If you had been asleep the past year and a half to two years (and we’re all jealous if you were), this past summer probably looked pretty normal in the soccer world. The big clubs were all warring over various players from smaller clubs, and Barcelona won most of those races. They beat Chelsea to Robert Lewandowski. They beat…Chelsea to Jules Koundé. They beat…Chelsea to Raphina. They signed Andreas Christensen from…Chelsea. Ok, so it was mostly Barcelona beating out Chelsea for signings. But they also did sign Franck Kessié from Milan, and there’s no sign that Chelsea was interested in him. So there!
They’re also rumored to still want Bernardo Silva from Man City, or Marcos Alonso from…Chelsea (we or they can’t escape). All of this sounds par for the course for the way Barca has operated for the past decade or two.
Except if you haven’t been in hibernation, you know that Barcelona has no money. In fact, they have negative money. This means that all the players we mentioned above that have “signed” aren’t actually registered. They aren’t officially part of Barcelona’s squad yet, as far as La Liga is concerned. This is curious, considering Barca’s first league game is Sunday. You’d like to have players seven days out from your first game. But Barca doesn’t. And what they’re doing to try and register them is bordering on the absurd or something out of a satirical film. You can see the smash cut from the press conferences announcing all these signings to the fans at the first game wondering where they are and Barca officials denying they exist.
Their latest ploy to get around La Liga’s financial rules and punishments is to declare Frenkie De Jong’s contract illegal now, a criminal act from the previous Barcelona board, so they can annul it and get De Jong back to the contract he was on when he first signed in 2019. It’s confusing, and idiotic, but nothing with Barcelona is ever smooth or sensical.
The problem extends from the same problem Barca has had for two years now, in that their income isn’t enough to cover their outlay, so La Liga isn’t letting them operate like that. As you’re probably well aware by now, Barca is some $1.42 billion in debt.
Barca have attempted to remedy this problem this summer by selling up to half of their future licensing arm and a quarter of their TV rights for cash right now for nearly $600 million. However, that might not be enough for La Liga to sanction the registering of their new signings, and they also need to get their wage bill down.
A lot of that latter effort has concerned getting De Jong completely off the books, which they haven’t been able to do and De Jong doesn’t want. As we wrote before, De Jong deferred his salary during the pandemic to the last two years left on his contract at the time, and two more years that were tacked onto the end of it to spread those payments out. We’re in those now, and De Jong is owed around $18 million this year and $22 million per season for the four after that. One of the main reasons De Jong doesn’t want to go to Manchester United, other than them being a complete mess with no Champions League football in their sights, is that United didn’t want to pay him $108.6 million over the next five years. De Jong, who volunteered for that temporary pay cut when Barca was in trouble during the pandemic, only wants the money he’s owed.
So Barca’s latest tactic is to try and declare the contract illegal, blame it on the previous board, and threaten everyone under the sun with legal action in the hopes that it will finally annoy De Jong and his people enough to accept Chelsea’s offer (where he apparently prefers to go if he has to leave at all). Not only getting De Jong’s wages off the books, but getting $86 million in transfer fees in return, would look awfully nice to the Barca bean-counters at this point, which is clearly the endgame here.
Was any of this necessary? Of course not. Barca could have taken their lumps and played products of their vaunted La Masia academy for a season or two, found out what they truly have, eschewed big transfers and big salaries, and got their house in order. It is unlikely, given the weak nature of La Liga below themselves and Madrid, that they would have even dropped out of the Champions League places, but even if they had, they wouldn’t have been shelling out the kind of expenditures that Champions League income is required for. Gavi, Pedri, Araujo, Eric Garcia, and Nico Gonzalez probably could have kept Barca afloat at worst, and gotten valuable experience for when Barca meant business in the future.
But that’s not how you win elections to run the club, and it’s not how you stay there once you did, so you get Joan Laporta channeling his inner Tony Khan and signing whatever he can find, whether he has a place for it or not. Or the money or it or not. The clock is ticking, and Barca is running out of TV rights and video production companies to sell. And yet you can’t escape the feeling that they’ll get away with it, because La Liga isn’t actually going to let them go out of business and take most of the league with it.
Same Barca, same as it ever was.