Barcelona financial problems so bad they can't afford Messi on a free

PETE JENSON: New contracts can’t be signed off, more big names will have to go and bringing back Messi is fantasy… Barcelona are slowly crawling out of their financial abyss but their issues are far from fixed

  • Barcelona were told they can’t register Gavi and Ronald Araujo’s new contracts
  • It is just the latest indication of the continued financial turmoil at the Nou Camp
  • The chaos means Lionel Messi certainly won’t be returning from PSG this year 

Lionel Messi isn’t coming back; next summer will be strictly free transfers; a player-sale cannot be ruled out; and sensational talents like Gavi and Ronald Araujo are being asked to wait patiently for new contracts to be accepted.

They were the conclusions from LaLiga’s rejection this week of Barcelona’s attempts to give Gavi a grown-up contract to match his extraordinary progress.

Barcelona’s slow crawl out of financial trouble was boosted last summer when the club secured one-off cash injections in exchange for chunks of future revenue – the famous economic levers.

Barcelona’s financial problems continue to affect the club’s recruitment and contract talks 

Talented youngster Gavi can’t be put onto a senior contract, with LaLiga rejecting the attempt

But group stage elimination from the Champions League has slammed the brakes on progress and the wage bill is believed to still stand around 20 per cent over and above LaLiga’s maximum squad spend limit.

The club had budgeted for a minimum quarter-finals finish in the Champions League this season and failure to get out of the group means a shortfall of £18million. Winning the Europa League would generate £13m but that is far from guaranteed.

The club say no more than five per cent of future earnings were mortgaged off last summer when they sold part of their TV rights and just under half of Barca Studios.

There are no regrets because they believe it was the only option and allowed them to spend £130m on players.

They were allowed to come off the ‘naughty step’ of only being allowed to spend a quarter of everything they made, and when their LaLiga-issued maximum squad spend was made public last September it had gone from minus €144m (£126m) to plus €656m (£576m).

The financial issues mean the prospect of Lionel Messi returning are no more than a fantasy

President Joan Laporta (centre) has repeatedly blamed the old regime for the financial crisis

LaLiga privately informs clubs of their maximum permitted squad spend at the start of every transfer window, based on information regarding future revenue and costs provided to the league by the clubs.

Barca’s attempts at persuading LaLiga to give them a maximum squad spend now that would have allowed them to register Gavi and Araujo’s new contracts have failed.

Laporta admitted in November in an interview with Diario Sport that thanks to the bad running of the club by the previous board, the wage bill, despite various sales and departures including Messi in 2021 and Gerard Pique last year, was still at €650m (£571m) when it needed to be at €450m (£395m).

The club has reduced the wage bill by around €120m (£105m) since Laporta took charge, but some of the players are tied to contracts from the previous regime.

This is changing slowly: Pique has left, Sergio Busquets will leave in the summer, and Sergi Roberto has renewed on reduced terms. But Jordi Alba is still contracted until 2024.

Barcelona also failed in an attempt to register Ronaldo Araujo, 23, onto an improved contract

LaLiga say the restrictions are for Barcelona’s own good – preventing them from falling back towards the irresponsible overspend of the last president. 

The club, however, feel more ‘slack’ could be cut – although there is an admission that elimination from the Champions League was financially disastrous.

The only solution will be more sponsorship brought in, and a continuation of the cost-cutting exercises of recent years.

Even on a reduced salary Messi looks impossible now. His return would have to be charitable in the extreme on his part (with no signing-on fee and the riches of Paris, the US or Saudi Arabia, all rejected).

Elsewhere, the club is firmly out of the race to sign Martin Zubimendi. 

Sergio Busquets is set to leave Barcelona in the summer, easing the strain on the wage bill

Arsenal agreed terms with Real Sociedad last week on paying his €60m (£53m) release clause – only for the player to turn down the opportunity for now. The 23-year-old would be the perfect replacement for Busquets but they simply cannot afford him.

Instead next summer the priority will be getting Gavi and Araujo’s new contracts accepted by LaLiga. For now neither has any intention of asking to leave the club. Both have already signed new deals and trust the club to get them accepted by LaLiga.

But for Barcelona to be able to do that further work is necessary. The club moves to the city’s Olympic Stadium next season while work is carried out on renovating the Camp Nou. 

Estimates put the revenue lost, because of the smaller venue, at €93m (£82m) over the season. That means even with the commercial department in overdrive to expand income elsewhere, there are unavoidable match-day shortfalls on the horizon.

Barca want Martin Zubimendi to replace Busquets but are firmly out of the race to sign him

No players will be sold this month. And cashing in on the crown jewels Gavi and Pedri next summer is also completely out of the question.

It would set the club back too far on the field for it to be worthwhile. And Alejandro Balde and Ansu Fati probably fit into the same category.

Frenkie de Jong has become more important than ever and the reluctance to leave that he showed last summer has not diminished.

Goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen has conceded just six league goals all season and is too important to leave.

Robert Lewandowski will stay, and coach Xavi would certainly want his favourite, Ousmane Dembele, to be off limits for buying clubs. But others could be available.

Coach Xavi will make sure his favourite Ousmane Dembele remains beyond the summer

The club unsuccessfully tried to push Jordi Alba to Inter Milan on deadline day last summer.

Raphinha has certainly not been a flop but neither has he been a roaring success and if an offer came in next summer that topped the €58m (£51m) the club paid for him at the start of the season it would have to be listened to.

Once again Director of Football Mateu Alemany will be tasked with some financial plate spinning, making small gains while leaving Xavi with a squad just as competitive as the one he currently he has.

A new Super League that cuts Barcelona a far greater chunk of television revenue and assures them a place at the top table regardless of performances, remains a far-fetched route out of trouble.

Last month the proposal was dealt another blow when the European Union’s Advocate General, Athanasios Rantos, said that while clubs were at liberty to set up rival competitions, UEFA and FIFA were not abusing EU competition law by punishing them as a consequence.

Barcelona’s embarrassing early Champions League exit left a huge hole in their finances

His verdict is not binding and a final decision on the question will be made by European Court of Justice magistrates some time this year. 

But the precedent is for the court to follow the line of the Advocate General. Laporta clings to the idea of a Super League saving Barca but it’s hard to see how it works.

Another alternative, completely unacceptable to the club’s supporters and current president, is to change the club’s special status, taking it away from its member-controlled model and allowing in private, most likely foreign, owners. Laporta has said that will never happen while he is president.

And so the struggle continues. The good news is that on the pitch all is well with the team in the cup semi-finals and now favourites for the league title. 

But off it, the battle for a level of sustainable solvency that will keep the team competitive goes on. And for now at least, the brilliant Gavi stays on a youth-teamer’s contract and the No 30, instead of Xavi’s No 6 , remains on his back.

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