At the end of last season Barcelona were confident that they would keep Lionel Messi. In the middle of this season they said they were hopeful of signing Erling Haaland. And as this campaign entered the home straight, a few weeks back, they were talking up their chances of signing Robert Lewandowski.
That’s the fantasy.
The reality is that the big gains this summer could end up being re-signing Ousmane Dembele, presenting a fully-fit Ansu Fati in preseason, and if Chelsea allow it, giving Cesar Azpilicueta the job of shoring up their defence. Raphinha arriving from Leeds would be a bonus. But it would depend on Leeds being relegated, dropping the Brazilian’s price to a level that Barcelona could afford.
Xavi admits Barcelona ‘can’t compete’ with Man City and Real Madrid in the transfer market
Leeds’ Raphinha and Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta are among Barca’s main targets this summer
And even then it might have to be financed by Dembele not staying or a bid coming in for Memphis Depay. The most-often uttered phrase around the club right now is a familiar one – Barcelona don’t have any money.
The optimism over Messi staying last year helped Joan Laporta win the election. Xavi’s meeting with Haaland in Germany kept the wave of optimism high. And when Haaland proved impossible, the Lewandowski rumours helped sugar the pill.
Still this week the big names keep surfacing. Sadio Mane was on the front page of one paper on Tuesday. It’s true that Messi urged the club to sign him when he was still a Barca player. But that was pre-pandemic and before a light was shone on Barcelona’s finances. Regardless of Mane’s contract situation at Liverpool, Barcelona cannot afford the wages.
The club are still recovering from losses of around £410m (€480m) in the 2020-21 season and they are banned from spending in the transfer market any more than a quarter of what they generate this summer. Xavi admitted as much earlier this week that they are competing in another league now, one in which free transfers and relegation clauses feature heavily.
Boss Xavi told Marca: ‘It’s a shame, we have not been able to compete.’
Barcelona understand that if Leeds are relegated they can sign Raphinha for £21m (€25m). They seem to be holding out to see if that happens before they table a final offer to Dembele. All the while the French winger keeps clocking up the assists. His tally of 13 for the season is higher than everyone’s in Spain despite the fact that he has only started 15 games.
Another thing holding up the Dembele offer is the conclusion of the Philippe Coutinho saga. He will move permanently to Aston Villa this summer but Villa only want to pay £12m and Barcelona are holding out for £17m.
Who else moves on will depend on how well the Director of Football Mateu Alemany does in the transfer market. As last January showed in the case of Dembele, telling a player he has to leave, and a player actually leaving, can be two completely different things.
Ousmane Dembele has registered 13 assists this season despite only starting 15 matches
After being sent to Munich to sit down with Haaland in March, only for it to soon become clear that the possibility of him signing was slim to zero, Xavi now wants to be given a competitive squad for next season. He is well aware of the restraints but he wants two players for each position and a clear-out of those he has no intention of using.
In goal Marc Andre ter Stegen will stay but Neto will move on to make way for Iñaki Peña who returns from a loan at Galatasaray.
At right back if Azpilicueta arrives it looks unlikely that Dani Alves will be offered a new contract. The Chelsea defender would compete with Sergino Dest providing there are no big offers for the US international.
In the center of defense Ronald Araujo, Gerard Pique, Eric Garcia and Andreas Christensen will compete for the two positions. At left back Xavi wants Javi Galan or Jose Gaya to compete with Jordi Alba but unless asking prices can be brought down drastically by the willingness of Celta Vigo or Valencia to factor players into the deal then Barcelona will struggle to make it happen.
Xavi is keen to bring in Celta Vigo left back Javi Galan to compete with Jordi Alba
Jose Gaya (R) could also be targeted but Valencia will need to bring their asking price down
Clement Lenglet, Samuel Umtiti, Martin Braithwaite and Oscar Mingueza are all options to become makeweights in any transfers.
In midfield Xavi wants a squad of six with Franck Kessie arriving from Milan to join Sergio Busquets, Gavi, Pedri, Nico and Frenkie de Jong. This plan only changes if Manchester United make a huge bid for the Dutch international in which case Barcelona would replace him with Valencia’s Carlos Soler.
In attack, again it’s the same rule of six for three positions. Xavi sees Dembele, Aubameyang and Fati from right to left as a front three with pace and goals. Memphis and Ferran Torres, with a sixth player signed or promoted from Barcelona B would give the coach options. If Raphinha, represented by Deco, arrives from Leeds, then it would mean that either Memphis or Dembele had moved on.
Memphis Depay could move on from Barcelona should the Catalans sign another forward
To all the other interminable ifs and buts Barcelona finally selling off Barça Studios or accepting the investment fund deal with CVC can be added. The former doesn’t seem imminent and the second remains a course of action they would prefer to avoid.
On the bright side Barcelona are close to securing second place and with the subsequent spike in TV money (that paid to clubs according to where they finish in the table) and the financial reward for participating in the Spanish Super Cup (courtesy of finishing two- two) that could mean an extra £17m (€20m).
Considering missing out on a Champions League looked on the cards before he arrived the campaign has ended well. Just not so well that Barcelona are about to sign Haaland, Lewandowski or Mane for next season.