Lionel Messi is unemployed. Don’t worry: he will still be at Barcelona next season, or he should be, and he will certainly be OK. The question now may be: will they? And if he plays at the Camp Nou, if they are able to cut costs and raise the funds that they desperately need to balance the books and allow him to re-sign and begin an 18th season at the club where now more than ever he is their everything, if they can somehow, somewhere find over €100m and fast, who will play alongside him?
A year after he tried to walk away, Barcelona insist that they are no longer concerned about Messi leaving. 先週, with pressure building and sponsors expressing uncertainty, they let it be known that they had reached an agreement on a deal that would keep him there until he is 39, new president Joan Laporta’s key electoral promise finally fulfilled. Except that it is not quite, not yet. The agreement has not been made official and nothing has been signed, for one simple reason: it can’t be.
Until it is, Messi officially remains a free agent, out of contract for 20 days now and formally unattached to Barcelona for the first time since he joined at 13. 7月 1 came and went; this is not a renewal any more, it is a signing, and if the season started tomorrow Barcelona would not be able to register him, constrained by the league’s salary cap. The same applies to their other new arrivals: Sergio Agüero, Eric García and Memphis Depay, all of whom joined on free transfers just as Gini Wijnaldum was expected to do before he chose Paris Saint-Germain instead. Plus Emerson Royal, brought back from Betis, and the two or three others to whom they still aspire.
The good news is that there is still a month to go, a little room for manoeuvre; the bad news is that there is so much still to do, Messi’s signing the vital, first step of many. And they won’t be easy either. With Laporta mending the relationship that had been irredeemably broken under former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, Messi has agreed to a 50% pay cut, dropping from around €45m basic, after tax, to closer to €20m – although spreading the deal over five years goes some way overcoming that. Now they need other players to follow him. They still need more to do what they couldn’t let him do: leave.
Negotiations with Messi took longer than anticipated because a financial formula had to be found that could work – advice was sought from the league and the tax authorities – and although a deal is now in place, significant problems need to be overcome to put it all into practice. 要するに, they must move men out before they move men in.
Barcelona’s total debt is around €1,173m. In the winter, they took a €525m loan from Goldman Sachs to help them restructure their finances, while players agreed to salary deferrals back in November. Laporta admits that Barcelona’s salaries currently account for 110% of their income. “We do not comply with financial fair play regulations," 彼は言った. たった今, put in blunt terms, Barcelona cannot pay their players.
They are not allowed to, either. に 2019-20 Barcelona’s salary limit was €671m. Last season, it was €347m. Next season’s figure has not been revealed yet, but is expected to be around €200m. Salary caps in Spain, shorthand for limits applied to all pre-tax pending on the squad, are not subject to punishments handed out retrospectively; instead, they are applied in advance. “We will not turn a blind eye,” warned the president of the league, Javier Tebas. The league does not want to lose Messi either, but their strict financial controls are non-negotiable.
That means that new players – like Messi – cannot be registered until a club is within the limits. Existing players can find themselves left out of the squad. Barcelona have a long way to go to meet those criteria. Tebas says that he has spoken to Laporta about the restrictions and the regulations, explaining that it’s not even a case of needing to balance costs with expenses, a euro in for every euro out. Of every four euros they save or raise, only on can be invested. “If the [新着] outgoings are €50m, they will have to cut €200m,” Tebas said.
The coronavirus crisis has cost Barcelona an estimated €350m but their problems are not rooted purely in 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 proven limited and who have found themselves virtually written off despite their level, left 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 came it hit hard.
There are long term issues and serious ones, but it is the short-term problems that must be overcome first even at the risk of deepening the debt later. “Bread today, hunger tomorrow,” the phrase has it yet Barcelona have to eat now or there is no tomorrow; there is no squad, Messi included. And so the scramble begins.
Barcelona must make savings everywhere they can. Gerard Piqué, Marc André ter Stegen, Frenkie de Jong and Clément Lenglet have already agreed to reduce their salaries. Negotiations are pending with Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets. Carles Aleñá has gone 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 €25m option to buy. Matheus Fernandes and Juan Miranda have been released, the former taking legal action, the latter at a cost. The impressive teenager Ilaix Moriba has been warned that he will be left out of the squad unless he renews.
Every little helps but it is not enough. Why release Martin Braithwaite, いう, when what you save on salary makes so such a small dent in your debt?
They want Samuel Umtiti to go. And Miralem Pjanic, who in accountancy terms cost €70m but was effectively swapped for Arthur Melo, his more about finance than football signing – another short-term solution that left a longer-term problem, amortisation still pending. And Philippe Coutinho, who they had tried to get rid of before but for whom they could not find a buyer and who, closing in on triggering another payment to Liverpool, hasn’t played since December. And Ousmane Dembélé, but he is injured again.
Those three alone cost over €350m. Barcelona would be delighted to get a tenth of that back now but selling is not so simple in this market, still less when you are this exposed.
If there is one thing worse than being in financial crisis it is everyone knowing you’re in financial crisis. It is being unable to find buyers who will take on players with huge salaries, just clubs who know how desperate you are, ready to use that to their advantage. It would be a success right now just to remove those salaries from Barcelona’s books, let alone the payments still due on them. There is not a single player – correction: there です a single player – for whom they would not listen to offers.
All of which brings them to Antoine Griezmann, almost certainly incompatible now with Messi continuing. Not on the pitch, but off it: it is not that they want to get rid the Frenchman, 丁度, more that they have to unless a miracle appears before them. He may provide the swiftest solution to a short-term problem. Perhaps the only plausible solution.
The issue with Griezmann is not just or even really the salary, which at around €20m is significant but not in the top four at the club, but the amortisation due on him, the accounting weight around their necks. That currently stands north of €70m, meaning solutions are sought, including a proposed swap deal with Saúl Ñíguez at Atlético Madrid. It is not easy, and it is certainly not ideal, but they have to try something, anything. Barcelona have become the club where everyone can be sold off except Messi who can’t yet be signed up.