Lionel Messi is unemployed. Don’t worry: he will still be at Barcelona next season, or he should be, and he will certainly be fine. The question now may be: will they do it? What if he plays at Camp Nou, if they are able to cut costs and raise the funds they desperately need to balance the books and allow him to sign again and start an 18th season at the club he is at? more than ever. their all, if they can somehow find somewhere over 100 million euros and quickly, who will play alongside them?
A year after trying to walk away, Barcelona insist they are no longer concerned about Messi leaving. Last week, as pressure mounted and sponsors expressed uncertainty, they said they had come to an agreement on a deal that would keep him until he turned 39, the key election promise of new President Joan Laporta finally held. Except it’s not quite, not yet. The deal was not formalized and nothing was signed, for one simple reason: it cannot be.
Until that is the case, Messi remains officially a free agent, without a contract for 20 days now and officially unattached at Barcelona for the first time since joining at 13. July 1 has come and gone; it’s no longer a renewal, it’s a signing, and if the season started tomorrow, Barcelona couldn’t register it, constrained by the league’s salary cap. The same goes for their other newcomers: Sergio Agüero, Eric García and Memphis Depay, who have all joined the free transfers just as Gini Wijnaldum was supposed to do before choosing Paris Saint-Germain instead. Plus Emerson Royal, brought back from Betis, and the other two or three they still aspire to.
The good news is that there is still a month left, a little leeway; the bad news is that there is still a long way to go, Messi signing the vital first step for many. And they won’t be easy either. With Laporta repairing the relationship that had been irretrievably broken under former President Josep Maria Bartomeu, Messi agreed to a 50% pay cut from around € 45m base, after tax, to over € 20m. euros – although the five-year deal will somehow overcome that. Now they need other players to follow him. They still need more to do what they couldn’t let him do: go.
Negotiations with Messi took longer than expected as a financial formula had to be found that could work – advice was sought from the league and tax authorities – and although an agreement is now in place, significant issues must be overcome to implement everything. practice. In short, they have to move the men before they move the men.
Barcelona’s total debt is around € 1,173 million. In the winter, they took out a € 525million loan from Goldman Sachs to help them restructure their finances, while the players agreed to wage deferrals in November. Laporta admits that Barcelona salaries are currently 110% of their income. “We do not respect the rules of financial fair play,” he said. At the moment, in clear terms, Barcelona cannot pay their players.
They are not allowed either. In 2019-2020, Barcelona’s salary limit was € 671 million. Last season it was 347 million euros. Next season’s figure has yet to be revealed, but is expected to hover around € 200million. Salary caps in Spain, short for the limits applied to all pre-tax team expenses, are not subject to retroactive sanctions; instead, they are applied in advance. “We will not close our eyes,” warned league president Javier Tebas. The league also doesn’t want to lose Messi, but their strict financial controls are non-negotiable.
This means that new players – like Messi – cannot be registered until a club is within the limits. Existing players may find themselves excluded from the team. Barcelona still have a long way to go to meet these criteria. Tebas says he spoke to Laporta about the restrictions and regulations, explaining that it’s not even about balancing costs with expenses, one euro for every euro released. Out of four euros they save or collect, only one can be invested. “If the [new] the expenses are 50 million euros, they will have to reduce by 200 million euros, ”said Tebas.
The coronavirus crisis has cost Barcelona around 350 million euros, but their problems are not purely related to the pandemic. Chronic overspending, with salaries accounting for over 70% of their budget even in times of apparent health and with huge transfer fees spent on players whose success has been found to be limited and who have found themselves virtually written off despite their level, made them vulnerable. Tebas publicly insisted that what they had done was “not normal”; they had been left without any kind of “cushion”. When the crisis hit, it hit hard.
There are long term problems and serious problems, but it is the short term problems that must be overcome first even at the risk of aggravating the debt later. “Bread today, hungry tomorrow”, they say, but Barcelona must eat now or there is no tomorrow; there is no team, Messi included. And that’s how the stampede begins.
Barcelona must save money wherever it can. Gerard Piqué, Marc André ter Stegen, Frenkie de Jong and Clément Lenglet have already agreed to lower their salaries. Negotiations are underway with Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets. Carles Aleñá went to Getafe for € 5m, Junior Firpo to Leeds for € 15m, Jean-Clair Todibo to Nice for € 8.5m. Francisco Trincão has joined Wolves on loan, with a € 25million call option. Matheus Fernandes and Juan Miranda have been released, the former taking legal action, the latter paying. Awesome teenager Ilaix Moriba has been warned he will be kicked out of the squad unless he renews.
Every little bit counts, but it’s not enough. Why let go of Martin Braithwaite, say, when what you save on paycheck reduces your debt so little?
They want Samuel Umtiti to go away. And Miralem Pjanic, who in accounting terms cost € 70million but was effectively traded for Arthur Melo, his more on finance than football – another short-term fix that left a longer-term problem. , amortization still pending. And Philippe Coutinho, whom they had already tried to get rid of but for whom they could not find a buyer and who, approaching the triggering of another payment to Liverpool, has not played since December. And Ousmane Dembélé, but he’s injured again.
These three alone cost more than 350 million euros. Barcelona would love to get a tenth of that now, but selling is not that easy in this market, let alone when you are so exposed.
If there is one thing worse than being in a financial crisis, it’s everyone knows you are in a financial crisis. It’s being unable to find buyers who will hire players with huge salaries, just clubs who know how desperate you are, ready to use it to their advantage. It would be a success for now to simply take those salaries off Barcelona’s books, not to mention the payments they are still owed. There is not a single player – correction: he is only one player – for whom they would not listen to the offers.
All of this brings them to Antoine Griezmann, almost certainly incompatible now with the pursuit of Messi. Not on the ground, but outside: it is not that they want to get rid of the French, precisely, more than they have to unless a miracle presents itself in front of them. It can provide the quickest solution to a short term problem. Perhaps the only plausible solution.
The problem with Griezmann is not just or even really the salary, which at around € 20million is important but not in the club’s top four, but the depreciation due to him, the carrying weight around his neck. This currently sits north of € 70million, meaning solutions are being sought, including a proposed swap deal with Saúl Ñíguez at Atlético Madrid. It’s not easy, and certainly not ideal, but they have to try something, anything. Barcelona have become the club where everyone can be sold off except Messi who cannot be registered yet.