The day after the summer transfer market closed Barcelona’s sporting director, Albert Soler, and their director of football, Robert Fernández, ran through a PowerPoint presentation, specially prepared for the occasion.
They sat in the press room at the Camp Nou but might as well have sat in the dock. As they talked their way through it, player by player, deal by deal, those that happened and those that did not, they sought to justify what some considered the unjustifiable. Barcelona were in crisis and they stood accused. The interrogation was intense, the explanation not always convincing.
Instead it was contradictory, as if they could not always get their story straight. More importantly they had not got their man. Neymar had left for Paris, barely a fortnight after the vice‑president, Jordi Mestre, declared himself “200% sure” the Brazilian was staying and they had been unable to stop him. In his place there was no sign of Philippe Coutinho, the man they had so publicly pursued. Everybody demanded that someone take responsibility for a summer that most judged disastrous.
The €222m PSG had deposited in their account did not help. It might even have made matters worse and, Soler insisted, they would resist being drawn into wild spending – even if they did sign Ousmane Dembélé for €105m, rising to €145m.
He and Fernández bemoaned an “inflated market” while the president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, called for a limit on signings, describing the market as “mad”. Soler even claimed Liverpool had offered Coutinho “at the end” for €200m. “Logically,” he insisted, “we did not accept that.”
Some had called for resignations, a complete restructuring of a model in which eight different men had a say on signings – only for the signing that really mattered not to happen at all. “There will be no resignations,” Soler said. “We could have signed two players for €270m – and we could have – but then we would have to resign for being irresponsible. We’re not going to be drawn into that game.”
Four months on they have been drawn into exactly that. Dembélé could cost €145m, Coutinho €160m. Counting only easily achievable add-ons, that sack-inducing €270m outlay will surely be reached. But no one is seriously calling for sackings now and the pressure on the president has receded.
Instead there is excitement at this signing, a belief that it strengthens Barcelona enormously. And, even as the price rose, even as Barcelona unexpectedly reached this market eight points clear at the top, 14 ahead of Real Madrid, the determination to sign Coutinho remained.
That is not to say there have not been doubts and debate. One high-ranking board member wondered whether it was financially responsible to commit to such an expensive signing and asked what impact it might have on other players within the squad. Even after the deal was done, even with the satisfaction of the signing finally complete, another of those involved privately expressed his belief the fee was too much.