By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Up in the air. Barcelona's recruitment plans have been thrown into disarray by the transfer ban announced by Fifa on Wednesday, which stated that the Catalan club couldn't bring in any new players for the next two windows.
Barca still hope the ban will be overturned and president Josep Maria Bartomeu confirmed on Thursday that the Blaugrana would contest the surprise sanction, which was enforced for alleged irregularities in the signing of young players from overseas.
"Our plans haven't changed," Bartomeu said. "We'll plan for the summer as normal." Later on in the same press conference, however, the Catalans' chief admitted he was unsure whether the move for Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Marc-Ander ter Stegen - which is already agreed - would be completed. "I don't know who will be our goalkeeper next season," he conceded.
Ter Stegen is the man earmarked by Barca's sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta to replace the outgoing Victor Valdes this summer. Both the German and his current club say the 21-year-old will be on his way out, whatever happens with the Barca ban, but the player's agent claims the move to Camp Nou is now unlikely to go through. "If I have read the Fifa announcement in the right way, Marc-Andre's transfer [to Barcelona] will not be done in summer," Gerd vom Bruch told Bild.
Bartomeu contacted Fifa president Sepp Blatter on Friday and still believes the ban will either be scrapped or reduced, while Zubizarreta called Ter Stegen to reassure the German that they believe his transfer will be unaffected. However, should the decision stand, the goalkeeper will be forced to look for another club.
Should the ban stand, Barca may make an effort to change his mind, but the Spain shot-stopper is set on leaving and that would mean the Catalans would have to place their faith in reserve goalkeeper Jose Pinto, who is also out of contract in the summer but would be happy to stay and help out at Camp Nou. Pinto, who is seen as an able deputy but not a first-choice keeper, is 39 in November.
The ban will also affect Barca's hopes of bringing in a central defender. That is a position the club have long looked to strengthen and is a priority for the next window, with Thiago Silva still their top target. Porto's Eliaquim Mangala, Chelsea's David Luiz, Athletic Bilbao's Aymeric Laporte and Basel's Fabian Schar are also of interest, with captain Carles Puyol announcing his decision to leave Camp Nou in the summer and seriously contemplating retirement. Past his prime and ravaged by injuries in recent years, Puyol is unlikely to change his mind but may be persuaded to stay one more season if Barca cannot bring in anyone else.
The ban could also see right-back Dani Alves extend his career in Catalunya. Out of contract in 2015, the Brazilian's fluctuating form has frustrated the coaching staff this term and Barca have been keeping tabs on Napoli's Camilo Zuniga as a possible replacement for the South American. Youngster Martin Montoya recently signed a new contract with the Catalan club and Alves, back on form lately, could now end up signing a new deal.
In midfield, coach Gerardo Martino was keen to bring in an all-action player to complement the ball-playing quartet of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregras, with the club monitoring both Borussia Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan and Juventus' Arturo Vidal. Should the ban stand, however, they will have to hope 34-year-old Xavi and 29-year-old Iniesta can cope with another long season after the World Cup with Spain in the summer. Meanwhile, the suspension may mean a stay of execution for Alex Song, who would otherwise be on his way out of the Catalan club. Also up in the air is the deal to sign attacking midfielder Alen Halilovic, which is already agreed.
Better news sees Rafinha and Gerard Deulofeu return on loan, while Ibrahim Afellay is back from injury and Cristian Tello would also be unlikely to leave if the ban is imposed - despite his lack of opportunities in 2013-14.
Gone, however, would be Martino's hopes of bringing in a striker such as Manchester City's Sergio Aguero. Citizens' manager Manuel Pellegrini had already written off a move to Camp Nou for the Argentine, while the coaching staff at Camp Nou are also unsure whether the forward is compatible with compatriot Lionel Messi in their line-up. The club have looked at other targets such as Aritz Aduriz and Imanol Agirretxe - players who would be more likely to settle for a bench role. Martino, however, will only push to sign a striker if he feels the footballer in question can genuinely add something to his side.
Finally, Tata himself has said he will honour his own contract at Camp Nou and a summer exit will only be on the cards if the Catalan club end up empty-handed. Now favourites to win La Liga and with a Copa final ahead against Real Madrid to come, however, the Blaugrana have a good chance of winning some silverware this term to add to the Spanish Supercopa picked up in August. Should the ban stand, the last thing the club will want is further upheaval in the form of a coaching change, so Martino looks likely to stay either way. Whether he'll be able to buy any new players, however, remains to be seen.
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