The January transfer window is almost always chaos, in that there are usually 28-30 days of noise followed by one day of furious action. Even though everyone knows they only have one month to complete deals to bolster their squads for the rest of the season, clubs on the market to sell know that a hard and fast deadline can help jack up prices. So even if players are desperate to leave (hi there Jesse Lingard), they are at the whims of directors of football trying to squeeze every penny they can until midnight strikes and it’s January 31.
Which doesn’t help much if you’re a club already in chaos like Barcelona. Not only can Barca not chase anything near top of the line due to cigarette butts and pen caps being the only thing in their pockets, but they have to juggle what they do have to open up salary space to even sign the underwhelming and odd fits they can get. And that’s if their current players want to be juggled, which most of them don’t. Barcelona’s previous drunken-sailor spending is still very much hanging around their neck.
The main impediment for Barca these days, now that they were able to convince Philippe Coutinho to go somewhere else, was Ousmane Dembélé. Dembélé reportedly is taking down somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million a year. And he likes doing that, and who wouldn’t? Negotiations with the club to extend his deal after this season — it expires in July — have gone nowhere, thanks to the major pay cut they’re asking him to take. New manager Xavi went to the press to say that if Dembélé didn’t extend his deal and take the pay cut for after this season, he wouldn’t play again this term. Which Dembélé seems fine with, as you might be if you’re getting paid $14 million to hang out in Barcelona before signing wherever you’d like in the summer.
Various efforts to shove him off to Spurs or Arsenal or PSG on loan failed to come to fruition, as none of those clubs were terribly interested in paying even a portion of those wages for a player that hasn’t proven he can stand up to a stiff breeze without some muscle going “TWANG!” So Dembélé is sitting on the wage bill like Earthquake and Tugboat.
But that doesn’t mean Barca didn’t have business to do, which started with bringing home Adama Traoré from Wolves on loan. Barca can buy him in the summer if they so wish. And you might think, “Hey, I hear a lot about this Traoré character. So that must be good, right?” And it’s true, Traoré creates a lot of noise. And that’s about it.
Traoré is a rare player in that he’s built like a fullback, the NFL kind not the Alexander-Arnold kind, but can outrun a thoroughbred. He’s easy to notice on the field, because at least once a game he will streak by an opponent in such an insulting fashion you want to call their parents and let them know it will be ok. It truly is a dizzying sight.
Except that once Traoré does that…well, that’s it. He has one goal and no assists this season. He had two goals and two assists last year. He had four goals and nine assists the year before that, which would be a decent return if he could do it consistently. It also helped that Raúl Jiménez was in his best form for Wolves that season. While no one is perhaps better than Traoré about getting themselves into positions to make something happen, no one is worse than him. He mostly plays on the wing thanks to that speed, but can’t connect with a striker in the box for shit. He can’t really play through the middle because he can’t finish. And the slower pace of La Liga and what Xavi’s tactics appear to be, that’s not going to help him much either as this isn’t a player you want to have to take a lot of delicate touches in tight spaces. All the plates and glasses will be shattered on the floor.
On deadline day yesterday, at the very last minute, Barca pried Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of Arsenal’s doghouse on a free transfer. Arsenal were only too happy to push Aubameyang’s salary out the door as well as the actual player, as he’d been a headache for the past two months with a couple of suspensions from manager Mikel Arteta over Aubameyang’s funky concept of time. The team had clearly moved on without him.
While the first blush is to think Barca got one of Europe’s premier strikers and about the only reason to watch or fear Arsenal a couple seasons ago, that’s not the case now. At 32. Aubameyang’s performances have declined sharply over the past two seasons. From a height of 22 goals two seasons go, he went down to 10 last year and just four this year. And his metrics aren’t looking any better, as his accuracy has been cut in half over those two years while his expected goals and average distance he’s shooting from have actually gone up. Basically, Aubameyang can’t hit a bull in the ass with a snow shovel right now. Maybe Barca think that will turn around simply with the happiness of escaping Arteta and Arsenal, but you wouldn’t want to have the house wagered on that. He is an improvement on a clod like Luuk de Jong, but how much is a real mystery.
But this is what happens when Barca is forced to shop with the rest of the plebes at Aldi instead of…well, whatever the highest end grocery store is. I have no idea. You bring things home and you just pray they haven’t turned bad. And Traoré overhitting Aubameyang on a cross by 15 yards while they’re losing 1-0 to Osasuna will be a good laugh for everyone anyway.