A LOOK AT LA LIGA
My mum used to say “You get what you pay for”. She should have been FC Barcelona's director of football!
In the summer of 2016 the reigning champions thought they could pad out a talented squad by picking up a few bargains and the result was the lavish banquet became a bit of a stew.
Only one of the six recruits (Samuel Umtiti) actually made an impact and the club fell way behind their arch rivals Real Madrid.
Spin forward eighteen months when they splashed out on the finest and freshest ingredients and the flavour is returning.
They invested over 100 million euros each on Ousmane Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho and the speculation is beginning to accumulate. Just a week short of his 21st birthday the Frenchman started to look like a world class footballer rather than a student on a gap year in Barcelona. He scored his first Camp Nou Liga goal and followed it up with a second. He was finally accepted.
Coutinho is now making the transition from recognised international class to potential world class. He's acclimatised quickly with six goals and four assists - the kind of return Barcelona expect from one of their leading players. Luis Suárez has assisted his transition and fellow Brazilian Paulinho is there to lend support.
Paulinho at 40 million euros was the first signing of the summer and a questionable one at the time when it looked like the club was following a pattern of previous incomings. He bucked the trend and has been the transition between mediocre and encouraging.
Over 100 million was blown on Paco Alcácer, Aleix Vidal, Lucas Digne, André Gomes and Denis Suárez. All will be available from the Barça bargain bucket this summer.
The income from the clearance sale will go towards paying for Antoine Griezmann. (Well maybe the down payment anyway?) The France international fits the new 'Galáctico' era in Catalonia. Luckily he's attainable because he negotiated a low buy-out as a reward for sticking with Atlético Madrid when they were banned from operating in the transfer market.
The lack of depth in the pool at the Camp Nou underlines the magnificent job achieved by Ernesto Valverde in his first season in charge. One of the most limited sets of players in years could go down as the first ever 'Invincibles' in the club's La Liga history. No team has managed to go unbeaten in a twenty team-division; only Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid in a 36-game season back in the 1930s.
They're actually following the vision of Real Madrid's Florentino Pérez when he announced his initial manifesto. He spoke of a team of “Zidanes and Pavóns”, meaning a mixture of superstars and home-produced players. The problem is that, as I've highlighted here in recent columns, Barça haven't established a first teamer from the Academy since Sergi Roberto who graduated in 2010.
It's a harsh and expensive lesson that has been learned over the past two seasons and is likely to cost Roberto Fernández his job as director of football this summer.
I can give the club my mum's number?