Wednesday, June 29

Is Barcelona coming back? Or do you still use quick fixes for long-term problems? | Barcelona

Barcelona signed two for one. First came Ferran Torres, the footballer they wanted, who joined for 55 million euros plus 10 million euros more in accessories. Then came Samuel Umtiti, the footballer they didn’t make and still don’t have, but they needed so that Torres could play. Recorded now and recovered from Covid, the former Manchester City forward’s first game is destined to be a classic, if not on the more classic stage. On the third try, the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh comes to host the game they paid for.

On Monday morning, less than two hours before Barcelona boarded the plane to Saudi Arabia for the Spanish Super Cup and the semi-final match with Real Madrid, the club announced that Umtiti had extended his contract, which will end in 2026. instead of 2023. The cliché talks about a player being tied to the club, which is rarely true anyway, and this is the other way around. There was no celebration or pretense that this was anything but another postponed problem, a long-term commitment that is a short-term solution.

Barcelona had been trying for a long time to get rid of Umtiti, who has knee problems, a salary he cannot pay (at the height of his status as world champion) and no place in the team. Neither good will on the part of the fans, although perhaps that will change now. The 28-year-old defender has played once this season and will almost certainly not play in Saudi Arabia, even though he was on the plane. Few clubs wanted him and he didn’t feel like leaving, at least not yet. It had been considered forcing him out, but it was ruled out. But no one anticipated that they would extend the contract of a player they do not want.

This was not a change of mind, it was not a reassessment of your usefulness and it certainly does not change the fact that they would like you to go sooner rather than later. They hadn’t come to the conclusion that if she wasn’t going, maybe she could be useful after all. Well, not on the court, anyway: off it, it had turned out to be not only useful, but necessary, a means to an end. Barcelona did not wait two minutes between announcing your deal Y explaining why they had done it, it wasn’t because of him. Quoting that by tweeting the renewal, they said: “Through this contract extension, FC Barcelona will be able to increase its share of ‘financial fair play’ and thus register Ferran Torres”.

And there it was in a nutshell. In all likelihood there are promises made and details that escape us, agreements reached and undisclosed that help explain why the terms were accepted. But the way Barcelona put it, essentially Umtiti had done them a favor: he had accepted a short-term pay cut of 10% and spread the salary he should receive between now and 2023 over the next three years until 2026. An imaginative way to overcome an inherited problem that Mateu Alemany, the football director, built; one that may not solve the underlying financial difficulties but allows Barcelona to overcome an immediate hurdle.

Barcelona had been trying for a long time to get rid of Samuel Umtiti: on Monday his contract was extended until 2026
Barcelona had been trying for a long time to get rid of Samuel Umtiti: on Monday his contract was extended until 2026. Photography: Marc González Aloma / Action Plus / Shutterstock

Torres’ signing was facilitated by a loan from Goldman Sachs. That was one thing; registering it was another. For any registration to take place, clubs must work within “salary caps” – essentially the financial fair play version of La Liga. An automated system, if not adhered to, will simply not allow the player to sign up. Barcelona’s limit this season is 97.7 million euros. His real wage bill is close to 430 million euros. Which means that they can only spend according to what is known as the 4: 1 rule: they must make and demonstrate a savings of four euros for every euro they invest. (Or a savings of two euros if they can get rid of a player who only represents 5% of the limit.)

Alemany had already said that before anyone could arrive, the players had to leave. Last week, the president of Barcelona, ​​Joan Laporta, declared: “We are back!” – which was very like him. It was also premature, of course. However, they are trying to recover and if inheritance limits them, if more problems await them, if there are important gaps in the squad and there are also players who do not want, there are reasons to be happy. Not least, an emerging young generation: Pedri and Ansu Fati are back in shape and flew to Saudi Arabia. They have Gavi, Nico, Ronald Araújo, Eric García. Torres also fits that mold, a strategic signing that was also quite a statement.

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Raúl García: Trip to Arabia ‘doesn’t make sense’


Athletic attacking midfielder Raúl García has criticized the decision to host the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia. His club faces Atlético de Madrid there in Thursday’s semi-final after Real Madrid take on Barcelona on Wednesday.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” the 35-year-old said. “It is very simple: we are playing a tournament that is [normally] played in our own country and there is no point playing it anywhere else. Football has changed: nobody thinks about the fans. What matters is to generate [money], get sponsors, and we are forgetting the basics, what football is. The atmosphere, the families enjoying the games together, the start times that suit the spectators. It has changed a lot since I started playing. I’m old [school] in this.”

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The plans are executed in parallel: short, medium and long term. Ultra short term, too. This latest ad from left field is the perfect example of that, an imperfect fix but kind of a fix. “The reality is that when we signed Ferran we knew we had no margin with the salary limit,” Alemany said. “We made an exception for Ferran because it was worth it. We accept it and we are working in several ways to register it ”.

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Even the long-awaited departure of Philippe Coutinho was not enough: there was no sale and Barcelona pays around 45% of his salary. The renewal of Ousmane Dembélé, structured to create margin, remains on hold and may not occur. The future of Sergi Roberto is not resolved. And so that avenue unexpectedly became Umtiti. On Monday, recently renewed, Umiti was on the plane heading to the Spanish Super Cup and a meeting with Real Madrid, but that was not the important thing; what mattered was that Torres agreed with him.

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