Barcelona are in the midst of a well-documented financial crisis and must sell several star players this summer ahead of the start of the new season.
As things stand, the club cannot register their new contract for Lionel Messi nor any of their four summer signings to date and are now in a position where almost any player in their first-team squad is available for sale.
One of those prized assets who the club would not countenance selling in normal circumstances but who is now attracting interest from many of Europe’s top clubs is midfielder Ilaix Moriba.
The 18-year-old only made his senior debut for Barca earlier this year and is one of the brightest talents to emerge through their La Masia youth system in years.
His future beyond this summer is entirely up in the air – he is out of contract at the club next year and there is stalemate over discussions on any new deal, meaning that his market price has plummeted.
The irony is that Ilaix is a player whose contract helps explain why the Catalan giants are in such choppy financial waters.
The midfielder was originally signed by Espanyol when he was just a five-year-old but he switched to city rivals Barcelona two years later and has been at the club for over a decade since.
Ilaix was an obvious star through every age category at the club and signed his last contract renewal in early 2019, when he was a part of Barca’s Under-19 side.
His supreme potential had worried club’s chiefs and they were intent on warding off any potential suitors, having lost multiple youth talents in recent years after the players let their contracts run out – seeing no viable pathway from the youth setup to the first-team squad.
That prompted Barca to offer Ilaix – aged 16 at the time – a lucrative contract which was, in a huge administrational error, sent to their city rivals Espanyol rather than the player’s representatives.
Espanyol were said to have been left shocked by the numbers involved in the offer – with the terms offered to a promising teenager outstripping most of their first-team squad, with a reported annual salary of €3million – but they did alert Barca over their error.
Upon signing the new deal, Ilaix said: “It was a long situation, it lasted a long time, but my first option was always to stay.
“I waited until the last minute because I wanted Barca’s offer, which they made, that’s why I wanted to wait. I didn’t care about the other clubs. I could have left earlier but I preferred to stay to the end.”
The Blaugrana’s significant overspending meant that they had the biggest wage bill of any sport club and the terms of the teenager’s offer helped reflect their lack of structure.
Now the club fear that the 18-year-old will depart for a minimal fee this summer or as a free agent this year as contract talks have stalled.
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The relations are frayed: Ilaix is not training with the first-team squad after failing to agree a new deal and is back with the B team.
The club’s stance is simple: sign this new contract on these terms or you will not be involved in the first-team squad.
Ilaix moved to Spain aged three, born to a Liberian father and a Guinean mother – he has impressed for Spain up to Under-19 level, but he is thought to be leaning to representing Guinea at senior level.
His idol was Paul Pogba – whose parents were both from Guinea, the national side which his brothers Florentin and Mathias decided to represent – and the two are also similar in playing style.
A powerful and athletic central midfielder who is supremely naturally talented and tactically aware; he is equally adept at dribbling past opposition players as he is at blocking and intercepting their attacks.
He clocked up 18 senior appearances in the closing months of the campaign having made his debut in March and instantly looked like he was at home at the top level.
“Everyone tells me that I look like Pogba and I must say I like it,” the teenager has claimed.
“But Busquets and Iniesta were the ones who made me play in midfield.
“My dream is to be with [Lionel] Messi, Busquets and all of them, to see if I have the opportunity to train or play a game.”
The midfield trio of Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets at the Camp Nou is among the best combinations in world football but Ilaix proved to be a direct and combative alternative.
As with every midfielder to progress through La Masia, he is comfortable on the ball but his pressures in midfield, box-to-box style of play and willingness to help break up play as much as offer a threat in the final third makes him greatly admired.
As Diario Sport highlight, both City and Chelsea would be willing to offer the player a €6million (£5.14m) per year salary, which is double that what he currently earns at the Camp Nou.
The reality for Barca is that they are out of money and desperately need to reduce their wage bill in order to register their new players and Messi’s new deal.
Ilaix is on a relatively low wage in the first-team squad but such is his potential and true market value, the Catalan club are alarmed at the possibility that he could depart either without a fee or for a nominal one.
He is one of the brightest talents in European football and his future is one to keep an eye on, with many of the Premier League ’s top clubs alert to the situation.
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