Sitting in the backseat of a car with an interviewer after signing for FC Barcelona, a starry-eyed Arthur Melo carries a beaming smile. Amid a long list of pre-prepared questions, came one that endeared the new boy to almost every cule around the world. The interviewer asks Arthur his biggest wish. He simply glances lovingly at the club’s crest on his chest as he replies “it’s come true.” And thus begins the puzzling tale of Arthur at Barça.
The 23-year-old midfielder completed a move to FC Barcelona in 2018 after making plenty of waves in his wonderful stint in Brazil at Gremio. We had done a piece on him in 2018 looking at how he could be the solution to Barcelona’s midfield crisis. Hailed as a player who would attempt to fill Xavi’s massive boots, Arthur seemed to be an instant hit with the Blaugrana faithful. There is no denying that stylistically, Arthur bears an uncanny resemblance to the legendary Spaniard. The remarkable knack of evading opposition pressure, impeccable awareness, assured passing and the ability to turn on a dime- all signs were that he would be the perfect player to indoctrinate into the “Barça way” of football. The young Brazilian arrived at the Camp Nou, barely believing that his greatest dream had come true.
“I’m very happy to wear the shirt of the club where I always dreamed of playing.”
His love for the club and his willingness to succeed made it look as though happy days were here. The Barcelona board, under constant scrutiny, had finally caught a break. They had made a transfer that made sense from all angles, both on and off the pitch. Even Leo Messi stated how he bared a remarkable resemblance to the great puppet-master Xavi. Messi, when speaking about all the new players who came to the club in 2018, was quoted saying:
“They are very good, those that have come in. In particular, Arthur has surprised me as I didn’t really know him. He is very similar to Xavi as he likes to have the ball, play short, not lose it and is very solid. He surprised me but I like them all. Arthur has the style we have here, he understood quickly in training.”
Little did anyone know how this sweet dream would turn into a sour nightmare just two years down the line. Football can be very cruel at times. A humbling reminder that not everything can go your way. Be it a fan, a player, a manager or anyone else, football depicts painfully how dreams within touching distance can still be dashed. And sadly, that is exactly the case with Arthur at Barça. In a truly bizarre turn of events, the promising youngster is on his way to Juventus as pointed out by the ever-reliable Fabrizio Romano.
A series of paradoxes
It is a well-known fact the Josep Maria Bartomeu, and the rest of his entourage have not had the most glorious tenure at Barça. Ever since the departure of Neymar to PSG, which changed the transfer market as we know it, the Barcelona board has made one comical misstep after another. Not to mention Neymar’s arrival at Barça too was riddled with complications. But since 2017, the club’s affairs have been nothing short of shambolic. After his incredible 222 million euro transfer, Barcelona have not only grossly mishandled their finances, but have also made some genuinely shocking sporting decisions. The huge expenditures on unsuccessful signings, the growing average squad age and numerous controversies are already very well documented. The latest of these exploits, however, is quite likely the most puzzling.
Balancing the books at the expense of imbalance in the squad
In a very shady deal, Arthur will be on his way out as 30-year-old Bosnian Miralem Pjanic will arrive at the Camp Nou as part of a swap. After uncovering the details of the deal, it is fairly obvious that this is simply another ploy by the Barça board to find a way out of the financial hole they’ve dug for themselves. Per reports, Arthur will be sold for 80 million euros, while Pjanic will go the other way for 70 million. While the net difference between the transfers is only 10 million, both clubs are pushing to make the deal happen. Why? Simply because the way books are balanced, both clubs will effectively be able to report a surplus of 60 million euros.
Reports that #FCBarcelona are selling 23-year-old Brazilian midfielder Arthur to #Juventus for €80m, while 30-year-old Bosnian playmaker Miralem Pjanic will move the other way for €70m, have left supporters of both clubs somewhat perplexed.
— Swiss Ramble (@SwissRamble) June 25, 2020
Since the nitty-gritties of this are somewhat technical, the simplest way of explaining this would be by explaining amortisation. This means that since players are considered assets, the transfer costs are written off in instalments over the period of their contracts. However, profits from selling players is immediately recorded in full. So when you take away Arthur’s remaining book value (amortised contract value) of 20 million from his selling price of 80 million, Barça will be able to report a profit of 60 million euros. Similarly, when Pjanic’s remaining book value of 13 million is subtracted from his 70 million fee. Thus, allowing Juventus to report a profit of 57 million euros. You can read the thread by Swiss Ramble to get a better understanding of the technicalities of this murky deal.
Reasons to sell are far and few
These financial loopholes are the only likely reason both clubs have pushed so hard for this swap. In the long run, Arthur at Barça would have been one of their key players. He would be the team’s essential midfielder in an essential position with just the right profile. While Pjanic is no doubt, a fantastic player, he primarily plays in a position where Barça already have the likes of Sergio Busquets and Frenkie De Jong. And most importantly, Pjanic is 30 years old. Even if he has a good stint at Barcelona, they will have to find a replacement for him sooner rather than later. And given the heavy midfield reliance in Barça’s system, that replacement, who has to be of immense quality, won’t be coming cheap. So how much of a difference does this 60 million profit make anyway?
Sure Arthur hasn’t had the perfect time at Barcelona. He has had issues with fitness and has understandably dropped subpar performances occasionally. But bear in mind, he came from a completely different environment in Brazil with a completely different intensity. Even when he hasn’t put in outstanding shifts, he has hardly put a foot wrong. And at the age of 23, he is only evolving, both physically and technically. He has shown just what he’s capable of with some immense performances in La Liga and most notably in the Champions League. He shone in the 4-2 win vs Tottenham, sparkled in the 2-0 win vs Inter and absolutely bossed the midfield in the 3-0 semifinal victory against Liverpool. He somehow didn’t feature in the second leg, and everyone knows how that panned out. Which also hints at how he hasn’t been trusted nearly as enough as he should have been.
Pjanic being an undisputed starter at Juve will also mean that he will demand a lot of game time. And that might further hinder the development of Barcelona’s glittering La Masia prospects such as Riqui Puig and if he returns, Carles Alena. These players have shown a lot of promise, and taking their chances away will only further chip away at the cornerstone of Barcelona’s identity, which has been rapidly fading away as it is.
Juventus, on the other hand, have landed themselves a gem of a player who could well become a star for them in coming years. From both a financial and footballing perspective, they are the clear winners in this deal. Barcelona have only worsened their issues with an ageing squad and realistically, have dug themselves even deeper into their pit.
Outrage and Agony for Arthur at Barça
Unsurprisingly, this bit of business has not gone down well with the Barcelona supporters. The dragged-out transfer saga, which has been going on for over two months now, has been viciously criticised. Fans on social media have been reaching out to Arthur, pleading him to resist the board and to stay at the club. The hashtags #ArthurStays, #NoTeVayasArthur (Arthur don’t go), #ArthurNoSeToca took Twitter by storm. Fans even reached out to his family in desperate attempts to get their beloved midfielder to stay. The Barcelona board was subjected to a whirlwind of criticism (read: abuse) as they stooped to a new low. While there is no official statement from either clubs or the players, the deal seems imminent. Even the most optimistic of fans have seemingly let go of any remaining shards of hope.
When the rumours first started circulating, there were numerous statements from Arthur and his retinue that he had no intention of leaving the club. The only thing on his mind was to succeed at Barça. Yet, as the days rolled on and the pressure from above seemingly piled on, now the straw has probably broken the camel’s back. After all, you may have your dream job, you may love it no end and want nothing but to stay and succeed, but if those above you are hell-bent on forcing you out, there comes a point where you have to move on. A truly sad and abrupt end for Arthur at Barça. His potential legacy in blue and claret, may now never be fulfilled. Perhaps yet another case of ‘what could’ve been’ for the football books.
Written by Aaryan Parasnis | Feature Image by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images
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