to move to Roma) also formed part of the tournament-winning squad. Supporters are also keen to boast about upcoming talents such as Andreu Fontàs, Sergi Roberto and Marc Bartra, making Barcelona’s habit of having to spend big seem even more peculiar, especially since it’s depth in squad that they’re lacking – not first team replacements.
Of course Barcelona are not the only top team willing to spend silly money each summer. The difference between them and their respective rivals, though, is that they don’t need to. Currently the world’s best team, maybe even the greatest team ever (depending on your allegiance), their first team picks itself and their youngsters are of a good enough calibre to provide cover for injuries and fatigue. With this summer’s rumour-mill already in full-swing, however, the early signs are all there to suggest that Barça’s tendency to splash the cash is not about to stop anytime soon.