After a difficult start to the 2020-21 season, spring is in the air for Barcelona and there is much to be hoped for. Ronald Koeman’s side have narrowed the gap to leaders Atletico Madrid to just five points thanks to an unbeaten run from 19 games (Atleti played one more game) – they have only lost once in 20 La Liga games since December 5th against Cadiz – and won the Copa del Rey thanks to a dominant 4-0 performance against Athletic Bilbao. In connection with Joan Laporta’s return for a second term as president of the club, which was confirmed in the March 7 elections, there is reason to be optimistic.
Barca’s rise to the table coincided with Koeman trusting youngsters. Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza, Sergino Dest, Pedri and Ilaix Moriba – without mentioning Ansu Fati, who has been injured since mid-November – have made great strides under the Dutch coach.
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With eight games remaining in the league (Atletico and Real have only seven left) and a Copa del Rey win originally dubbed a transition year, what was originally referred to as a transition year could still end with a national double. However, after improving on the pitch, Barca are still feeling the effects of a stormy winter under the previous regime. Lionel Messi can go free in June if he doesn’t sign a new deal, gross debt has risen to nearly € 1.2 billion and the club desperately needs to cut wages.
The problems on and off the pitch had lasted for several years but were accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. This laid the foundation for Josep Maria Bartomeu’s resignation last October – he also faces allegations of misuse of funds and corruption in connection with his time as president – and the return of Laporta.
During his inaugural address, Laporta said his main goal was to make fans happy again, but warned that he would not shy away from making big, potentially unpopular decisions to get the club back on track. That could mean player sales and wage cuts, but to begin with, sources tell ESPN that it is conducting an internal audit to thoroughly get to grips with the problems it has inherited. Only then can he shape the future.
There is no shortage of problems to be solved. Here are 10 of the biggest decisions Laporta faces, from the most urgent to the least.
1. Contract Renewals
Some of Barca’s best players are in the final months of their contracts. The obvious one is Messi, whose deal expires on June 30th. Messi told the previous board he wanted to leave last August but Laporta’s appointment, coupled with improvements on the pitch, could cause him to change his mind this summer. Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are lurking, but Laporta has launched the magic offensive to keep him going. “We love you,” he said to Messi, who sat in front of him when he was inaugurated on March 17th. “I’ll do everything I can to convince you to stay at the club.”
It was revealed on Sunday that Messi’s father Jorge had arrived in Barcelona, although no talks with Laporta are planned yet. Sources tell ESPN that Laporta is putting the finishing touches on a contract offer for Messi to consider.
Even at 33, Messi remains more important to Barca than ever before. He has scored 31 goals in 40 games this season, despite having often played a deeper role, and in the wake of claims that Messi’s € 550million four-year deal “ruined the club”, Laporta pointed out that the Argentine was in fact for responsible for around a third of the club’s annual income (€ 855 million in 2019-20 despite the losses caused by the pandemic).
Elsewhere, the revived Ousmane Dembele is no longer under contract in 2022, as is Pedri and Ansu Fati, though there is a two-year extension clause in each of their contracts. However, it is not clear whether the club can do it unilaterally or whether the players would have to approve it as well. Sergi Roberto and Ilaix Moriba will also no longer have a contract in 2022, while Oscar Mingueza’s term of office expired this summer but will be extended.
Before we get into the transfer market, there is a lot we have to do internally to ensure that Barca don’t lose some of their top talent for the present and the future.
2. Fixing the Debt
While it’s all about signing and finding the money to sign someone like Erling Haaland – sources insist the club are really looking into how feasible it is to try this summer – the most important thing Laporta has to do is to restructure the club’s gross debt. that has risen to almost 1.2 billion euros. Talks have already begun with banks to renegotiate the short-term debt into long-term debt so that the club has more time to pay it off. Carles Tusquets, who served as President between Bartomeu’s resignation and Laporta’s takeover, Before June 30, around 250 million euros were owed to banks. In addition, Barca’s accounts showed that by the same date they also owed € 126m in transfer fees.
With that in mind, you can see why joining a new European Super League is tempting.
3. Reduce the payroll
Barca had the highest salary cap in Spain last season at € 671m but will now have to stick to La Liga’s new € 347m limit if they want to comply with UEFA’s financial fair play rules. You have already taken steps to reach this new frontier. The cuts started last summer with the departures of Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal. Meanwhile, the first-team squad has also agreed to postpone a percentage of their salaries for this season, although that has only just resolved the problem.
Gab Marcotti does not shred his words because of the lack of personal responsibility of those involved in the European Super League.
4th European Super League
Bartomeu reopened the Super League debate when he used his October resignation speech to reveal that Barca were involved in plans to stir up European football. He said the club had “approved the requirements for participation in a future European Super League” […] to ensure the future financial sustainability of the club. “
Laporta initially criticized the project last December, saying it was against the essence of the game, but his stance had softened by January. Then, this week, it was revealed that Barca were one of the 12 founding members of a European Super League. The plans have been condemned worldwide and culminated in the project’s collapse as almost every team has confirmed their withdrawal, but Barcelona have not yet officially been eliminated.
– Super League chaos with the withdrawal of the English clubs
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– Koeman criticizes UEFA’s focus on money
Regardless of the time, the Super League is over for the time being and Laporta has to decide how to deal with the possible fallout. Bartomeu said club delegates (roughly 5,000 out of more than 100,000 club members) should have voted the proposals at a general meeting, but a source suggested that the club may not have an obligation to bring the matter to members. Now that it’s over, Laporta’s job is all about repairing and rebuilding trust.
5. Editions and Griezmann
Who can sign Barca, how much they can spend and what salaries they can offer depends on who they can switch first. There’s a long list of players they’re open to selling – some are even pushing for sale – but it’s hard to find buyers in the post-coronavirus market. In addition, players at the club are receiving pre-coronavirus salaries – at the start of the pandemic, the wage cuts were temporary and the most recent salary changes have been deferrals rather than cuts – and are reluctant to make large wage cuts. Laporta have boasted of their relationship with the game’s greatest agents but that alone won’t be enough to find new homes for some of Barca’s undesirable players.
Offers would be considered for goalkeeper Neto, defenders Junior Firpo and Samuel Umtiti, midfielders Philippe Coutinho and Miralem Pjanic, and striker Martin Braithwaite, among others, but Laporta’s biggest decision is what with the € 120million signing Antoine Griezmann, to do. The French striker, who has just turned 30, has blown more cold than hot since joining Atletico in 2019. He has occasionally found his way out of Koeman’s XI but has found some consistency in 2021. Much like Messi and his position in the transfer market, he is considered one of the few players the club could sell to fund a move for a younger striker .
6. Funding signings
Barca’s debts make it easy to get laid off when linked to potential signings this summer. However, sources have told ESPN that Laporta’s board of directors is looking at ways to innovate and make money to improve Koeman’s roster.
Selling players is key, but it’s not the only way to make money to fund transfers. Laporta also has offers on the table for a 49 percent stake in Barca Corporate, which includes merchandising rights, the club’s franchise for academies around the world and the Barca Innovation Hub valued at around € 250 million. However, it could be that tomorrow is sold to pay for today.
7. Identifying the right players to restore the club
Laporta and Koeman agree that the squad still needs some work despite an increase in performance. Defender Eric Garcia is expected to arrive with a free transfer from Manchester City this summer, sources have confirmed to ESPN, but any deal beyond that will depend on the club’s financial position.
Barca will have to decide whether to bring right-back Emerson direct from Real Betis this summer, a player they jointly own and who can sign for € 6-8m, while Koeman is interested in signing Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Lyon Striker Memphis has announced Depay, who both no longer have a contract in the summer. Depay is more likely to join as Barca prioritize signing a striker, but there are other goals. Haaland is the dream and the club met up with its agent Mino Raiola this month but its cost is likely to prove prohibitive. Alexander Isak is also being pursued in advance as a cheaper option.
After Pedri’s success, Barca continue to search the market for the best young talent. Sources have told ESPN that Yusuf Demir from Rapid Vienna is a player to be followed. The 17-year-old, a tricky striker with his left foot, has already broken into Rapid’s first team and won his first international match for Austria in a World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands in March. Barca believe he would be available for around € 15m.
Ale Moreno sums up Lionel Messi’s impressive second-half performance in Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.
8. Clarify Koeman’s future
When Bartomeu resigned in October and the early election was called, Koeman’s job was far from secure. Barca lost four of their first ten league games under the Dutchman, who was appointed last August. The name of Xavi Hernandez was of great importance throughout the election campaign, and Mikel Arteta (Arsenal) and Julian Nagelsmann (RB Leipzig) were even associated with the role in the case of Laporta’s election.
Sources have confirmed to ESPN that members of the Laporta team tracked down former Schalke manager and RB Leipzig soccer director Ralf Rangnick for a leadership role at the club – he would have liked to bring Nagelsmann with him – but Koeman’s position has strengthened significantly since December. In addition to winning the Copa del Rey, Barca have returned to a wide-open title race with an undefeated run of 19 games. Most importantly, the football is played well and the players are happy with the coach.
Laporta used his inauguration to publicly endorse Koeman, and ESPN can confirm the two meetings held during the international hiatus in March to begin planning for the next season.
9. Update of the Camp Nou
The € 850 million Espai Barca (“Barça Space”) project, which included the renovation of Camp Nou, was halted by the coronavirus pandemic. Laporta has to decide what happens next. Is he continuing with the renovations? Does he want to build a new stadium? Sources say renovating the 100,000-seat stadium is the most likely option, but that begs a second question: will the work be done quickly or over several years?
The earlier option, Laporta said, could result in Barca relocating to the Montjuic Olympic Stadium, built for the 1992 Olympics, for two years while the works are completed. The site is centrally located in Barcelona, about five kilometers from Camp Nou, but has a capacity of only 55,000. Messi made his debut for Barca’s first team there in a derby against Espanyol, who played there between 1997 and 2009 at home.
10. Revision of the sports structure
Laporta has yet to officially confirm who will be responsible for managing the club’s future on the field, but the lion’s share of the work has already been done. Ex-Valencia manager Mateu Alemany has been given a role as general manager and sources have confirmed that ESPN Laporta would like Jordi Cruyff as sports director as well. Cruyff is currently the head coach of Shenzhen FC and an agreement would have to be reached with the Chinese Super League club first if Barca are to get him on board.
Ramon Planes, one of the few remaining players in the Bartomeu regime, oversees scouting and recruiting, and Eric Abidal’s former assistant is expected to get a new contract when his current tenure expires this summer.
Below the first team, Patrick Kluivert will not renew his contract and Jose Ramon Alexanko will replace him as director of the academy.