Deadline day of the summer transfer window proved to be the fitting end to Barcelona ’s summer of discontent; chaotic, confusing and beyond all else – deeply undesirable.
The window ended with Antoine Griezmann leaving the club to return to Atletico Madrid, a matter of hours after Emerson Royal – who had only been signed outright by the club this summer – sold to Tottenham and Ilaix Moriba departed for RB Leipzig.
It was a desperate end to a desperate summer for the club as players left the Camp Nou who they wanted to keep while players remained who they wanted to leave.
Not only was there an unsatisfactory and unclear end to the outgoings but also in a late addition with striker Luuk de Jong – Sevilla’s third choice striker who failed to score in 12 appearances at Newcastle earlier in his career – signed on a season-long loan deal.
Earlier in August, Lionel Messi had returned to the Catalan capital from his summer holiday in Ibiza with the intention of signing a new contract with Barcelona; he had agreed a 50 percent pay cut with the club and would agree to effectively see out his career with them.
He was informed by club president Joan Laporta upon his return that this was simply no longer possible – despite a lengthy negotiation process and having been told all summer that his extension was Barca’s priority – due to the financial realities facing the club.
Laporta had been elected as club president five months earlier on a pledge to renew Messi’s deal and clean up the financial mess he had inherited from his predecessor Josep Maria Bartomeu.
That he could not fulfil this promise was largely beyond his control – the club needed multiple player exits and wage reductions elsewhere before registering a new contract for Messi – but he did continue to deny, both publicly and privately, the reality of the situation.
In a whirlwind few hours, Messi had left the club and four weeks later he was followed by Griezmann, who had temporarily replaced the Argentine as the club’s highest earner.
The Frenchman returned to Spanish champions Atletico Madrid on a loan deal with the obligation of making the agreement permanent for a price of €40million – to be paid next summer or in 2023.
Griezmann’s transfer summed up the chaos and absurd financial mismanagement in recent years; he was signed from Atleti in 2019 for a fee of €135million – a deal that funded the Madrid club’s record signing of Joao Felix and accelerated Barca’s impending financial crisis. That crisis led to the Catalan club desperately offloading Luis Suarez to a nominal fee the following year – the Uruguayan fired Atleti to the title and allowing Diego Simeone’s side to re-sign Griezmann for less than a third of the price for which he was sold.
The club had talked up Griezmann’s new importance and prominence in the wake of Messi’s exit but ended up desperate to shift his wages – as with the Argentine, the board’s failure to accept the hard financial reality facing the club ended up making their situation worse.
In a sporting sense, Barca did not want to sell Griezmann, and they did not want to sell Brazil international Emerson either but were forced to cash-in on him in deadline day.
The Blaugrana bought the right-back earlier this summer having co-owned him along with Real Betis and he had featured in their opening La Liga games with the club not shy in promoting his signing.
Laporta said upon Emerson’s return to the Camp Nou: “His release clause is €300million and we hope he can stay here for many years.”
The cases of Messi, Griezmann and Emerson are not the only examples of players leaving after mixed messaging from the club.
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Ilaix Moriba also left on deadline day following an unsavoury chain of events following the breakdown in contract talks between the player’s representatives and Barca.
The teenager – who featured 18 times last season for Barca – was out of contract in 2022 but his agents were not prepared to accept the reduced terms being offered by the club.
Laporta and boss Ronald Koeman responded in no uncertain terms; if Moriba was prepared to pen a new deal then he would sit in the stands for a year and would not train with the first-team squad.
His deadline day sale to RB Leipzig brought an end to an ugly saga which produced no winners with both parties coming across as unreasonable.
There was an even worse end to Matheus Fernandes’s time at the club – he played just 17 minutes for Barca last season before having his contract terminated this summer.
The Brazilian midfielder’s legal team are threatening to sue Barca over the nature of his dismissal – the club argue such a clause was part of his contract while the player insists that he had offers on the table from other clubs, making such an action a breach of his deal.
This comes less than a year after the club’s former boss Quique Setien announced he was suing Barca for failing to fulfil the terms of his contract after being dismissed and launched legal action to claim €4million.
There are a handful of positives for Barca – Ansu Fati has returned from a long-term knee injury and alongside Pedri, the club have the two outstanding young players in Spanish football.
Memphis Depay has enjoyed a hugely impressive start to life at the club while Frenkie de Jong continues to blossom into a world-class midfielder.
The hard sporting decisions required as a result of the club’s staggering debt – over €1.3billion – are now being made, with more players committing to wage reductions.
Yet Miralem Pjanic, Samuel Umititi and Philippe Coutinho – three high-earning players the club were desperate to sell this summer – remain on the books and plenty more tough decisions are likely required over the coming weeks and months.
The closure of the summer transfer window has ended an unsavoury and deeply painful chapter for the club, but this tough period in Barca’s history likely has many twists and turns left.
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