Expensive business buying players that slip the net

Just prior to the Euro 2012 final, Jordi Alba completed his move from Valencia to Barcelona; marking the occasion with an outstanding effort in front of goal against Italy. The left-sided attacker joins Barcelona as the most recent La Masia graduate who got away, only to return to the nest a number of years later. It’s no doubt an expensive (and perhaps frustrating) exercise for Barcelona to undertake, but their signings have been smart and important for the future successes of the club.

Gerard Pique returned home following a quiet spell in England: A talented centre-back who maybe struggled with a combination of limited playing time and the demands of the Premier League. At the time, it was the weighing up of whether Pique or Manchester United’s other young centre-back Jonny Evans would remain at the club. Likely with a degree of regret (certainly in hindsight) Alex Ferguson allowed Pique to rejoin Barcelona for a small fee.

Pique’s lack of matches in England was of little concern to new manager Pep Guardiola. The youngster combined exceptionally well with veteran centre-back Carles Puyol and formed the bedrock of a stubborn but hugely gifted defensive line. His participation in Barcelona’s rise to world dominance has been greatly important due to his footballing education in the club’s La Masia academy. Not only was Pique blossoming into one of Europe’s leading defenders, he also possessed the technique and composure to involve himself in Barcelona’s passing game. His late goal against Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League semifinal was an excellent display of his ability in unfamiliar territory.

In much the same way, Jordi Alba will add significantly to Barcelona’s game for many years. His game is much more similar to that of right-sided attacker Dani Alves: A quick, wonderfully talented attacker who sometimes doubles up as a full-back. Former Valencia manager Unai Emery’s decision to rotate the left-back and left-wing spot between Jeremy Matieu and Jordi Alba allowed Barcelona’s new signing to play a significant role in Valencia’s attack, while still having the insurance of the Frenchman in defence.

Alba’s performances for Spain this summer is no great surprise; he’s been producing them on a consistent basis with Valencia. But again, his education and ability to slip so effortlessly into Spain’s first XI would have been a significant bonus in bringing him back to the Nou Camp. His contract at Valencia would have expired next season, but Barcelona were clearly motivated to act quickly ahead of a chasing pack with much more financial power.

Although the Catalans are playing this expensive game after many of their players find admirers around Europe, the issue of buying back their former graduates is not exclusive to them. Real Madrid have also gone about similar business over the years in re-acquiring Alvaro Negredo and Esteban Granero, among others. But Real Madrid and Barcelona noticeably carry out a different transfer policy, one which suits their club’s philosophy on the pitch.

A superstar is never unwelcome at the Nou Camp, but for the most part in recent years, Barcelona genuinely have created their own superstars. The purchase of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to enhance the club’s attack turned out to be a failed attempt. The Swedish international simply could not integrate into a team where there is no single defined star. Arguably Lionel Messi holds that position, but his numbers are the only thing that separates him from the rest of his team mates.

Much like their business to ensure former players and people familiar with the club take up roles in the hierarchy, Barcelona go about their transfer dealings in a similar way. It allows the club to remain successful over the long term without sacrificing the playing philosophy that was introduced by Johan Cruyff.

In the same way that Cesc Fabregas so effortlessly made himself a part of Barcelona’s game on the pitch, Jordi Alba will undoubtedly have a similar impact. Fabregas, who has had to adapt to different roles in the Barcelona team, instantly rediscovered the on-field connection with Lionel Messi that the two had in their La Masia days. His performances dropped off later in the season, as did the rest of the team’s, but his flurry of goals in his first few months proved that Barcelona bringing in Pique a few season’s earlier was no one hit wonder.

The way Jordi Alba found himself so far up the field and receiving a perfect pass from Xavi seemed the best way to mark his transfer to Barcelona. An expensive transfer considering his origins with the club, but absolutely a necessary one.