Given he was once assured that he was ‘the future of Barcelona’, Frenkie de Jong might roll his eyes at stories like the one below. A few months ago, the Catalan club talked about a potential summer destination but this at a time when La Liga’s salary cap meant they couldn’t register any signings. The player was interested but understandably skeptical and the situation formed a large part of the discussions. However, Barcelona were persistent. They assured the player that they would find a way. In the meantime, they sold their image. Everyone still wants to play Barka.
The sales club, which originated from Germany, was not so confident. They didn’t want to do business. Frankly, they were skeptical about getting the full reward. They have a completely different image of Barca now.
It’s one that’s becoming more and more common in the game. Therefore, FC Bayern Munich demanded the transfer for Robert Lewandowski in the storm. Because of this, some sellers have increased asking prices for players when Barcelona call, while inflating the market just in case the third installment doesn’t arrive. Other clubs have since decided not to do business with them on principle.
It says a lot about where Barca stand. It’s also having a real impact as so many clubs have their plans thrown into disarray by their rotating platters.
Barca may no longer dictate the transfer market in the sense that they will be the club to buy the best players in the world, but they have influenced this summer’s window more than anyone else. These two facts are deeply connected.
Equally connected are the recent questions of how Barca are actually doing this and the more relevant question of what happens next. if that is sustainable.
La Liga rules eventually meant the club had to muster around €600m (£511m) to even get on the market this summer. These questions are all the more pressing as Barca are yet to figure out the definitive numbers to actually register four signings in Lewandowski, Raphinha, Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen.
The immediate answer, and one that is more acute for Spanish football as a whole, is that there is a way around La Liga’s salary cap. Namely through individual entries in the balance sheet – including installment payments – into the coming year in order to increase the “cash in flow”. Barcelona has replicated this through massive borrowing, most notably from Goldman Sachs, effectively converting short-term debt into long-term debt. These 600 million euros must now be repaid in 10 years and not in one.
Other deals have contributed – for now. A new €70m sponsorship deal has been signed with Spotify, but this will cover naming rights for the shirt, training kit and stadium. This gives them less room for future negotiations, which is related to the short-term nature of other deals. Barca have also sold 10 percent of their La Liga TV rights to investment firm Sixth Street for €207.5m for 25 years and intend to sell up to 49.9 percent to Barcelona Licensing and Merchandising.
In other words, they’re selling their image in more ways than ever before.
Industry metrics have a number of descriptions for this as well.
“Like taking out multiple risky mortgages on future earnings.”
“Sell the family silver.”
“I’m going to the casino.”
There was general astonishment within the game.
The main question these figures ask is how the club will get all this money back – and with huge interest on top of that.
The extent of their deal is all the more revealing given that Barcelona have actually been ruled out. They just didn’t have to go that far.
After a relatively idle spell from their illustrious academy, Barca have been blessed with a truly brilliant next generation in the form of Gavi, Pedri and Ansu Fati. Announcing a thoroughly sustainable new three-year project, as Joan Laporta pretty much did during one of her final crises in 2003, would surely have been the easiest sale in the world. It would have been based entirely on her most idealized image: youth production; Patience; Romance; a soccer identity.
It would also have been directed by one of the high priests of it all. A young side playing under Xavi and based on Gavi, Pedri and Fati would certainly have been a vision. There would have been so much time to let the club grow and do the very best once again.
Instead, Xavi has insisted on this approach as well. He has asked for “experienced” signings to suit Laporta’s yearning for a star.
“We have to strengthen ourselves to fight for all the trophies.”
That’s quite a giveaway. They want everything and they want it now.
But why? Why the rush? Why the risk? Why not wait and build something bigger; something that better suits her story and her best sides?
It feels unnecessary.
Ironically, some of this is based on her old self-image. Some of it is based on all these investment deals.
At a very low level, there are characters at Camp Nou who just can’t accept that they are no longer the greatest in the game. There’s an understandable resentment at how state clubs in Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain took their stars and – worse – their ideas and used them to become better than Barca. It partially explains some choices that often seem like desperation. In that sense, and somewhat notably, they haven’t adapted as well as their new Super League counterparts at Real Madrid. The European champions have accepted their new status more and tried to build on it with so much youth.
There’s also those financial negotiations that involve more nuance. The calculation both Barcelona and their investors are making is that if they have a team that can keep up, they will quickly return to their old earnings – the highest in the pre-Covid world. This can be done with lower payroll and higher income.
There’s also a sense of investment from a different perspective, based on the belief that much of modern football’s business is based on competitiveness and therefore on ‘content’. You have to produce moments that are globally relevant. That was the history of superclubs. It’s the sale of this image again. Players like Lewandowski still buy into it.
That doesn’t happen when you’re languishing in fifth place or the Europa League. Many would point out that even a club like AC Milan became irrelevant for a decade. It’s one of many reasons – aside from fighting for the payback – that Barca have pushed the Super League so hard.
That perspective still overlooks the reality that any club – but especially one with Barca’s historic fame – can quickly become relevant again if they win something. You just have to look at what Liverpool are now compared to what they were for most of 2009-2017. Above all, they are sustainable.
That could have been offered by a new plan under new stars if they had been willing to endure a potential bout of frustration.
This promotes the feeling that there is unnecessarily much at stake. It’s what paints a different picture of the club: one of waste and inflation and despair, of lessons not learned and financial imprudence.
Another term was introduced into the game: “Goldman Sachs FC”.
The linchpin of all this is that Barcelona need a lot to develop for it all to pay off.
Which brings us back to another hinge problem, in de Jong. The Dutch midfielder might represent ‘the future’ of Barca, but in a way nobody imagined when they used those words to convince him to join Camp Nou via City or PSG in 2019.
His departure is the domino that must fall for everything else to find its place. The hierarchy told him so. They vacillated between trying to force him to plead with him and appealing to his love for the club.
He should be aware of the irony there, especially given that he has agreed to restructure his contract to help the club through Covid.
As a result, the “offer” they made him might be more extraordinary than any other part of it.
The club still refuse to pay him deferred wages, effectively forcing him out so they can spend money on others. First of all, it’s quite a blow to Pride, not to mention the Bank’s balance sheet. It’s difficult not to empathize with De Jong’s attitude.
He has been adamant he stays as the club agree a deal with Manchester United. Some think he really doesn’t want to go, but one of them isn’t Erik ten Hag. He spoke to his former Ajax player, of course. Others believe it’s about not letting Barca down in a tense stalemate.
dr Gregory Ioannidis, a sports advocate and barrister at Sheffield Hallam University, is one of many figures who think there is much more to it than that.
“It is clear without a doubt that this is not a legal matter, but rather a political one, and any deadlock can only be broken through effective negotiations,” says Dr. Ioannidis.
“One aspect that needs to be clear is that a buying club will almost never make a purchase offer unless there is an agreement with the player to join them. It is true that many managers prefer to deal directly with the player, without the “help” of third parties, and therefore choose to bypass intermediaries. One would have to assume that such a discussion took place. Consequently, Manchester United would have to make a political decision on whether it is worth pursuing a player who might be using them to get what they want and/or whether they believe he has returned to his original promise.
“We’re not here to offer negotiation techniques and/or legal advice, but if the player really wants to move to Manchester United without losing their much-publicized ‘deferred payment’ at Barcelona, there are ways to get that done while looking around in the first place Options to terminate contractual obligations and recover due liabilities. It is clear that Manchester United cannot make such payments for the player for legal and tax reasons.
“Finally, negotiators must make it clear to the parties involved that when a relationship between a club and a player reaches a crossroads where the club makes it clear they no longer want the player, the player’s best-advised alternatives are other options to seek protection of his sporting career and future income and potential to maximize profits.”
The club aren’t really selling the idea of staying. They are more concerned with selling their image.
https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/barcelona-transfers-frenkie-de-jong-lewandowski-b2128978.html Barcelona came back from the abyss but are jeopardizing their chances of a sustainable future