Many of Spain’s top sports publications are doing what they usually do this time of year: telling us about the stars Barcelona will target in the transfer window. If that’s the only news you’re consuming, you’re probably thinking things will be business as usual at Camp Nou this summer (or fall?).
But considering the historic international health and economic crisis – both globally and as it pertains to European soccer in particular — the “business as usual” state of the transfer rumor mill is a little baffling.
For many, the biggest questions are the following:
- Will they add Neymar?
- Can they convince Argentine Lautaro Martinez to leave Inter Milan for Catalonia?
- Not to mention the totally not remotely logical “Will they get both of them???”
The real question
How will a team with tremendous debt, and major uncertainties about revenue for ’19-20 due to the possible cancellation of the season, reduce that debt while improving the roster?
We’re still going to (eventually) address Barcelona’s wish list and their chances of getting what they want. But it would be insane to write about summer transfers without digging into the current context. And by “current context,” I mean both the pandemic’s impact on the finances of everyone in soccer, and Barcelona’s budget situation. The club’s net debt is around €217M ($241M), per ESPN.com.
Less spending for (just about) everyone
This pandemic means that Barcelona, like (almost)* everyone else in Spain and Europe, is going to be much less aggressive than usual. While the speculation inside Spain would indicate otherwise, I expect few top players across Europe to move as even the most impulsive (and/or debt-ridden) clubs play it unusually safe.
And I’m not the only one envisioning a quiet summer for Barcelona and their top continental rivals. Below are a few good reads on why this transfer window will be unlike any we’ve ever seen.
- ESPN.com, April 17: Barcelona’s coronavirus fire sale means only Messi, Ter Stegen, De Jong safe – sources
- High Press Soccer (#noshame), April 27: Fabio Capello Says Pandemic Will Destroy Everyone In La Liga Besides Real Madrid
- AS, April 30: ‘Fire-sale prices’ will be negotiated in next transfer window
- ESPN.com, May 1: Barcelona looking to trade, not buy players in summer transfer window – Cardoner
More importantly, it was reported on Monday that all the La Liga clubs using the government’s ERTE program (essentially Spain’s furlough system) will have their summer activity monitored – controlled?? – by the Spanish government.
The teams on that list?
Barcelona (first place), Atlético Madrid (sixth), Sevilla (third), Alavés (14th), Valencia (seventh), Espanyol (20th), Granada (ninth) and Osasuna (11th).
But it’d be no fun to write (or read) a May summer transfer piece about how few moves I expect to happen – even though that’s arguably exactly what I just did. Moving on to the fun part: who’s coming and who’s going??
(Considering everything above, the reasons I’m not including Neymar and Martinez should be obvious)
Wolves F Raul Jimenez (Transfermarkt value: $44M)
He’s not quite a mega-star like Neymar, but he’s probably still out of reach, largely because he’s under contract with his current club through summer 2023. His comments last week about how hard it would be to turn down an offer from Barcelona or Real Madrid make this somewhat intriguing. But his current team should be able to keep arguably its best player in the fold for at least a few more seasons.
Valladolid center back Mohammed Salisu (Transfermarkt value: $12.1M)
The question is probably not if Salisu leaves Valladolid for one of Spain’s big three, but which club he joins. He’s been linked to Atleti (more to come on this later this week), but also has the interest of RM and Barcelona — and the more you Google him, every big club in Europe, apparently. Two signs he’s the real deal: 1) He’s getting a ton of minutes in a good league at the age of 21 2) He’s holding up, per his WhoScored rating of 6.77.
Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic (Transfermarkt value: $57.2M)
If you believe the rumors, this one is essentially a done deal. The 30-year-old is obviously not an up-and-comer, but Barcelona believes he has plenty of good soccer ahead. Juventus would save some money by offloading him, but could Barca afford him? If they shed Ivan Rakitic and or 23-year-old Arthur Melo (who many expect to be “swapped” for Pjanic), this probably works. Considering his contract and age, Arthur is one of Barcelona’s best assets, and their decision on him will likely shape their offseason.
Midfielder Ivan Rakitic (Transfermarkt value: $22M)
For a while now, it’s been hard to imagine Rakitic being back in the fold for Quique Setién next season. He’s a tantalizing option for any EPL club with deep pockets and a need for a proven midfielder (Tottenham?), but how much will they have to spend? Barcelona would benefit greatly from someone paying big money for the Croatian. The question is whether that’s possible now that his desire to leave is so well-documented??
Center back Samuel Umtiti (Transfermarkt value: $35.2M)
Barcelona would probably have little interest in parting ways with him if they were in a great spot financially. Unfortunately, they’re not. The 26-year-old could get a big contract from a team that sees him as the long-term anchor of their back line. If a wealthy team (PSG) is willing to overlook his knee injuries, he’d be a good piece for Barcelona to sell.
*We have a feeling Real Madrid is going to have a great summer
** Call me a pessimist, but Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele are going to be hard to offload.