Hear us out.
Firstly, to all of the Barcelona fans that reckon all these sales and cost-cutting is down to the club putting money away for a big-money signing like Erling Haaland next summer: Get a grip. It’s not happening.
Barca are in over €1 billion of debt. A billion! You’d think after the first few hundred mil that those running the club would take a breath and smarten up. Josep Maria Bartomeu, however, is not a smart man.
In fact, to call the former president’s running of the club ‘criminal’ is both an understatement and potentially apt, given he was arrested back in March on suspicion of misuse of funds and corruption.
But back to business. Throughout Joan Laporta’s campaign – and even during the days leading up to the exit of Barca’s best player in history – the order of the day was to ensure Lionel Messi stayed at the club.
Under Bartomeu, Messi had exclusively explained to Goal the reason behind the infamous burofax, that he felt the club was being poorly run and could not compete for the biggest trophies as a result. They were ‘juggling’ and ‘covering holes’, as he put it. There was no project.
When Laporta came in, things (at first) looked a little rosier. Messi’s good friend Sergio Aguero was coming and would go some way to filling the Suarez void. But it soon became apparent that the club’s financial situation was even worse than first feared.
Even after agreeing to a 50 per cent wage cut, Barca still couldn’t register Messi. They had to let him go. And even after Messi had gone, three senior players, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, all took take pay-cuts to register the likes of Memphis Depay and Aguero.
It was a mess, but it had to be done.
Junior Firpo was sold, Emerson Royal was sold, Carles Alena was sold. Barca’s highest-earning youth player in history, Ilaix Moriba, a player of such frightening potential that he had a €100m (£86m/$119m) buyout clause, was sold for just €16m (£14m/$19m).
If you’re a Barca fan, it’s depressing, there’s no doubt about that, but these are all moves that absolutely had to happen in order to stop the club spiralling towards bankruptcy.
In that sense, Laporta, as derided as he will be, is doing a good job of getting the club back to something resembling financial stability. He even managed to wrangle €2.7m out of Besiktas for Miralem Pjanic’s last-minute loan move.
Make no mistake, there is still a long road ahead. High-earners such as Coutinho, Samuel Umtiti and Clement Lenglet are still a financial burden, but lessons have been learned and there are still positives to take out of the summer circus.
With Messi gone, so too is ‘Messi-dependencia’.
Perennially pinning all your hopes on the shoulders of one player is a fool’s game – as Juventus found out to their detriment with the abject failure of Project Ronaldo. More emphasis will be put on building a balanced team rather than building a team around an individual.
In addition, with funds at an all-time low, it is the perfect opportunity for Barca to turn their attention back to their famous La Masia academy, the youth program that Messi came through in the first place.
Admittedly, signing Luuk de Jong is a bit of a weird one, and losing Antoine Griezmann is a big blow, but the Blaugrana should still have what it takes to finish in a Champions League position while they continue to recalibrate for a brighter and more stable future.
To date, Laporta has racked up more than €260m (£223m/$309m) in savings – no mean feat given the state of the coronavirus-ravaged market.
So to Barca fans we’ll say this: Go easy on Laporta. If he hadn’t made the tough yet necessary choices he has so far, you may well have had to find a new club to support.
Atletico have the best squad in La Liga
Oh to be Diego Simeone right now.
Picture the scene: You’re the head coach of the reigning Liga champions, you’ve made a couple of shrewd additions to your title-winning squad and as you’re enjoying a well-deserved cigar… BOOM!
Antoine Griezmann returns to the club at which he spent the best playing days of his career.
It’s an incredible coup for a team that, just one year prior, snapped up Luis Suarez from their Catalan rivals and saw the Uruguayan play a huge part in their victorious battle against the two best teams in Spanish history.
As things stand, Atleti are in a position to do something they haven’t managed since the 1950s – win back-to-back league titles.
Indeed, their last crown (2013-14) owed a lot to Diego Costa’s 27 league goals – and, of course, a superb defence – but the transfer window that came after saw both Costa and defensive stalwart Filipe Luis sold to Chelsea.
This time, there was no poaching of Simeone’s best talents. Sure, Saul has gone to Stamford Bridge, but he wasn’t at his best last season and Rodrigo De Paul, bought from Udinese, is more than capable of taking his place.
Matheus Cunha had already been brought in to offer more options in attack after a lacklustre season for Joao Felix, but Griezmann is tried and tested under Simeone.
He might get some flak from the fans after his weird exit from the club, but there is no manager better suited to getting the best out of him.
While Barca spent their entire summer attempting to balance the books by offloading some of their best talents and drastically reducing their quality in the process, Real Madrid were solely concentrated on signing Kylian Mbappe – which they failed to do.
The only other addition, an out-of-sorts Eduardo Camavinga, is hardly the headline signing that Blancos fans have come to expect, and certainly not one that will fill supporters with confidence that they can breeze their way to another La Liga title.
David Alaba was signed on a free contract, but will he be enough to fill the void left by both Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane? Well, no.
Real Madrid might still be the bookies’ favourites to win the league, but this title is very much Atletico’s to lose.