Barcelona: Football’s biggest hypocrites.
Barcelona break new ground all the time. More passes than anyone else, more goals, more sycophantic plaudits. This summer’s addition to that list – buying substitutes for £40million a go – doesn’t quite have the same morally superior ring to it, though. That they’re throwing cash at players marked out for their bench paints a pretty vulgar picture of football’s moral arbiters, in fact.
Despite their marketing, Barca have always spent big. Since Pep Guardiola took over at the club, they’ve only spent less than Real Madrid and Manchester City. Large swathes of that money has been wasted on flops like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dmytro Chygrynskiy, but equally, players like Dani Alves, David Villa and Javier Mascherano were crucial to last season’s trophy-smothering as well as preceding silverware. The club might “make Ballon D’or winners” but they’re as pragmatic as everyone else when it comes to filling a team sheet with winners.
So this summer’s pursuit of £40million men Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas is not exactly new. Barcelona DNA notwithstanding, both players are examples of raw talent nurtured into world-beaters elsewhere, before being bought with no expense spared.
Without the moral worthiness that’s come with their success – the eulogies to youth teams and the finger pointing towards Madrid and anyone else buying success – there wouldn’t be much of a fuss to be made about either move. Manchester United paid £20million for a 20-year-old goalkeeper less than a month ago and few eyebrows were raised.
But with the moral brand they’ve scrawled all over themselves – too good to buy in talent – even winking at Sanchez and Fabregas makes Barcelona rampant hypocrites.
And the hypocrisy is all the more blatant this time. Because at 22 and 24, this summer’s targets are marked as ones for the future. They’re being bought primarily as cover for Villa and Xavi, and then as medium-to-long-term replacements for them.
That’s a smear on La Liga’s pin-ups in two ways. First, their sporting domination, alongside a commitment to astonishing salary packets, means they can now afford to buy world-class players without even the intention to play them – which manages extravagance greater than even the Galactico collecting at Real Madrid, where the stars are at least bought to play.
Then, deeper than that, the pursuit of Fabregas and Sanchez reveals an uncertainty around the club’s structure, on which so much emphasis is placed. Back in March, before his team’s Champions League appointment with Arsenal, Guardiola noted that Barcelona had many reserve team players like Jack Wilshere. Fair enough, Thiago Alacantra proved the point with his displays for Spain’s Under-21s this summer. And yet Wilshere is playing regularly for Arsenal, while Thiago, 20, is set to have 24-year-old Fabregas placed in between him and 30-year-old Xavi’s place in the team. As for Sanchez, his arrival looks set to see Bojan Krkic, 20, leave the club altogether.
For all the trust placed in reserve team graduates and the noise made about it, this summer’s targets reveal convenience, not ideology, as the explanation. Like every other club, Barcelona trust their reserves when they’re outstanding talents like Pedro and Sergi Busquets, otherwise they buy in replacements of better quality. The morality brand is a money-spinning lie – and Fabregas and Sanchez grinning and bearing it on their bench will expose it.