They call it “silly season.” And it is truly silly. But European soccer’s summer transfer window is other things, too. It’s confusing, confounding, deceiving, convoluted and even, at its best, fun.
In Spain, where the continent’s gravitational pull is perhaps strongest, those facets are working together to make the time before this month’s later preseason fixtures feel like a season unto itself. So which La Liga side is winning this transfer period? That’s tough to call. It’s easier to say who’s losing.
Barcelona’s summer plans, if they ever existed at all, haven’t exactly panned out. After last season’s one-trophy “bust” under the now-departed Luis Enrique, the best soccer team in the world over the last decade needed real changes, really fast.
First, they brought on former Cruyff disciple Ernesto Valverde to lead things. They later exercised Gerard Deulofeu’s buy-back clause from Everton for €12 million (about $13.75 million U.S.); a decision met largely with a reception somewhere between “Meh” and “Huh?” Lionel Messi then extended his contract for basically the rest of his career, which is obviously huge but not fresh and exciting.
La Masia grads like Carles Alena, Marc Cucurella, and Marlon Santos all put pen to paper on new deals, as well. There have also been executive hirings and promotions that have received mixed responses throughout Barcaland.
But the outgoings of talented youngsters like 18-year-old starlet Jordi Mboula and 16-year-old defender Eric Garcia — to Monaco and Manchester City, respectively — have echoed loudest and longest. Both promising Masia players chose to forego their own academy promotions to seek first-team football abroad, perhaps a sign of world football’s ever-shifting tides.
Additionally, the failed moves for Marco Verratti and Hector Bellerin — a central midfielder and a right-back, highlighting Barca’s two biggest needs coming into the summer — have either swirled Cules into an obsessive frenzy or simply angered them beyond reprieve. Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu revealed this week that “two or three players will come in from outside of the club.” Waiting for those names to show up in the logbooks of BCN airport, however, is a waiting game that never seems to end and rarely satisfies.
Compare this with Barcelona’s capital rivals Real Madrid, whose summer dealings have been minute, but only out of necessity. Coming off a superb double-winning season — not to mention a FIFA-induced January transfer window ban in the middle of it — Zinedine Zidane’s Blancos have welcomed back loanees Marcos Llorente and Jesus Vallejo, who both plan to feature heavily going forward. Hell, they even managed to get rid of James Rodriguez, finally.
Despite a content fanbase allowing a bit of leniency this offseason, Madrid still managed to drill in the right spots. They grabbed Real Betis hotshot Dani Ceballos from right under Barca’s nose. In recent years, the prospect of team president Florentino Perez merely contemplating breaking the transfer world record fee on a 18-year-old French wing would’ve dominated headlines from Madrid to Mars.
Now, though, it’s a side note. That’s how thin and cool the Madrid air is these days. Even Atletico Madrid, undergoing their own transfer embargo, managed to stealthily snatch Vitolo’s signature from Sevilla just this week. These deals aren’t game-changers, but they don’t all have to be; they only have to be necessary.
So Barcelona are losers now. That’s the consensus anyway. After 10 years of unprecedented world dominance, a dull early transfer period has rendered them Ringling-esque. Of course, this public admonishing is less about the actual current state of Barcelona and more about our collective lack of temperance when it comes to success-chasing these days.
The space between uncertainty and utter doom is now indetectable, leaving little area for contemplation or nuance. What have you done for me lately? has been upgraded to What are you doing for me right now, in this exact godforsaken moment?
Staying connected, in whatever tired, contemptible ways we can, is what chauffeurs so many of our lives today. It’s unreasonable to expect sports fandom — a place where even the most straight-laced pragmatist can go to pound his or her chest — would be any different. On the contrary, it’s an idealized place for such behavior. Some call it “escapism,” but that term has always felt a bit underwhelming and misguided. Let’s all just face it: We are the Transfer Window, and It is us.
And because, in this world of fleeting sentiment, hopes can be dashed in a split second, they can be relit just as quickly. On Thursday, after weeks of atrophy, Barcelona announced a five-year deal with Benfica’s explosive right back Nelson Semedo had been agreed, pending a physical. “Nelsinho” fills a vital role for a fractured, post-Dani Alves Blaugrana defense. But more important, he indirectly relieves the stresses of a privileged yet anxious fanbase that fears an unknown future. It gives everyone in and around the club a moment to regroup — before they go through the whole thing again tomorrow.