Like many of us, you are probably wondering: What the hell is going at Barcelona?
Back in 2018, they claimed they were about to become the first soccer club to ever generate $1 billion in annual revenue. Fast-forward to a year ago, and Lionel Messi, the greatest player of all time, was forced — through tears — to leave the club because they could no longer afford him. Fast forward to a month ago and Barcelona president Joan Laporta was describing the club as “clinically dead.” Fast forward to today, and they’ve announced the signings of Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen, Raphinha and Robert Lewandowski.
My ESPN colleague Sid Lowe explained the situation in detail last week, but a quick refresher: LaLiga basically has a spending cap determined by the difference between a team’s revenue and a combination of squad costs and debt repayments. Given those dreams of billion-dollar revenues, you rarely heard the cap mentioned in reference to Barcelona. They spent wildly on transfer fees and even more wildly on player salaries when life was good — and then a pandemic hit.
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Most of Barca’s revenue streams were shut off, and there was no cushion to be provided by a benevolent billionaire since the team is member-owned. There was suddenly way less revenue to offset the wage bill and transfer debt, and so their spending cap disappeared.
A bunch of accounting tricks allowed them to add players in January, and then the new signings this summer were theoretically funded by what Laporta has referred to as “economic levers”: selling off a good chunk of future TV revenue and the club’s branding and licensing mechanism.
Whatever you think about the decision, it’s an incredibly short-sighted one: Sell off the future so we can win now and hopefully increase our revenue by so much that those future payments won’t even hurt all that much.
Another option would’ve been: Don’t pull the levers, don’t sign any new players, take your medicine, play the kids, and see what happens. And well, that’s always been an option at Barcelona. So, given that a risky transfer strategy got them here in the first place — and that Laporta seems to think it’s the only way to get them out of it, too — I’ve got a couple questions: What if Barcelona just didn’t sign anyone? Would they really be any worse off?
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