You could argue that Barcelona lost something of their status last summer when Neymar decided to join Paris Saint-Germain.
With very few exceptions, modern Barca simply don’t lose big players against their will. On the contrary, players with the Blaugrana on their minds rise up and up and up until they’re good enough, and then they move to Camp Nou.
Neymar tarnished that legacy a bit. It was bad planning. The Catalan club first set his buyout clause tantalisingly low at €222m. Buy-out clauses are supposed to be a deterrent but in the current market that price looks damn good value.
Then, Barca failed to assure him of his status as No.1 ahead of Lionel Messi. Neymar is good but he’s not Messi good. So, Neymar left and Barca lost one of their best players.
Maybe Thiago Alcantara leaving upset a few within the club too but, again, that was a mistake. Had he played the necessary minutes the season before he left, he would never have been available to Bayern Munich.
This winter, though, Philippe Coutinho showed that the lure is still strong. He, like new strike partners Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez, did everything within his power to guarantee a move to Catalunya.Getty
All around the world it’s well known that if you make it to Real Madrid, you’ve made it full stop. Players, after a transfer, are not so much unveiled at the Bernabeu but coronated. Arise, your majesty, you’re in Real Madrid.
They may be thin for numbers this season but Real and Real alone usually decide when a player’s time is up. Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez, Danilo and Pepe were let go last summer.
From Real players, there is no agitation, no strike, no desire to move onto bigger and better things. There are no bigger or better things.
Bayern may not be shopping in the same market as Barca or Madrid – with their restrictive transfer policy getting up the nose of some of their top stars like Robert Lewandowski – but they don’t lose many players against their will either.
Recall the fight they put up to keep Franck Ribery all those years ago when Madrid came calling. Bayern’s top stars usually are persuaded to see out their peak years there.
When they lose a player, like in the case of Toni Kroos, it does not necessarily mean the player outgrew the club. In that case, it was felt Kroos did not merit the wage he was asking for. Hence, he looked elsewhere. That has proven to be poor judgement on the club’s part but if was reckoned to be good enough at the time, he would have been kept around.
And when it comes to hoovering up domestic stars, well, ask Schalke or Dortmund or Hoffenheim how easy it is to make players ignore Bayern.Getty Images
You might say PSG belong in this company but it would surprise no one if Neymar deemed Ligue 1 and Parc des Princes to be beneath him someday soon. Likewise, Marco Verratti always appears to have bigger things on his mind.
So, that’s basically your lot. Three clubs in world football are apex predators. The rest are always at risk of their players being gobbled up. The Premier League, even with its boundless wealth, is no exception.
Chelsea fans fear losing Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois. To whom? Real Madrid.
Despite Sir Alex Ferguson saying once upon a time that Manchester United wouldn’t even sell Madrid a virus, they have nonetheless done a pretty good job at keeping the Spanish capital giants supplied with good players down throughout the years.
Two beloved No.7s in David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo have made the journey from Old Trafford to the Santiago Bernabeu in the last decade and a half. David De Gea, as we know, is being courted heavily by los Blancos.
Liverpool? Arsenal? They’ve both long since proven that they are always open to sales at the right price and sometimes even the wrong one. And for them, it doesn’t even have to be to Madrid or Barcelona.Getty Images Playing Surface
But something is happening at Manchester City. Pep Guardiola is taking his club out of the food chain.
Kevin De Bruyne is arguably City’s most coveted asset. He is inching closer to a new six-year contract which will commit his peak years to Guardiola at the Etihad. At a time when many top Premier League performers would be thinking about Real or Barca, De Bruyne is settling in for the long haul.
The money helps. De Bruyne’s new Brexit-proof contract, for example, could be worth up to €420,000 per week should all bonus clauses including the Ballon d’Or be met. Not many English teams can furnish their stars with pay that high, not even Manchester United.
But it’s not only that. The best players in the world naturally expect to be the best-paid too. Money, though, is not the only reason why Alexis Sanchez wants to come back under the command of Pep Guardiola. He will of course be paid handsomely and can expect a pay rise on what he was making at the Emirates.
There is another explanation, however, as to why Sanchez is not prepared to take that kind of cash from Arsenal – in London, where he is well settled – and instead would prefer to move north to a city of lesser global standing and where the sun doesn’t exactly shine 12 hours a day.
That reason is Pep. Sanchez had only one season under Guardiola at Barcelona but it can be assumed he learned enough to be convinced to join up with him again.
Having the former midfield maestro in the dugout is no less a draw for elite players than Barcelona dangling Messi as a team-mate.
To see how good Raheem Sterling has become this season is frightening. It’s frightening because we have watched generation after generation of prime British talent ‘fritter’ their careers away without ever fulfilling their potential. But Sterling has offered the explanation that maybe the talent was fine but the coaching wasn’t there.
Maybe in another dimension Pep got his hands on Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair and helped them become the players Manchester City were expecting them to be earlier in the careers.
Consider in this context the number of players who haven’t reached their potential. There is no doubt that this is uppermost in Alexis’s thoughts. He can improve, tactically and mentally, under the best in the business.
And if the collateral damage of his arrival is the marginalising of Sergio Aguero, it must be remembered that it will be more a case of City doing the selling rather than Aguero doing the leaving.
Furthermore, Alexis has only two FA Cups to show for all his time as an Arsenal player. He is 29 and doesn’t have many more peak years left when you factor in his Stakhanovite work-rate and the fact he’s been playing senior football since his mid-teens.
He boasts two Copas America but his club trophy cabinet is skinny by comparison to his peers in the Chile national team like Arturo Vidal and Claudio Bravo.
He has the opportunity to get better and to win things under Guardiola. As more and more titles get added to Guardiola’s CV in Manchester, so more and more players will see the attraction of working there too.
City will edge towards the realm of the super club and alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona you will see another apex predator. Guardiola and signings like Alexis will see to that.