The Spanish sun sets on the eve of La Liga’s opening weekend. When it rises Saturday morning, FC Barcelona will have finally completed the registration of six out of seven new signings this summer, including former Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, per numerous reports.
From the Daily Mail:
Barcelona sold a further 24.5 percent of Barça Studios on Friday and when the Spanish League’s Economic Control department reviewed the details of the latest sell-off it was able to confirm that Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen could all now be registered.
One final signing — center-back Joules Koundé — will have to continue to wait to be eligible for competitive matches as the Blaugrana continue to monitor yet more players in this not-yet-concluded transfer window.
Koundé’s registration will reportedly depend on further reduction of the wage bill — to be achieved either through player sales or salary deferrals. As he’s still coming back from surgery, there’s time. The club have until September 1st.
How Barça achieved this
First, let’s be clear that this was never a surprising outcome — except in the lateness of the hour. Barcelona did not spend big this summer without merited confidence that, one way or another, they would be able to use those players. The question has always been what is entailed by “or another.”
It remains that the club was recently €1.3 billion in debt, incurred a €400 million loss last season, and were allotted a negative €144 million against the La Liga salary limit this March, per figures from The Guardian. To find cash, there are traditional ways — raising funds and offloading wages — and more creative ones. Namely, the financial levers.
Every lever pulled this summer by FC Leverpull (h/t BFW staff writer R.I.P._London_Teams) is essentially borrowing from the future: a selling-off of portions of revenue streams over the long term in order to deliver massive immediate cash injections to balance the books. There’s a reason these were not the first resort, and their costs will be felt in every subsequent season for some time to come.
Barcelona had previously expressed confidence that three of these financial levers would suffice. La Liga found that they did not — “judging that Barcelona had used €150 million of their own money to inflate the values of the deals”, per The Guardian.
Therefore, the fourth lever was activated on Friday; its effect being that now 49% of their in-house “media arm” Barca Studios has been sold off. This brought in an additional €100 million, per The Athletic, and was also sufficient only for four players.
Cue the player hounding. Among possible departures are still Frenkie de Jong, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Memphis Depay. Others have big salaries that the club have tried to reduce. But since none of this was likely to materialize in time for Saturday’s opener against Rayo Vallecano, center-back Gerard Piqué has apparently come to the rescue.
(note/correction: it’s not clear if that refers to four out of five new signings — Barça have two re-signings also subject to the registration rules — or four out of seven. Or whether Piqué’s celebrated contract adjustment ultimately came to fruition.)
Deferrals and Piqué
Piqué is now 35 and had already deferred his salary to help the club cope with their financial crisis and register new players in the past. He’s no longer a top choice at the club but, per ARA, was owed €52 million for just the 2022/23 season as a result of those prior deferrals.
This is the problem with salary deferrals, which the likes of De Jong, Jordi Alba, and Sergio Busquets had also taken previously. Last August, it was an emergency measure to help the club register free signings Memphis Depay (forward) and Eric García (center-back). This August, the club have come at some of the same players again in order, in part, to register more forwards (Robert Lewandowski) and more center-backs (Andreas Christensen, Joules Koundé).
The Athletic is reporting as of Friday — the day before the Rayo Vallecano opener — that Gerard Piqué is the player who is willing to reduce his wages for a second consecutive year, and to a “drastic” extent:
As part of these efforts, Pique has informed Barcelona that he is willing to drastically reduce his salary this season in order to help the club register new signings.
Sources have suggested the 35-year-old’s reduction could be to the extent that he effectively does not receive a salary for the 2022-23 campaign, although he would then take a wage during the final year of his contract in the 2023-24 season, but the final details are still to be thrashed out.
Piqué is being hailed as a hero by the Barça faithful, though it remains unclear to what extent this is another deferral. And while it is apparently his prerogative to do as he wishes out of professed love for his més que un club, it is also both a standard that is tough to ask others to follow, and dubious to any fair play or competitive balance goals that might have been intended in the financial rules.
That standard is already being applied as a skewer to players like Frenkie de Jong, who last week was threatened with an annulled contract over allegations of criminality on the part of the club’s previous board by the club’s current board — despite La Liga’s approval of that contract.
De Jong is still with the club for now — love, eh? — but his reluctance to demonstrate that “love” even more with his bank account has resulted in fans hurling jeers and vulgarities at him. Quite the contrast.
Was all this necessary?
The question is not whether or not these chickens will come home to roost, but how soon, to what extent, and for whom. It may well be the case that current FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta has no intention of dealing with the long-term aftermath of his actions, betting everything on securing immediate glory.
The club very clearly and publicly did not wish to activate all four of their financial levers unless they had to — but have ended up doing just that. The calculation seems to be that these new signings were necessary on an existential level, with the club otherwise facing utter sporting disaster or worse, insolvency.
Yet this was a club that finished second in La Liga in 2021/22 amid a coaching change and comfortably in the Champions League positions; who just last year brought in talented players on free transfers that they are now all trying to replace; and who have a number of the world’s most heralded teenage sensations — among them 19-year-old midfielder Pedri, 18-year-old midfielder Gavi, and 19-year-old winger Ansu Fati. In January, they agreed to pay Manchester City €55 million + €10 million add-ons for winger Ferran Torres. They have an outstanding young center-back in 23-year-old Ronald Araújo.
They also have a young coach in 42-year-old Xavi Hernández, a former star player of theirs who could have been given time and patience to develop a young coterie of next-generation talent as his club stabilized their finances.
Instead, Barcelona felt it necessary to build the complete team in one fell swoop, and are still eyeing players like Chelsea FC’s 31-year-old left wing-back Marcos Alonso and Manchester City’s nearly €80 million-rated star midfielder Bernardo Silva (28).
If the Catalan club does not immediately secure a Champions League trophy — and bear in mind, there are still other good teams out there, among them Pep Guardiola’s City, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool FC, and our own FC Bayern — what will happen with the new acquisitions, some of them closer to the twilight of their careers than the start, and the other salary deferrals amid a crimped revenue stream?
One thing is for sure. Barcelona have assembled a considerable array of exciting talent to go into this season with, and they wholly cashed in a considerable amount of their assets in order to do so. What that will get them, and how they will sustain this financially and whether there’s any sort of plan should they fall short of monumental success — it’s not at all clear.
In for a penny, in for a pound. There’s no looking back now.