Manchester City are the new Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain are the same old PSG. They are the conclusions of the first few days of Barcelona’s summer.
Arsenal were once the Premier League club that sold most players to Barcelona. Now it seems City are ready to replace them, with Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia having already arrived at the Nou Camp and Aymeric Laporte, Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling all linked in the last week too.
Meanwhile Georginio Wijnaldum has gone from imminent Barcelona midfield reinforcement to PSG player with Barca gazumped by the superior financial muscle of the Paris club, who were offering a three-year deal for a net salary of £8.6million that Barcelona simply could not compete with.
Manchester City may sell several stars to Barcelona, with Sergio Aguero having joined already
Raheem Sterling has been linked with Barcelona, although players would have to be sold first
Club president Joan Laporta said last week that the wage bill is currently 110 per cent of projected income – they simply can’t live with PSG’s bottomless pit of money.
Supporters have taken it well, in part because they are resigned to losing players to the French club. Neymar, Marco Verratti and Marquinhos are three more examples of players who would be at Barcelona not PSG were it not for the finances.
The pill is also sweetened by Wijnaldum never appealing to many Barcelona supporters. There is a desire to see Barcelona recapture the style of the team that won two Champions Leagues under Pep Guardiola and snobbery crept in when the hard-running Dutch international was lined up by Ronald Koeman.
Barcelona missed out on Georginio Wijnaldum after PSG offered a bigger wage package; Joan Laporta admitted to Barcelona’s weak financial position but some fans have taken it well
Closer ties with City and more players who have been playing for Guardiola might appeal in that sense although it’s not been lost on Barcelona supporters that Garcia and Aguero barely featured last season.
Garcia has at least had the Guardiola stamp of approval with Pep telling reporters that he believes the young Spain defender will go on to captain Barca.
Laporte, Mahrez, Gundogan and Sterling would all be welcomed, although the arrival of any one of the three depends entirely on Barcelona selling players.
Mateu Alemany, the club’s director of football, has been charged with thinning the squad, preferably before the end of June.
Barcelona are also said to be interested in City duo Ilkay Gundogan (left) and Riyad Mahrez
Barca were once famed for signing the cream of talent, such as Thierry Henry from Arsenal in 2007 (left) but director of football Mateu Alemany (right) has now been tasked with thinning the squad before late June
The easy part is telling players to look for other clubs because if they stay they will not play next season. But Samuel Umtiti – who would make room for Laporte – has a contract until 2023 and doesn’t have to move if he doesn’t want to.
Junior Firpo is similarly tied to the club until 2024, Martin Braithwaite has signed until 2024 and Matheus Fernandes until 2025. They could all choose to stay, making even the completion of Memphis Depay’s move more difficult.
It seems Miralem Pjanic will not stay where he is not wanted and will cooperate with any deal that takes him somewhere where he is likely to play.
But another player the club are keen to move on, Sergi Roberto, has been at Barcelona all his life and no more wants to move on than Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba did last year when they appeared in previous president Josep Bartomeu’s list of transferable players.
Miralem Pjanic has rarely been used and will cooperate with any deal that sees him move away
Alemany might have to revert to loans but that can still be problematic. It’s only worth loaning out Philippe Coutinho if the buyer pays at least half of his €12million net wage and so far this summer there are no offers for a player whose Copa America participation has been ruled out by injury.
They are the headaches created by players on long deals but players on short contracts are also causing concerns. Ousmane Dembele will be free to walk away for nothing at the end of next season.
He currently seems intent on doing just that judging from his refusal to sign a contract extension. If he doesn’t move on then any move for Sterling or Mahrez, should they become available, remains out of the question.
Two huge prospects, Ilaix Moriba and Ansu Fati, are also both entering their final year. The 18-year-olds are the future of Barcelona’s midfield and attack but they are also on the radar of every big club in Europe and Barca can’t offer them the world because they have already promised that to Lionel Messi.
Philippe Coutinho has attracted no offers so far this summer and is currently injured
Ousmane Dembele has refused to sign a new deal and will be free to walk away next summer
None of this is new for Barcelona supporters. They sensed the situation was not good even before the pandemic. Club audits ought to be completed by the end of this month to give a more precise picture of the club’s financial landscape but for the foreseeable future PSG will continue to outbid them in the transfer market.
A friendship with City – Koeman and Guardiola being golf buddies and Laporta and Txiki Begiristain never more than a text message away – might become increasingly useful.
Arsenal were once the English club most likely to send players to Barcelona. As long as there are more Thierry Henrys than Aleksandr Hlebs, Barca supporters might welcome a City influx if it means the club can strengthen in spite of its financial woes.