After coming back from lunch and snooping (snooping since I should be working) the various websites covering summer transfer activities, it suddenly dawned on me that the numerous signings made by FC Barcelona – the most recent addition in the form of Alexander Hleb from Arsenal – have an eerie similarity to the signings made eight years ago in the aftermath of another European Championship.
In the weeks following Euro 2000, Barça underwent a turbulent summer in which its long standing president, Josep Nuñez ended his tenure as president, ushering in his deputy, Joan Gaspart, as the new head of the club. With the changing of the guard, turbulence struck when Luis Figo, despite repeated denials that he was heading to eternal rivals Real Madrid, became the poster child for Real Madrid’s presidential hopeful, Florentino Perez.
In the wake of Figo’s shock transfer, a rattled Gaspart and Barça board authorized the purchases of three players (using the money paid by Real Madrid for Figo’s transfer) who had impressive CVs. The unveiling of Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Gerard Lopez, though given much fanfare by Gaspart, was an event always to be shadowed by Florentino Perez’s election victory and images of him flanking Figo holding a number ten Real Madrid shirt.
Gaspart was counting on the reputations of the three players to restore a certain amount of confidence among the fans in his fledgling presidency. And while Overmars had been brilliant on the flank helping Arsenal to a Premiership and FA Cup double, that was in 1998 and not 2000. The same applied for Petit. No question their roles were important in helping Arsenal reach the UEFA Cup final a few months prior to their signings, but Arsenal found itself on the losing end of that final to Galatasaray. And if Gaspart was all about finding players who could spit and polish their runners-up medals, his third choice in Valencia’s Gerard Lopez was a wonderful choice.
Sadly to say hardly anyone recalls the lasting legacy left by either three players in a period of abject and utter failure for a club of Barça’s stature. Unfortunately for these three players, Gaspart’s moves to acquire them were motivated more by internal club politics than footballing reasons.
It was that very era in Barça’s history that ushered in change with the election of current president Joan Laporta, who now sits on the same knife’s edge as Gaspart did in that fateful summer of 2000.
While Laporta’s management of the club has seen great successes, such as the 2006 Champions’ League and two consecutive league titles, the events of this summer have drawn many parallels to the summer of 2000. Rumors circulate without end of another Portuguese great, Cristiano Ronaldo, heading again to the capital of Spain. The man instrumental to Barça’s recent successes, Ronaldinho, has been sold to AC Milan at a reasonable asking price. Barça have again gone shopping in the European transfer market and come up with players who don’t quite create a tremor in the transfer news the way, say, “Ronaldo to Madrid” might.
Of course that’s never the indicator of how a club is going to perform during the season, but the recent signings of Daniel Alvés (from Sevilla), Seydou Keita (from Sevilla), Jose Martin Caceres (from Recreativo de Huelva), Gerard Pique from Manchester United (another “Gerard”), and now Hleb suggest to me that Barça are either (1) really stressing the construction of a team with players that will compliment each other or (2) are still waiting to make that stellar summer signing.
That’s no disrespect meant for the aforementioned players. Yet at a time when Laporta faces dissidence (eight of his board members resigned last week amidst a vote of no confidence) and recalling how Laporta promised the signing of David Beckham five years ago to win the presidential elections, one can’t help but feel that an even bigger signing is yet to come. It may well have to come as the talk of a Ronaldo move to Madrid moves closer to a reality.
The big question is: who will the big summer signing be?