Coutinho: In-house talent gives way to bought-in stars at Barça
Philippe Coutinho has arrived in Barcelona, and is to join the Blaugrana from Liverpool for a Spanish-record sum of 120m+40m. As I'm sure you're aware, the latter figure takes the form of incentivised add-ons, which are basically a way of deferring payment and making the fee seem a little less exorbitant. Coutinho's a terrific player, a fixture in the Brazil side, who'll be tasked with filling Andrés Iniesta's boots when he's not there - which, given that time catches up with us all, is going to be increasingly the case, I'm afraid. He is Barça's second major transfer-market splash since the sale of Neymar. The other was Ousmane Dembélé, bought for 105m+40m. The 222m they got from Paris Saint-Germain has gone on the initial fees for these two players. Then there's the variables, not to mention the 40m and 30m forked out for Paulinho and Nelson Semedo, respectively.
Bartomeu tasked with rebuilding - without looking in-house
Barcelona have money to spend and are doing just that; and they're right to. Football is, among other things, an entertainment industry. (I don't expect we'll hear the city's archbishop shouting to the high heavens as he does when Real Madrid are splashing the cash, though.) It was legendary former boss Johan Cruyff who, in accusing then-Barça president Josep Lluis Núñez of being tight-fisted, declared: "Money should be out on the field, not in the bank." Current chief Josep Maria Bartomeu has had no hesitation in that regard: last year, he had already invested in Paco Alcácer (30m), André Gomes (35m+20m), Lucas Digne (16m) and Samuel Umtiti (25m). The passing years have, as is their wont, gradually caused the great team put together by Pep Guardiola to break apart, and it has fallen to Bartomeu to rebuild it. But this time without looking in-house.
It had felt like Barcelona had an endless stream of talent...
Homegrown versus bought-in: not so long ago, that was how the headlines described Barcelona against Real Madrid. La Masía, Barça's youth academy, came to yield such a crop of wonderful players that it felt like what the Catalan club had would just go on and on. It even allowed them to take up a sort of moral high ground: the lads from La Masía up against the extravagances of a chequebook-wielding moneybags (that is, Florentino Pérez). However, the stream of talent has dried up, no-one's coming through, and Barça are doing the same as everyone else: buying the best they can find on the market. Just as Guardiola is now doing at Manchester City. This new Barça won't be enveloped by the same aura of romanticism, but with a bit of luck and a healthy dose of know-how, they'll continue to be a top team... at least as long as Lionel Messi lasts.