It’s the 2013 summer transfer window and Barcelona had signed Neymar for a club record fee which forced Real Madrid’s hand into splurging €100 million on Gareth Bale. The Welshman’s arrival has since polarised Spain like no other mega-move the Los Blancos had made. But what if he never arrived?
This story is a very simple one. Unhappy with their 100 point league title, Barcelona splurge their guts out. They do make only two signings that summer but it includes €90 million for Neymar and €13 million for Bojan Krkic. While the latter meant nothing to Real Madrid, the former broke their heart because of all the people that Barcelona could sign they signed possibly the best Brazilian since Ronaldo himself. It saw the Los Blancos panic, scrounge around Europe before breaking the transfer record for Gareth Bale.
But what if Bale never made the move and instead transformed history that eventually sees Barcelona, not Real Madrid, win three consecutive Champions League trophies?
All this, obviously, happens in a bizzarro alternative universe that will never take place in real life and some even call this the darkest timeline, although most of them happen to be Real Madrid fans. But after hearing that Barcelona spent €90 million for Neymar, the Los Blancos immediately start to panic and sell off Gonzalo Higuain. Partly because Cristiano Ronaldo has turned into more prolific a goal-scorer than they ever imagined and partly because Karim Benzema has proven he can lead the line.
That allows Arsenal to finally sign their long-term target with the Gunners first opening a dialogue over signing Angel di Maria before switching and bringing Higuain to the club. But while all this is happening, Bale is on his way out of Tottenham and Daniel Levy has been negotiating with two clubs. One is Real Madrid but shockingly, Paris Saint-Germain were also in the mix. The Parisians had one of the largest transfer kitties in the world at the time and after Bale’s performances in the earlier season, realised he was their man.
Especially with Zlatan Ibrahimovic thriving, although the Swede was one of the few and with a young Lucas Moura doing well, the Welshman could be an asset. The rest they say is history because with an unbelievable salary packet, there was nothing Real Madrid could do, especially since PSG’s offer would make Bale the highest-paid player in Europe. The move stunned the world, especially since everyone thought Real Madrid was shoo in and it left the Los Blancos with nothing.
Yet with them in a transition year, it allowed Real Madrid to step back and take stock as they brought in only four new players. It included moves for the future in the form of Isco, Casemiro and a few others but with Higuain and Alvaro Morata leaving, the Los Blancos had a few problems. That combined with injuries and a lack of depth saw the club struggle to win the La Liga title with Atletico Madrid coming out of nowhere to lift it.
But it also meant that despite beyond impressive performances in the Champions League, including 4-0 wins over Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid fell short at the final hurdle. For PSG, Bale’s presence was more than enough for them to overcome Chelsea in the same competition as they swept Chelsea side with him scoring twice in the second-leg to ensure a semi-final berth. But that’s where it falls apart as Atletico Madrid’s stubborn run continues into the final with a convincing 3-1 aggregate win.
That set up an almighty Madrid derby in the final and Diego Godin’s header before the end of the first-half proved to be more than enough for Diego Simeone to write his name in history. Meanwhile in England, Arsenal and Chelsea finished level on points in third place, as Liverpool finished three points behind champions Manchester City. PSG swept the Ligue 1 title with Gareth Bale and Zlatan Ibrahimovic dovetailing majestically as they combined to score 50 goals in the league.
But things were far from over. Unhappy with their performances in the 2013/14 season, Real Madrid spent the entirety of their season figuring out the right targets to transform their luck. It saw them steal Antoine Griezmann from under the noses of Atletico Madrid alongside moves for Keylor Navas, James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and a few others. That meant Atletico had to look elsewhere for a young forward and opted to sign Anthony Martial from Monaco for €50 million, making him the most expensive teenager at the time.
Barcelona went on another spending spree with moves for Luis Suarez, Marc Andre-Ter Stegen while letting Cesc Fabregas sign for Chelsea. Alexis Sanchez joined him in England as he signed for Manchester City on the promise that Pep Guardiola was arriving soon. But having sacked David Moyes, Manchester United splurged money to show faith in Louis van Gaal with Edinson Cavani arriving for a club-record fee alongside Luke Shaw, Daley Blind and a few others.
PSG made only one new signing, the arrival of Samuel Umtiti from Lyon which forces an unforeseen domino effect that sees Barcelona sign David Luiz from Chelsea. That is only after Juventus refused to sell them Leonardo Bonucci and it causes a rift between two clubs. Umtiti proves to be the perfect signing and having thrived in France with Lyon, he dovetails superbly with Thiago Silva. But a serious and niggling hamstring injury forces Gareth Bale to spend a large portion of the season out of the team.
That combined with Depay’s instant impact, he signed over the summer, at Lyon and Alexandre Lacazette’s breakout season allows Olympique Lyon to drive past PSG and finish first in the Ligue 1 by three points. Meanwhile in England, Chelsea, led by Jose Mourinho, storm to the title after Manchester United and Arsenal capitulate within months of each other. They finish level on points but the Red Devils finish second on goal-difference with Manchester City in fourth.
Barcelona, however, thanks to their superb front-three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, sweep Spain by two points and thrash Juventus 4-1 in the Champions League final. The rift makes the game even spicier with Suarez sent off after an enthralling first half that saw him net two and yet the score-line was level going into the second half. David Luiz scored a sensational 35 yard free-kick in the 90th minute before Neymar finished things off in added time.
The 2015/16 season, however, proved to a historic one for England because of two very different reasons. One was the Leicester City story and the second was the fact that Real Madrid splurged €60 million to sign Raheem Sterling from Liverpool. The youngster would become the first Englishman since David Beckham, in 2007, to play for the Los Blancos and proved to be a driving force for the club.
His mere presence, combined with Griezmann, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and a reinforced midfield of Kroos, Modric and Casemiro transformed the Los Blancos. They won the La Liga title while losing just one game with Sterling’s presence proving invaluable. That did mean, however, that Real Madrid were forced to sell Di Maria to PSG which helped the Parisians more than they ever thought. The Argentine took the pressure off Bale and together the duo ensured victory in France with 120 goals scored and just 15 conceded.
Back to England, Leicester City’s story sparked a lot of hope and love across the world for the underdog with the Foxes fighting for the league title until January. What changed things was Arsenal signing Julian Draxler and it proved to be just the boost they needed but even then, the Gunners only finished six points ahead of Leicester City. Either way, the Foxes had Champions League football but Manchester City finished outside the top four on goal difference with Tottenham and Manchester United making the cut.
Speaking of Champions League football, what happened there during the 2015/16 season? Well, Benfica made the quarter-finals, Barcelona lost a home leg 3-1 but then won the away leg 3-1 against Atletico Madrid to take the game to extra-time. Somehow, a scrappy goal from David Luiz pushed them over the top and into the final. PSG, thanks to Di Maria and co, managed to overcome Manchester City and set-up a clash with Real Madrid but didn’t have enough to beat them.
Neither did Bayern Munich, to beat Barcelona that is, and it set-up an El Clasico final. The first in a really long time and the game lived up to the billing. 3-3 after normal time – MSN each scored for Barcelona while Ozil set five on a plate but only three found the net – and extra-time only made it even better. A goal by either side in either half meant that we had penalties but with Kroos and Modric off the field, Real missed two spot-kicks and Barcelona lifted another Champions League crown.
That’s two consecutive Champions League trophies for Barcelona and with them looking for a third, they went all out and signed Paul Pogba from Juventus. The Frenchman forced the move after learning that the La Liga giants were looking for a midfielder and the Old Lady sucked every penny out. They got the €90 million they wanted and then splurged on Gonzalo Higuain. It left Arsenal strikerless but they change that with a move for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund.
The German giants signed Paco Alcacer from Valencia while PSG replaced the Manchester United bound Zlatan Ibrahimovic with Alexandre Lacazette. Little changes across Europe with Real Madrid winning their second consecutive league title, PSG does the same in France but England is where things get weird. Chelsea, thanks to Antonio Conte’s tactical switch, finish first with Arsenal second, Tottenham third and Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United fourth.
Meanwhile, Manchester City finally signed Pep Guardiola but hand him a team in transition as they slump to fifth but win the Europa League. Things, however, take a bizarre turn in the Champions League as it always does. Manchester United get knocked out by a vibrant and thriving Monaco, Arsenal lose 4-1 to Bayern Munich but produce a historic 4-0 second-leg win to go through the round of 16. Barcelona beat Juventus in the quarter-finals with it being another spicy encounter between the two rivals with Pogba scoring the winner.
Monaco beat Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal do the same to Real Madrid, in the second leg after a 0-0 draw in the first, who were plagued with injuries to Ozil and Ronaldo alongside a suspended Sergio Ramos after the first-leg. That shocked the world but the semi-finals were even worse. Arsenal faced Atletico Madrid, who beat Leicester City in the quarter-finals, and after goalless draws across two legs, it took a penalty shoot-out to set up a Barcelona v Arsenal final.
Eleven years on since the duo last faced each other in France, they did it again in Cardiff but this time both sides looked like they were on equal footing. Yet, the might of MSN and Paul Pogba running the midfield alongside Xavi and Andres Iniesta proved too much for Arsenal to handle. Barcelona were given a fight but in the end, they became the first ever side to lift three consecutive Champions League trophies as Arsenal finished runners-up again.
Arsene Wenger announced he was leaving the club in his post-match presser while Neymar, Suarez and Messi all signed long-term extensions to ensure their future at the club. Luis Enrique also departed with him leaving as one of the greatest Barcelona managers ever.