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Can Barcelona actually afford to sign Lionel Messi this summer?

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Despite the Blaugrana doing all they can to get the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner back to Camp Nou, they still have financial obstacles to overcome

For months, Barcelona has been drawing up a viable financial plan to sign Lionel Messi. The club, which reportedly has to shed nearly €200 million (£176m/$220m) before they can make any financial moves this summer, has supposedly plugged away on a miracle solution to circumvent La Liga’s strict financial rules, and bring their club legend back home.

The finest financial minds the club could assemble got together and decided, rather shrewdly, that they would simply agree to cut costs over a three-year period — gradually reducing salaries or engaging in other moves to raise the funds they need immediately. In return, the club told La Liga, they wanted to be able to sign Messi immediately.

The league, after a few weeks of negotiations, rejected Barcelona’s master plan. But things have since changed. La Liga made a sensational U-Turn, accepting a plan in principle. It doesn’t mean, though, that all is clear. Barcelona still have to sell players, and find cash elsewhere.So, the Blaugrana are stuck once more. Last summer, club president Joan Laporta famously activated a series of economic levers to cut costs and free up financial flexibility. He auctioned off one set of TV rights, flogged another, sold nearly 50 percent of the club’s merchandising rights and encouraged a number of senior players to either defer or forgo large chunks of their salary.

It just about worked — at least, enough for the club to first stay afloat and then bring in a host of summer signings. But now, they have their eyes on another one, a potential arrival that will require far more effort than the flimsy plan formed by Barcelona’s brain trust.

And the conditions, pieced together, despite La Liga’s sudden good wishes, make a Messi return to his boyhood club seem unlikely. Even though there is a mutual interest, and a glimmer of hope, financial barriers once again blocking the Argentine from a Catalan swansong.

Right now, it’s not looking good for Barcelona.

The Blaugrana did enough last summer to afford a number of big names, a host of newcomers that have helped Barca likely wrap up their first La Liga title in three years.

But Laporta’s famous levers were short-term solutions. Although Barca aren’t in any imminent danger as a club, their financial flexibility is more limited than ever, and league president Javier Tebas will not budge on his €200m demand.

The reason for the lofty figure is the Blaugrana’s bloated salary and transfer expenditures this year. La Liga outlines how much a club can spend each year, a de-facto salary cap that runs in relation to how much the club itself make.

In other words, if Barcelona make more cash through sporting success, matchday revenue, or player sales, they can spend more money. But if the two numbers are too far apart — if the club are vastly outspending what they raise — then the league can cap their financial activity.

Right now, under those regulations, there isn’t any immediate room for movement. Meanwhile, the league has repeatedly insisted that they will not make any exceptions for Messi.

Barcelona, then, will have to play by the rules.

This year, Barcelona are spending around €650m (£532m/$713m) on transfers and wages. La Liga rules stipulate the Blaugrana will need to trim that number down to roughly €450m (£399m/$493m) in order to spend this summer, according to The Athletic.

That, in footballing terms, doesn’t have to be immensely difficult. Indeed, Barcelona could perhaps generate the cash from player sales, and if they clear some big salaries off the books, it’s not an impossible number to reach.

However, before they can get into saving, there’s more spending to be done. And that’s somewhat underway.

The Blaugrana have finally registered Gavi, but will still need to sort out Ronald Araujo and Sergi Roberto. They have already agreed a deal to sign Athletic Club centre-back Inigo Martinez, who will also need registering. How much those moves would cost isn’t exactly clear yet, either.

There are further complicating factors, with expected losses in the club’s future. Camp Nou is undergoing a massive renovation next season, and the club will have to play at the nearby Olympic Stadium.

That ground is far smaller than Barcelona’s usual home, and could impact the club’s match day revenues by up to a massive €90m (£79m/$99m), according to The Athletic. Although the stadium still holds a respectable 55,000 spectators, recapturing all of that cash simply won’t be as easy in a smaller, less attractive venue.

Messi, and the immense financial benefits that will come from his potential arrival, is surely something of a solution to expected woes. But Barcelona will have other issues to fix before they can turn to the Argentine.

Laporta’s levers last summer were immensely successful, allowing the club to raise a whopping €738m (£648m/$810m) in a few short weeks.

A return, a sequel, Levers 2.0, isn’t possible. That’s due to a La Liga rule change from December 2022, which outlined that only 5% of asset sales can count towards salary limits. Simply put, raising money by those levers from last summer — TV rights, sponsorships, merchandising — can no longer seriously impact how much money a club can spend on player funds. Barcelona would have to raise billions in order to manage one big name in today’s market.

Still, they have found some ways to cut costs. For one, they benefited from the sudden retirement of Gerard Pique, a few months after Xavi told the Barcelona legend that he would no longer be a first-team regular.

The centre-back had already deferred a handsome chunk of his salary, but by retiring 18 months before his contract ended, gave up even more. The permanent sale of Antoine Griezmann to Atletico Madrid also helped balance the books. Other players helped out, too. Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets both announced they will leave the club in the coming weeks, which will free up space.

The club has also cut costs elsewhere. In March week, it announced the surprising move to slash its in-house media outlet, Barca TV. Getting rid of the channel, which provided regular matchday content and exclusive programming, slashed €8m (£7.0m/$8.8m) from the budget. But it also saw Blaugrana make 150 employees redundant and removed a platform that is immensely popular among some of Barca’s most devoted fans.

Without the famous levers available, Barcelona’s options are limited.

In all likelihood, then, it will come down to player salary reductions and sales. And the Blaugrana do indeed have some potential candidates in that sense. Clement Lenglet, Sergino Dest and Samuel Umtiti have all spent the season out on loan, and are all up for sale this summer.

The club have also reportedly discussed salary deductions with Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Frenkie de Jong, according to Mundo Deportivo — but neither player has publicly expressed their desire to forgo any of their expected earnings as of yet.


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