Barcelona has a new president, Joan Laporta, who coincidentally is also its former president, and speculation abounds about what could happen next.
The scenarios range from total doom – over a billion dollars in debt, Lionel Messi’s contract to expire, a global pandemic that is devastating the soccer economy – to “What? Worry?” , perfectly exemplified by the candidate for president Toni Freixa, who had spoken of signing Erling Haaland, from Borussia Dortmund, and Kylian Mbappé, from PSG.
As is often the case, reality is somewhere in between. There are reasons to fear the worst, reasons to be cautiously optimistic, and some reasons to rejoice, even a few days after failing to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2007.
A shrewd and responsible handling of Laporta could keep Barcelona at the top, or at least near the top, of club football for the coming seasons. But it could also keep messing up and sinking to unrecognizable depths. But this is the good news.
1. There are two extraordinary teams in Europe, and the rest … well …
Manchester City is a notch above everyone else, and the same can probably be said for Bayern Munich. They are solid teams from a financial point of view, and although they will have to make some adjustments in the summer (the first needs a center forward and the second a central defender) they are doing well. Everyone else has business to resolve on the court, at the bank, or in the club’s accounts. Barça may be worse off than the big clubs in Europe in many ways, but they all have problems.
2. Your debt is monstrous, but debt is only a problem if you can’t pay it
The “short-term” debt of nearly $ 800 million is pretty scary. Financial blogger Swiss Ramble explains in detail how Barcelona’s is so big compared to other clubs, and why it’s concerning. However, as long as you can refinance, there is room for maneuver, and the fact is that, at the moment, there are a lot of private capital giving back in football and interest rates remain low.
They may not get a great deal, and to some extent, they might end up kicking the trouble for later, but they will get a deal.
3. The rules of “More than a club” apply, which is a double-edged sword, but in this case it is a net positive.
Barcelona’s structure – with a council elected by its members – means that giving it a loan is more like lending money to a local government. At first glance, this is not a good thing: Elected managers are not equally committed because, unlike private investors, they are not playing with their money. They may be more likely to give in to outside pressure and take unreasonable risks for the sake of short-term popularity, so lenders charge them more.
That is true to some extent, although not as much as in the past. On the other hand, Barcelona’s public status gives it a bit more leverage with the lenders. It is one thing for a bank to threaten legal action against a US mutual fund club or Russian oligarch if they fall behind in payments. And it is quite another to go against a public fund like Barcelona, with tens of millions of followers and a new direction that has inherited the disaster.
In terms of public relations, if Barça owes money, it is more likely that the provider wants to renegotiate and have a good image in the press – “See? We are helping Barça out of the hole and we are not bad!” – instead of calling the lawyers and the collectors.
4. There is a backbone of top-tier talent, mostly young people
Let’s put Messi aside for a moment and look at the rest. Marc-Andre ter Stegen (28), Frenkie de Jong (23), Pedri (18) and Ansu Fati (18) are undoubtedly top-level players, they are among the best in the world in their roles. Ronald Araujo (22), Sergino Dest (20) and Ilaix Moriba (18) are on track to reach that level.
If you really want to see the world through Barça’s glass, you could include Riqui Puig (21), Óscar Mingueza (21) and Francisco Trincao (21) in that list, and maybe add Carles Alena (23) and Jean to the loans. -Clair Todibo (21). I’m not going to go that far, but among the last six there will surely be one who will reach the highest level, and a couple of helpful collaborators. Considering their ages, it’s not bad at all.
5. Despite the ups and downs, some players have shown that they do not need to be immediately replaced
Jordi Alba is 31 years old, but he has had his best campaign in several years and could offer a couple of more seasons (he is hired until 2024 inclusive anyway). Clement Lenglet (25) is also signed until 2026, and although he does not convince everyone, he is a useful player. Even Sergio Busquets (32), who had a bad streak this year, can give you one or two more years under certain conditions.
6. Everyone is financially bad, it’s not just your case … which means that the football ecosystem has changed
Transfer and salary expenses will almost certainly drop in the summer as there is less money in the system. That hurts you because it’s harder to ditch assets to get cash quickly. Barça have had the highest payroll in the world for a few years, and the others just aren’t going to want to take over some fiascos at Camp Nou with excessive salaries. But the lack of cash in the system works in two ways. It also means there will be less competition for the guys you want to keep, particularly those you want to extend the contract to, like Pedri or like Ousmane Dembélé. And if you need to make new signings, they should, by the same principle, be much cheaper.
7. Bad contracts do not last forever and, in some cases, can be negotiated
Perhaps this will not work with players like Samuel Umtiti or Philippe Coutinho: you will be committed to their contracts until 2023. The same happens with Miralem Pjanic (30) until 2024. Okay. They will magically disappear from your payroll in a few years. (And that’s important when you make projections and build your three-year plan.) But you can go up to someone like Gerard Piqué – who is 34 years old and has a contract until 2024, and who also adores the club – and say: “Gerard, we need your help … we are having difficulties. Can we fix something? He is extremely rich. For starters, he’s married to someone who has more money than him and likely has ambitions to land a role after his retirement … why not at least give it a try?
And then there is Sergi Roberto, who will end his contract at the end of next season. This is the only club you know, they have been injured all season, would you say no to a few more years and a little less money?
8. Barça’s economic model means that they have absorbed more of the negative effects of COVID-19, but they should enjoy more of the positives when this is all over.
The Camp Nou is the largest stadium in European football and its closure meant that the audience went from an average of 75,000 people per game, before the pandemic, to zero since then. The Barcelona museum is the third most visited in Spain – its income dropped to zero.
You don’t have to be a genius to see how, in absolute terms, the closures have affected Barça to a much greater degree than other clubs. But when everything reopens, revenue will come back in big time. And that will also have a positive impact on Barça more than on others.
9. Ronald Koeman’s contract is valid until 2022
He has made mistakes and it may not be the long-term solution, worse the Dutchman and also a former Barcelona player has exceeded expectations in terms of the way in which he was able to redirect the ship and in terms of its acceptance among the players. The fact that Barcelona is still in the race for the domestic double despite Messi’s burofax, the resignation of José María Bartomeu, the disaster in the summer pass market, the financial implosion … at some point, all of this it means you deserve the credit.
The good thing, however, is that, if Barça needs to go in the opposite direction, it will not cost them to let it go. And if he stays, he won’t be in a position to be as demanding as a high-profile coach would be.
10. If you are smart, you can make the situation with Messi end up being beneficial for everyone
Simplifying it, you need to put a number of what Messi brings to the club. A real number, not Laporta’s profitability electoral voodoo when he said that Messi costs Barcelona 8% of its budget but that it means 30% of the income. And then you talk to him as an adult. You tell him that you want him to stay, but if he hopes to win something close to the more than $ 100m he makes now, that will not happen, because it would be irresponsible on the part of the club. It would mean that they will not pay the debts and that they will not be able to surround him with players with whom he can continue to win before retiring.
Don’t be ashamed to ask for a “resident discount.” You don’t appear to be a person primarily motivated by money, anyway. Nor does it mean that you have to be like Pau Gasol and play for (practically) nothing. You simply need to show him that if he accepts a substantial cut, with that money you will be paying debt or adding / retaining talent. Calculate a number and stand firm with it… and pray that they agree.
What if you don’t agree? Well, you will have a large sum of money available in your payroll and you will alleviate a ton of financial pressure.
What if you agree? Well, you will have another season with one of the greatest footballers in history at a price that is probably much less than what it is worth.
Those are 10 reasons to feel optimistic. You can, without a doubt, think of many more to panic. And yes, a lot depends on the faith you have in Laporta. He is not a businessman, he is fundamentally a lawyer and a politician and, admittedly, that is not necessarily a good sign. But if you are humble enough to surround yourself with smart people, if you don’t make the mistakes of the past, if you can get fans to believe in your project, you can make this work.
Barça is not a recession-proof club and not too big to fail. But the truth is that it is very close.