With the end of the season almost upon us, talk is beginning to turn to the transfer market. Rumors of big-money transfers, star signings and moves for the brightest young talents are already starting to fill column inches. And rumblings from those who claim to be an ‘insider’ who is ‘in the know’ are doing the rounds on social media.

This is the point in the season where, with most of the continent’s league titles wrapped up, and only a fortunate few with cup finals to look forward to, many fans start to dream of summer signings. Whether it’s the latest teenage sensation bringing hope of a brighter future, or an old head to sure-up a solid squad and act as the final piece in an already well-constructed puzzle, all fans want their club to be active in the off-season.

And few clubs have been more active in the transfer market in recent years than Spain’s big two, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Fewer still can claim to affect the plans of so many other teams with their own transfer policies: a contract dispute in Madrid can spark a frenzy in Manchester, a want-away Barcelona squad player could see chequebooks opening in Paris and Munich.

Real Madrid’s Galáctico policy of bringing in a renowned world-class superstar each year arose in the early 2000s with the signings of Luís Figo and Zinedine Zidane, and has been perpetuated more recently with the acquisitions of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodríguez. This year names such as Paul Pogba and Sergio Agüero have been mooted. But one rumour that seems to have some legs is the possibility of Los Blancos making a move for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Gabonese Borussia Dortmund striker has been in incredible form this season, netting 40 goals across all competitions. Aubameyang is thought to be very interested in the idea of joining the 10-time European champions due to a promise to his late grandfather that he would someday pull on the famous white shirt. Dortmund will be reluctant to part with their star man, and will demand at least €100m for his signature.

Madrid are also likely to return for David de Gea following last summer’s comical collapse of the Manchester United goalkeeper’s switch to the Bernabéu. The deal had been agreed by all parties, with Costa Rican stopper Keylor Navas moving in the opposite direction. But technical difficulties meant Madrid were unable to submit the relevant paperwork in time, and the transfer window closed with the deal in tatters.

Club president Florentino Pérez will be keen to avoid another embarrassment this time around by getting a deal sewn up as soon as possible. But the excellent form of Navas this season, coupled with the fact that United may soon have a new manager who’d be determined to persuade de Gea to stay, could be spanners in the works to a perspective transfer.

In the past, whenever Madrid have made an expensive Galáctico purchase, they’ve balanced the books with a major sale or two. When Gareth Bale was signed from Tottenham Hotspur for a world record fee in 2013, Mesut Özil was sold to Arsenal for £42m. And when James Rodríguez was brought in after the 2014 World Cup, Ángel di María was shipped off to Manchester United for £59.7m.

This summer will likely see 24-year-old Rodríguez as the man shipped out to make way for a major import, with interest from Manchester United and Juventus. Spain international midfielder Isco is another who is thought to be on thin ice at the Bernabéu. And, if a striker of Aubameyang’s ilk is brought in, Karim Benzema’s Real Madrid career would likely be brought to an end.

Planning ahead in the transfer market is key to success in Soccer Manager

At Barcelona, things may be a little different this summer.

The Catalan giants have yet to secure a shirt sponsorship deal for next season. If they are unable to do so over the coming months, and with the costly planned redevelopment of the Camp Nou, manager Luis Enrique may find that the purse strings have been tightened somewhat.

Perhaps more important for Barça than any transfer business, is the pressing matter of contract renewals for Neymar and Sergio Busquets.

Neymar has been agitating for a new deal for some time now. The gifted Brazilian is believed to earn much less than his MSN partners in crime, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, so a new contract would have to include a hefty pay rise.

As will be the case with Sergio Busquets. Although rarely a goal-scorer, and less headline-grabbing than the aforementioned front three, Busquets is quite possibly the player Barça miss the most when he’s not around. The midfield pivote is the man responsible for breaking up opposition attacks, and setting his side off on their trademark free-flowing passing moves. His importance to the team cannot be underestimated, and he will want his contract to reflect that.

Despite a reduced budget, Barcelona are looking to strengthen in a few key areas. Their primary concern is recruiting a young, top-class centre-back to work with Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano.

Top of their list is Paris St. Germain’s 21-year-old Brazilian, Marquinhos. The former AS Roma defender has had to be back-up to compatriots David Luiz and Thiago Silva in the French capital, and is now considering his future with the club.

Other names on Barça’s shortlist include Everton’s John Stones and Athletic Club’s Aymeric Laporte. However, the reigning Treble champions are likely to be priced out of a move for either man by interest from the Premier League.

The second priority for Barcelona this summer is to find a striker who will be content with a supporting role, yet possesses the requisite quality to deputise for Suárez. For this, they have their sights set on a couple of Frenchmen: Olympique Lyonnais’ Alexandre Lacazette and Sevilla’s Kévin Gameiro.

Lacazette is thought to be Barça’s first choice, but the 24-year-old French international is an ambitious young man who is unlikely to be happy as a mere back-up option. Gameiro, however, may be more receptive to the idea. The former PSG striker has netted 22 goals this season and, at 29-years-old, would likely jump at the chance to join one of the biggest clubs in the world and add to his medal collection.

As ever, all eyes will be on Real Madrid and Barcelona when the transfer window opens again in July. Both clubs are expected to be busy to varying degrees. With the futures of many star players uncertain, and with big-money transfers anticipated, there promises to be plenty of action to keep fans entertained until the new season kicks off.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:


Two of the biggest club’s in world football go head-to-head at the Camp Nou on Saturday evening, for the second El Clásico of the season.

Real Madrid are trailing behind their bitter rivals and need to win to stand any chance of clawing their way back into the title race. Ahead of what promises to be another thriller, we look at some Clásicos stats:

0 – Clásicos Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has presided over compared with three for his Barcelona counterpart Luis Enrique – a 3-1 defeat at the Santiago Bernabéu & 2-1 win at Camp Nou last season and a 4-0 thumping over their bitter rivals last November.

75 – Messi, Suárez & Neymar have scored 75% of Barcelona’s goals this season compared to 73% for Madrid’s attacking trio.

389 – The number of goals Madrid have scored in official Clásicos, which is 11 more than Barcelona.

14 – The shirt number of former player and manager, Johan Cruyff, who shaped Barcelona and will be honored at the game.

6 – Real Madrid have only won 6 of the last 27 Clásicos that have been played since the start of the 2008/09 season.

499 – The number of career goals that Lionel Messi has scored and he could score his 500th during the game.

231 – The number of Clásico  played since the first once in the semi finals of the Copa del Rey in 1902.

10 – The number of points that Real Madrid are behind their fierce rivals.

68 – The 68th minute of the game is the time in which the most goals are scored – 17 in total.

52 – The number of goals scored from the penalty spot.

3780 – Gento is the player with the most minutes played in El Clásico with 3,780.

21 – Lionel Messi is the player with the most Clásico goals with 21.

13 – Lionel Messi is the player with the most Clásico assists with 13.

25 – There have been 259 different scorers.

500M – The estimated number of fans around the world who will watch El Clásico.

71 – Since 1929 Real Madrid have won 71 of their 171 La Liga encounters with Barcelona.

8 – The last 8 Ballon d’Ors have been won by Messi and Ronaldo with 5 and 3 respectively.

39 – Barcelona are hoping to extend their current 39 game unbeaten run.

550 – There have been 550 El Clásico goals in La Liga, which is an average of 3.2 per game.

2002 – There hasn’t been a 0-0 draw since November 2002.


Share this article:


Football teams are not often likened to corks, but that is the word that Barcelona manager Luis Enrique used to describe his side earlier this month when he praised their ability to always stay afloat. The problem for the Catalans’ former midfielder, though, is that merely treading water is never seen as good enough at a club as rich and successful as Barcelona.

Enrique deserves great credit for his team’s success last season, the 45-year-old overseeing an historic treble-winning campaign. The individual genius of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar clearly made the difference, but Enrique played a key role in setting up the team to get the best out of his front three both domestically and on the European stage.

So far this term, however, Barcelona have struggled to replicate some of the displays they produced in the second half of 2014/15. The 2-1 defeat to Sevilla just before the international break was their second in seven La Liga encounters; despite losing, Barcelona did create a number of good chances and generally played well, something that could not be said after their deserved 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Celta Vigo 10 days previously. In the Champions League, meanwhile, performances against Roma and Bayer Leverkusen were rather underwhelming, even if Barca sit top of their group with four points from two matches.

The biggest concern for Enrique at present must be Barcelona’s surprising lack of squad depth. It is impossible to ever adequately replace Messi – not just the best player in the world but arguably the greatest of all-time – but the Argentine’s recent injury has substantially harmed the Blaugrana: while Neymar stepped up to plate and assumed the mantle as the leader of the attack against Sevilla, Barcelona desperately missed Messi’s magnificent ability to both control a game and decide it with moments of brilliance.

While that is understandable, it is worrying that further injuries to Rafinha, Dani Alves and Andres Iniesta forced Enrique to alter the configuration of his side. Sergio Busquets, usually the deepest of Barcelona’s midfield three, was pushed forward into Iniesta’s position alongside Ivan Rakitic for the clash with Sevilla, with Javier Mascherano deployed as the anchor in the engine room, something that simply did not work.

Mascherano is excellent at breaking up the play, making important tackles and interceptions and protecting the back four behind him. His vision and passing range is just not as accomplished as Busquets, though; with Barcelona naturally dominating possession – 63 percent against a side who finished fifth in La Liga and won the Europa League last year – Mascherano struggled to start his team’s attacking moves, play penetrative forward passes and set the tempo of a match in the manner that the Spain international seems to do with such effortless ease.

The main reason for the lack of squad depth is the transfer ban Barcelona were handed as punishment for breaking Fifa rules regarding the transfer of players under the age of 18. Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal were signed in the summer but will be unable to make their competitive debuts for their new club until January – though the Catalans are hoping to bring that date forward – while the departures of Xavi and Pedro further decreased the options available to Enrique.

This was telling against Sevilla, when the hosts at the Sanchez Pizjuan had a bench that included Jose Antonio Reyes, Ciro Immobile, Fernando Llorente and Yevhen Konoplyanka and Barcelona’s list of substitutes read: Dani Alves, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Marc Bartra, Douglas, Juan Camara, Gerard Gambau and Sandro, a septet made up of a right-back returning from injury, a goalkeeper, a centre-half, a 25-year-old full-back who has played five times for the club and three youngsters aged 21 or under with 284 La Liga minutes between them.

Barcelona lead their Champions League group and are just one point off the top of La Liga having already undertaken tough trips to Celta, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid. Messi’s absence is a blow but, in Neymar, Suarez and Iniesta – who is set to return in the next couple of weeks – they still possess plenty of players who can change games and make the difference in even the most difficult of circumstances.

The cork is still afloat and will almost certainly not sink, but Barcelona’s unusual lack of squad depth could cause them a few more difficulties over the coming months and prevent them from repeating last season’s fantastic treble.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


Share this article: