from temple for refined football to ordinary trading house

Frenkie de Jong is under great pressure from Barcelona: either he hands in a lot of salary or he leaves, if it is up to the club.Image NurPhoto via Getty Images

Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann was not only deeply disappointed that his striker Robert Lewandowski moved to Barcelona for almost €50 million last month, he also found it rather odd. “FC Barcelona is the only club in the world that has no money,” he said, “but at the same time buys any player they want. I don’t know how they do it.”

Former England international Gary Neville garnered much approval a few days later when he harshly criticized how Barca have been trying to get rid of Frenkie de Jong in recent months or force him to give up a large part of his salary. Neville advised De Jong on Twitter to take legal action: “A club that spends a fortune on new players but does not pay its current players is immoral and in violation.”

No, FC Barcelona is no longer the spiritual guide in the football world that was followed and admired by many. The image of the Catalan club has quickly crumbled in recent years, not only because of the lack of results, but mainly because of the economic misery into which the club has plunged itself. The unexpected and traumatic departure of Messi a summer ago was the death blow.

Absurdly high salaries

Most of the current misery is due to the previous board, which treated players to absurdly high salaries and let the debt rise to the current 1.2 billion euros. Last March, in the elections for the presidency, the Barça socios en masse opted for lawyer Joan Laporta (60) to repeat the trick with which, in his first leg as president, between 2003 and 2010, he moved the club from a ruinous situation to led the absolute world top, thanks to pioneering players such as Ronaldinho and Messi.

Laporta responded to Nagelsmann and Neville’s criticism by explaining the ‘recipe’ from then that he now tries to repeat, albeit in a much more precarious situation: “We invest in players to make the club stronger. It’s a circle: you invest in new players, the fans know where to find you and that also improves the economy of the club.” So he spent 150 million on those reinforcements.

‘Virtual’ circle

Laporta calls this the ‘virtuous’ circle, a positive circle, the opposite of vicious. A circle in which, to begin with, he has pumped a lot of money in order to be able to close last season’s balance sheet without loss, to eliminate the negative equity and also to be able to present positive figures at the beginning of this year. And these are necessary to comply with the Financial Fair Play rules of the Liga, the strict organizer of the Primera División, to be able to attract and register new players.

That is why the board has put several ‘assets’ up for sale in recent weeks. By relinquishing – for no less than 25 years – a quarter of the television rights and the sale of half of the merchandise department, Barça has cashed out more than 700 million euros. This still doesn’t seem to be enough to sign the five newbies (Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Koundé, Franck Kessié and Andreas Christensen) plus two players whose contracts had already expired but signed a new deal (Ousmane Dembélé and Sergi Roberto).

Rock hard setup

On the eve of their league debut, Saturday night against Rayo Vallecano, the League’s Barca would have to cut another €30 million in existing salaries to allow all those seven footballers to play. Barça want to make the most profit from the man with the highest salary, Frenkie de Jong. Either the Dutchman gives up much more than he has already done in the past two years because of the corona crisis, or he leaves, is the club’s tough attitude. Ali Dursun, De Jong’s agent, has been in Barcelona since Wednesday to try to find a solution.

Other high earners such as veterans Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets have also been asked to hand in salary, but they do not have to leave; their market value is much lower than the 80 million that Barça want to receive for De Jong. The other Dutchman in the selection, Memphis Depay, is a good candidate for the sale, and Juventus is more than interested.

Two reinforcements

It is striking that, should the two Dutchmen leave Barça, the club wants to present two reinforcements almost immediately: defender Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) and midfielder Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), who are now in the waiting room. It’s actions like that that many in the international football world don’t really understand, especially since Barcelona was never known as such a tough player trading house. And because only a fraction of the debt of 1.2 billion euros is being eliminated.