Barcelona just announced the signing of the Turkish playmaker Arda Turan from Atletico de Madrid for 34 million euros, plus seven more in variables.
Congratulations Barca, you have signed a great player. It’s also one of the strangest transfers in soccer history.
For starters, Barca managed to include a clause in which it can return Arda to Atleti before July 20 and pay a 3.4 million euro (10 percent) penalty. Furthermore, Arda can’t even play for Barca until January, because the club is banned from registering any new players in 2015 by FIFA.
You see Barca is in a little bit of a strange situation at the moment. There are presidential elections on July 18. (You can read all about them here.) That means that, at the moment, the club doesn’t have a president. The last one, Josep Maria Bartomeu, had to resign in order to start the electoral process. So currently, Barca is being run by a temporary board meant to maintain the club’s day-to-day activities.
It is highly unusual for the electoral board to make any big decisions while in charge. And this Arda signing is definitely a pretty major decision. This has, predictably, raised the ire of several of the candidates, including Bartomeu’s main challenger, Joan Laporta, who called the move “mad.”
And here is where that funny little return clause comes into play. The temporary board is arguing that, hey, no blood no foul, because if a new president comes in and he doesn’t agree with the signing, he can just return Arda at minimal cost and spend the money on, say, a Paul Pogba. (Laporta already said that Pogba would be his priority should he be elected.)
So why all the rush? Couldn’t the temporary board just wait a couple weeks for a new president to come in? Well, apparently, no.
Atletico de Madrid was eager to resolve the player’s situation. Arda came to management earlier in the summer and demanded a transfer, arguing that coach Diego Simeone made him run too much. I think that this may have been a bit of a misunderstanding, and what Arda really meant was that he wanted to play for a team that had a little bit more of the ball. Which is why I thought his transfer to Barca was only going to be a matter of time:
Atleti needed the cash right away if it was going to use the money to replace the most talented and creative player on the squad. Chelsea was reportedly very interested, and perfectly willing to pay Arda’s 41 million euro release. Arda was also eager to resolve his future quickly and not enter a long, drawn-out transfer saga that could affect his preseason.
So for Barca it was basically now or never.
But would an incoming president really just return Arda to Atleti, even after the Turkish international has started training with the team?
Barca’s preseason starts July 13, a week before the deadline to return Turan. It seems like a crazy thought, and extremely unlikely, that Barca would return him after a week of training, but the fact that the clause is in there at all is fucking bizarre.
Ultimately, the guy who really pushed the Arda signing was Luis Enrique himself. Luis Enrique, it’s worth remembering, is coming off a treble-winning season in his first year at the club, so he enjoys a healthy amount of sway. Any president who came in and returned one of Luis Enrique’s express wishes would be starting a very serious political fight right from the get-go.
It’s easy to see why Luis Enrique wanted Arda so badly. Barca’s three main starting midfielders last year were Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, and Andres Iniesta, with Xavi playing significant minutes. Xavi is now gone and Iniesta is 31 years old and could face a more reduced role. That’s a lot of creativity Barca is losing.
Arda fits the Barcelona style and will help connect the midfield with Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez. He’s well suited to play as one of the side midfielders in a 4-3-3, having done that exact role for Atleti many times in the past. With more creative players around him, he should flourish.
That is if he doesn’t forget how to play in the six months that he’s going to be forced to watch the games from home. It speaks to how much Arda wanted to join Barcelona that he was willing to miss half the season.
I can’t think of a transfer with more strange aspects to it. Oh, and I didn’t even mention that Arda once threw his cleat at a linesman in a game against Barca at the Camp Nou. So add that to the list.