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Barcelona Q&A: Patient Xavi loosening financial straitjacket in summer of transfer poker

Barcelona have signed Robert Lewandowski for £42.5m and Raphinha for £55m; The La Liga club is still trying to offload Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United; Xavi must continue to be patient in his bid to make further improvements, writes Ben Grounds

Xavi
Image: Xavi is slowly rebuilding Barcelona

At the heart of the Eixample district of Barcelona, a brisk 40-minute walk from La Rambla down Carrer de Mallorca, the towers of Gaudi's most famous work pierce the clear blue skyline gradually rising into the heavens.

This giant, unfinished minor basilica has been under construction since 1882. After 144 years, Spain's Sagrada Familia was finally slated for completion in 2026, the 100th anniversary of the original architect's death.

Gaudi said of his masterpiece, "my client is not in a hurry", with the project less than 25 per cent complete by the time of his passing. In the years since, nine architects have taken on the project only to eventually walk away due to its myriad obstacles.

The trials and tribulations of Gaudi's focal point mean Catalans are used to being patient. They have known for some time how the devil is in the detail.

Some six kilometres south-west down Avinguda Diagonal at the Nou Camp, Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez's own reconstruction has hit a roadblock. Sky Sports takes a look at the key questions facing the club this summer...

Do Barcelona still hold pulling power?

A trophy-less 2021/22 campaign ended with a fifth home defeat against Villarreal, meaning Barca finished 13 points behind champions Real Madrid.

The general consensus after the chaos of 12 months ago is that matters might have been far more perilous.

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Xavi said prior to the final game of the season: "I feel we've saved a situation that could've been a lot worse. We've improved and competed because we've had complete faith.

Barcelona vs Eintracht Frankfurt
Image: Barcelona endured a challenging 2021/22 season

"But by our standards, we've not done enough and it's not been a good season. I wouldn't want to give it a grade. Now, we have to focus on rebuilding the team and making ourselves better."

Restricted by La Liga's Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, Barca have struggled with recruitment. This is 'more than a club', but it is one that is currently unable to project its renowned pulling power onto European football's most coveted stars.

Barcelona were never in the running for Erling Haaland before he joined Manchester City and nor are they able to compete for the signature of Kylian Mbappe. His intention to remain a Paris Saint-Germain player for now is a blessing. Mohamed Salah? Liverpool were played, said Gary Neville, and money talked.

MBAPPE HAALAND
Image: Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are out of reach

The club cannot pay the wages the likes of Haaland, Salah and Mbappe are asking for. It is a continuation on the consequences of mismanagement from the old regime which led to Barcelona being unable to re-sign Lionel Messi as he left as a free agent for Paris Saint-Germain.

President Joan Laporta said last August the club's debts totalled €1.35 billion - €673 million of which was owed to banks. Xavi is under no illusions and is moving forward. The economy of the club is what it is and Barcelona cannot look back.

"There have been clear signs of improvement since Ronald Koeman left," Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero told Sky Sports. "Thinking of that 4-0 win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in March - Xavi is the perfect coach right now.

"He knows the club and the players respect him as a former player. He is someone who can certainly attract new signings. He and Robert Lewandowski supposedly met by chance at Lio restaurant in Ibiza. Whether it was or not, Lewandowski knows that Xavi is a legend who from a sporting side is ideal for extinguishing the fires.

"There's very little he can do in the economical field as that boils down to the board members."

Why the clerical work is so crucial

Image: The Catalan club have plans to expand the Nou Camp

Xavi sounded a note of caution when he forecast in May that what he described as "office work" this summer would be "more important than what happens on the pitch".

Barcelona are having to bide their time in returning to compete with Europe's elite again.

Laporta inherited the deep financial crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic after he was elected last year for a second stint but, alongside sporting director Mateu Alemany and technical secretary Jordi Cruyff, he is lining his ducks in a row with an efficient strategy to strengthen the financial footing.

An agreement has been struck to sell a 10 per cent stake in their La Liga TV rights for the next 25 years to US private equity group Sixth Street for €207.5 million - the first of two "economic levers" that were activated at a special assembly of club members on June 30.

The US investment firm already has ties to Barcelona's rivals Real Madrid, after reaching a €360 million deal in May to develop and operate new businesses at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium for 20 years.

The date was also the deadline for providing any final amendments to the accounts at the end of the financial year. It's just what Barcelona supporters have become accustomed to.

Last month, Barcelona also approved the sale of a minority share of their licensing and merchandising division and the cession of up to 25 per cent of their income from their La Liga TV rights.

It has given the club's annual financial outlook a different complexion and the hope now is that they can act more freely when it comes to a salary cap in the current transfer window.

So there is light at the end of the tunnel?

Barcelona unveil new home shirt
Image: Barcelona have signed the naming rights of the Camp Nou to Spotify in a deal worth €5m per year

Gradual progress has certainly been made on easing the financial burden since Laporta's return. Last December, plans were approved to renovate the Camp Nou and its surroundings, including raising an additional €1.5 billion in debt.

Goldman Sachs, which had agreed to lend €595 million to help restructure the club's debt last August, will finance the stadium revamp under a 35-year plan, including an initial five-year grace period.

A shirt and stadium sponsorship deal worth another €280 million is now officially active with audio streaming platform Spotify.

The priority is renovations aimed at having the stadium ready by the end of 2025 with work starting next year to expand capacity to 105,000, making it Europe's largest football venues.

Laporta said the club expects to generate €200 million of additional revenue annually with the new stadium thanks to sponsorship and naming rights, ticketing, catering, VIP boxes, hospitality, meetings and events.

The project will also involve updating the club's infrastructure such as offices and the Palau Blaugrana, a multi-sports venue that has faced multiple fines for not meeting European competition requirements for basketball games. The new Palau Blaugrana should be completed in 2026 and the 'Campus Barca' offices and hotel by 2027.

Why Barcelona need to cut their wage bill

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Spanish football expert Graham Hunter explains how Barcelona can afford their summer signings and their financial situation.

Spanish football expert Graham Hunter told Sky Sports News:

"It is extraordinary what they're doing, in fact it's probably unprecedented.

"La Liga has given them the go-ahead to sign footballers and mortgage their future. What is not clear is whether those players can be registered yet because the financial fair play imposed by La Liga leaves Barcelona with their backside still sticking out of the window irrespective of having signed these players.

"They need to make massive economies within their wage bill which is the principal reason why they're trying to push De Jong out of the door to Manchester United and they would still like to lose four or five, maybe six, players to slash their wage bill.

"There's an application - a mathematical formula - if Barcelona do not slash their wage bill there is a threat that some of these players they're signing won't be able to register in time for the kick-off of La Liga. There's a real race to find a way to cut the wage bill. If not, then Barcelona have stacked up problems for themselves."

Are Barcelona still focusing on free transfers?

Barcelona have signed Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie from Chelsea and AC Milan respectively
Image: Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie have joined

Laporta has said the team are looking for players who "really want to play for Barcelona" but those unable to graduate from La Masia with the required quality will be offloaded.

"I can't say how many more signings we'll be able to make," Laporta said, explaining that they need to activate measures approved last month to improve the club's financial situation.

"It will not be easy but we need to reinforce the first team to be more competitive. We are in a situation of uncertainty. We are working to be able to sign. At this time we still can't. We are talking to players we are interested in and ask them to wait for us."

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Barcelona's first summer signing Franck Kessie was introduced at the Spotify Camp Nou and the Ivorian midfielder was put through his kick-up paces

Finding creative ways of being more competitive this coming season is how Barcelona have acted in the market so far in this poker period of the summer window.

Franck Kessie said the opportunity of playing under the guidance of Xavi was crucial in his decision to join Barcelona on a free transfer after leaving AC Milan.

"When a great coach like him calls you, you see that all your efforts are worth it," Kessie told a news conference on Wednesday after signing a contract until June 2026.

The manager's legacy still holds plenty of sway. Barca have also announced the signing of Denmark defender and free agent Andreas Christensen, who joins the club on a free transfer from Chelsea. But more quality is still needed.

Will Kessie arrival hasten De Jong departure?

Frenkie De Jong
Image: Frenkie De Jong is wanted by Manchester United

Frenkie de Jong would ideally like to remain at Barcelona but his future may be taken out of his control with Manchester United his likely destination.

Sky Sports News has been told the clubs have a "broad agreement" on the fee - believed to be €65m (£56m) plus performance-related add-ons.

The move would reunite the Netherlands international with Erik ten Hag, the coach who turned him into a vital cog during Ajax's run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019.

"De Jong is a Barcelona player and we, unless we need to, don't want to sell him," Laporta said at the presentation of Kessie on Wednesday. "We know he has offers. If at anytime one of them interested us, we would sell him. But right now we're not going to."

De Jong has not reached the same heights of his Ajax playing days during three seasons of sustained upheaval at Barcelona, with the 25-year-old unable to oust the veteran Sergio Busquets in his preferred position at the base of the midfield.

Montero added: "I do think he will eventually join United, but the main problem is the player. De Jong wants to stay at Barcelona but the club sees with fresh eyes the possibility of selling him.

"They acknowledge that doing so will bring in a lot of money, and looking at the squad he is someone who can perhaps attract one of the biggest fees in the current market.

"De Jong is an amazing player but if Barcelona sell him, it would be a good operation. His value means they are taking the positives from a bad situation. If they were to have sold Ansu Fati, nobody in the club nor the fans would understand it.

"Ansu Fati is the future and they don't have a replacement. But the fans are understanding of selling De Jong as they've got Gavi, Pedri and Busquets. Were Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal or either Gerard Pique or Ronald Araujo to be sold, it would be very different as they don't have the same depth in those areas."

'The power remains with De Jong'

Spanish football expert Graham Hunter on Sky Sports News:

"Ten Hag's desire to reunite De Jong with Van de Beek and put him in the heart of United's midfield is so long established that United have come round to Barcelona's terms.

"There is agreement club to club - they may not want to say that formally - that part is done. There are enormous sticking points because 1) De Jong has never wanted to leave either the football or the lifestyle in La Liga or Spain 2) Barcelona owe De Jong huge amounts of money when his wages were deferred from when they were in a greater financial pickle than they are right now.

"So when you have a footballer who does not want to leave and you owe him money that you do not really want to pay him right now, it is a rock and a hard place for Barcelona. They do not look like they are going to bump De Jong off the tour of the US, suddenly they have been saying placatory words, Laporta said the case is closed.

Frenkie de Jong
Image: Frenkie de Jong

"That is not true - if they could find a way of persuading De Jong to go to Man Utd, or indeed Chelsea, and take that wage bill off their hands, they would do it in an instance.

"But right now, player power is winning, De Jong is saying 1) I want to stay 2) you owe me lots of money, I helped you when you were in dire need, you can't push me out and until those situations change, it is frustrations for Barcelona and especially Man Utd and Ten Hag.

"But Barcelona so need him to be off their wage bill in order for them to register Raphinha and Kessie and Christensen and Lewandowski, I'd say it is 60-40 they will find a way for it to happen.

"But at the moment, the odds are looking 30-70 it won't happen, but across the remainder of the transfer market, I estimate de Jong will move and probably to the Premier League, but whether it is to Man Utd or Chelsea, we will have to wait and see.

"But the power remains with de Jong right now and he is saying to everybody, 'Calm down, I'm happy.'"

Lewandowski joins Barca after sealing £42.5m move

Robert Lewandowski has joined his new Barcelona team-mates in Miami after completing his £42.5m (€50m) from Bayern Munich.

Barca agreed a deal to sign the striker, who is understood to have signed a three-year contract with the club with an option for a further 12 months, over the weekend.

Although there has been no official written confirmation, Lewandowski wore Barcelona colours in a series of videos posted on the club's Twitter account from Miami.

"Finally I am here and I am very happy to join Barcelona," he said in a video released by Barcelona ahead of its US tour.

"The last few days were very long days but in the end the deal was done so now I am going to focus on a new chapter in my life and a new challenge.

"I am still the guy who wants to win, not only the game but also the titles so I hope from the beginning of the season we will begin winning and go for the titles during the season and at the end of the season.

"I always wanted to play in La Liga, I always wanted to play for the biggest clubs. It is the next step. Also for my private life, it was a new challenge."

Raphinha chooses Barca over Chelsea

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Brazil international Raphinha was presented to Barcelona fans at the Nou Camp following his move from Leeds United.

Leeds completed the £55m sale of Raphinha to Barcelona which ended Chelsea's hopes of signing the Brazil winger.

Chelsea had a reported bid of £60m accepted by Leeds at the end of last month, but Raphinha held out for his dream move to La Liga with Barca.

Raphinha said: "It's a dream come true since I was a kid, and of my family as well. I'm going to give my best."

His mesmeric wing play earned him his first call-up for Brazil in October last year and he made his debut off the bench, providing two assists in a 3-1 World Cup qualifying win in Venezuela.

Raphinha earned more rave reviews after his second start for Brazil a week later as he scored twice and made another assist as they beat Uruguay 4-1.

He scored 17 goals in 60 Premier League games for Leeds and will be hoping to add to his three goals in nine appearances for Brazil at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Who else could be coming in?

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Pep Guardiola says Bernardo Silva's immediate future is with Manchester City despite interest from Barcelona

The club remain interested in signing Manchester City playmaker Bernardo Silva along with Sevilla defender and Chelsea target Jules Kounde.

Marca say centre-back Kounde is now Barcelona's next priority after securing Lewandowski to reinforce their defence despite the arrival of Christensen.

But negotiations won't be easy for the sought-after 23-year-old because of the interest surrounding him which will likely drive up the price Sevilla demand.

Jules Kounde
Image: Jules Kounde

Kounde has not yet joined the club's pre-season training camp in South Korea after undergoing surgery on a minor pelvis injury last month. If everything goes as expected, the French international will be available for the start of the 2022/23 season.

Sevilla director of football Monchi asked for patience to resolve Kounde's future at the club although now the vultures are circling as the season draws closer.

Barcelona are also said to be keeping an eye on Chelsea duo Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta as possible backup options, should they fail in their pursuit of Kounde.

Which other players are heading for the exit?

Barcelona's Clement Lenglet watches the play during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Getafe, at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort)
Image: Clement Lenglet has been linked with Tottenham

Regarding the ongoing economic situation, Xavi said: "I've spoken to the president and he is confident that we will be able to strengthen the team.

"It depends on the club and the situation but we have plans in place in terms of signings. Let's see what we can reach. I'm responsible for giving a football diagnosis, I'm not the one to talk about money."

Xavi has already made it clear to his squad those he wishes to retain and those whose futures lie elsewhere. A ruthlessness is needed if Barcelona are return to the very standards they have set.

Players involved on international duty last month have been granted an extra week off, but Riqui Puig, Neto, Oscar Mingueza, Samuel Umtiti, Moussa Wague and Clement Lenglet are negotiating possible exits.

French international Lenglet is set to join Tottenham on loan in the coming days, with Mingueza and Umtiti attracting interest from Italy and France, but the rest are yet to receive an offer.

With Lewandowski having now arrived at the Nou Camp, could Aubameyang be set for the exit?

"Practically everyone at Barcelona would be for sale if the right bid came in," said Hunter.

"Aubameyang doesn't want to leave, he's got continuity of contract. You can see that Aubameyang is the type of player who could fit with Lewandowski.

"Aubameyang is not massively keen on playing wide but he can do so at the moment, it's not there that they're looking to clear out but in junior candidates like Martin Braithwaite, they'd like him to move, Riqui Puig and above all they'd like Frenkie De Jong to move but he's digging his heels in."

Dembele signs new deal while Gavi offers bright future

Ousmane Dembele
Image: Ousmane Dembele left the club on June 30

Barcelona agreed a new two-year contract last week with France forward Ousmane Dembele, whose contract had expired.

The French winger was a Chelsea and Liverpool target and officially a free agent joined from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 in a deal worth an initial £96.8m and potentially rising to £135.5m.

He has scored 32 goals and provided 34 assists in 150 games for the club despite being hampered by injuries. Last season he contributed 13 assists and two goals in 32 appearances last season.

Barcelona are set for more good news with Gavi poised to sign a new deal.

"There is an outline of an agreement. We are highly committed to sorting out this situation," Laporta said.

"He is 17 years of age and we are waiting until he turns 18 on August 5 so he can sign a contract longer than three years. We have small details to close out but we will get it resolved. 100 per cent Gavi will continue at Barca."

Pedri fired Barcelona up to second in La Liga
Image: Pedri offers hope for a bright future under Xavi

Pedri and Ansu Fati will continue to grow and help absorb the deficit of losing De Jong. While Dembele embodies how Barcelona lost their identity, the precocious talent of Gavi emits the class schooled in the club's famed La Masia academy.

As ever in this proudly autonomous community, patience is required.

"There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church," Gaudi said of the Sagrada Familia. "I will grow old but others will come after me.

"What must always be conserved is the spirit of the work, but its life has to depend on the generations it is handed down to and with whom it lives and is incarnated."

Xavi remains, for now, in his financial straitjacket - but in channelling the Catalan spirit, this famed architect of Spanish football's Golden Generation sets the example of how patience can pay off.

Follow the summer transfer window with Sky Sports

Who will be on the move this summer before the transfer window closes at 11pm on September 1?

Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports' digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.

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