With a ban from all transfer activity until January 2016 looming, it is understandable that Barca have been splashing the cash around. Most blaugrana fans and pundits shrugged when they learned the club was paying Liverpool €80m for Luis Suarez, even with the Uruguay international being banned until October for his infamous bite at the World Cup.
Overpaying for pretty average defenders like Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen was taken as the price of doing business, as selling clubs knew Barca were desperate for more cover at the back.
But the €5.5m signing of Brazilian right-back Douglas from Sao Paulo this week has not been accepted so easily. Not so much because of the money involved but because, until speculation began about the transfer a few weeks back, practically nobody in Spain had heard of the player.
Barca had been in the market for a right-back, given the doubts over the long term usefulness of their current options for the position Dani Alves or Martin Montoya. Names such as Colombian World Cup flyer Juan Cuadrado of Fiorentina were regularly mentioned in speculation through the summer. But the option of the uncapped 24-year-old Douglas appeared to come out of nowhere.
Madrid-based AS pounced at the chance to question the signing, interviewing Brazilian TV pundit Ricardo Gonzalez, who called the interest ‘strange’.
“The truth is that here in Brazil the possible transfer was seen as strange, because Douglas, for sure, is not a player at Barca’s level,” Gonzalez said. “Here he was just a back-up player.”
Also in the Spanish capital Marca also gleefully reported that third-party investment group Traffic held a 40% share in Douglas’s ‘playing-rights’. Such arrangements are common enough in Brazilian football, but that particular investor is very unpopular at Barca due to its involvement in ill-fated past deals for Brazilian ‘starlets’ Keirrison and Henrique. These transfers cost the club about €35m in fees and wages, but neither player made any impression at all at the Camp Nou.
Adding to the concerns were the Barca figures in Brazil doing the deal included Raul Sanllehi and Andre Cury, who were both involved in last summer’s ‘complex’ Neymar transfer. That move has ended up costing Barca over €40m more than initially announced last summer, and a Spanish court is still investigating its legality.
Barca’s PR concerns were evident when Catalan sports paper Mundo Deportivo, whose editorial line often mirrors the view of the blaugrana board, published a story saying that the transfer was nothing like the previous deals involving Traffic. The article also — unsurprisingly — blamed the costly Keirrison and Henrique fiascoes on former Barca president Joan Laporta, who remains an enemy of the current regime.
But many onlookers remained unconvinced. At his presentation to the media on Friday, Barca’s new number 16 was asked by sceptical reporters whether he felt up to the standard required at one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
“I feel ready,” Douglas said. “I’ve come here to play football and that’s what I’ll do. I now have to work to make this dream a reality.”
Barca’s staff say they have no doubts. Sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta claimed the club had been following Douglas for two years, and first team coach Luis Enrique said he was delighted with the transfer.
“I am delighted that Douglas has arrived,” Luis Enrique said. “I appreciate the effort of the club. He will be very good for us.”
Time will tell if that prediction comes true. But while Suarez’s debut is eagerly awaited worldwide, in Spain many will be closely following the progress of Barca’s new unheralded right-back.