Barcelona are still lugging around the legacy of former President Josep Maria Bartomeu’s financial mismanagement in a large, awkward rucksack. With such an elevated wage bill, it has been tricky for the Blaugrana to square off their accounts with La Liga.
The financial hit of the pandemic combined with their outlandish ideas about sustainability sent the club spiralling into further debt, with their expenses vastly outweighing their income. That has handicapped them in terms of their salary limit. Incumbent Joan Laporta decided the best course of action was to have a summer of heavy investment to set Barcelona up for the coming years, enabled by the sale of assets.
Having said goodbye to Barcelona’s greatest ever player Lionel Messi the previous summer, there was still the sense that the Blaugrana needed one major sale in order to carry out the business they wanted to.
Frenkie de Jong profiled as that sale, but the Dutchman refused an exit. Barcelona have since backtracked and maintained they will keep de Jong. However Todofichajes say that Manchester United, his primary suitor, will come again next summer. They have no intention of moving for de Jong this January, but will look to do a deal for €75m this summer – crucially, they will work to get his approval first.
It leaves Barcelona in something of a dilemma again. Sergio Busquets is set to leave the club this summer, and unless Xavi Hernandez can persuade him to stay, then Barcelona will be left without an obvious starter in the pivot role.
Given their lack of spending power, the consensus seems to be that Barcelona will be unable to bring in a replacement for Busquets of the quality required by Xavi. However even if Busquets does remain, he continues to grow older and thus far, Xavi has been unable to provide a system that does not leave him exposed in the vast majority of games against bigger opposition.
That necessitates a more mobile option. Unless there is a shift in position elsewhere, de Jong looks the obvious option to play there in Busquets absence, and in recent matches, he has performed well, if unspectacularly in that role.
Xavi has so far maintained that de Jong is best suited to an ‘interior’ role, further forward, and until lately, had only used him there. Yet with Barcelona’s resources stretched so thin, it looks a little odd for them to have three starting calibre, young midfielders in Pedri, Gavi and de Jong, one of which would sit on the bench.
Strategically, it makes far more sense to either sell de Jong in order to fund Xavi’s dream candidate for the pivot role, Martin Zubimendi, or move de Jong there.
Originally slated to be Busquets’ long-term replacement, the Dutchman struggled there initially, but has looked more comfortable in recent matches. If Xavi, as he has stated, wishes to hang onto de Jong, then he must decide exactly what his strategy is for the position over the medium term, and act accordingly in the coming months.
Unless funds arrive from other major sales, de Jong may have to be repurposed. Either Xavi commits to the project of having de Jong as a pivot for the next season at the very minimum, at which point he must make him the outright starter there now, or there must be acceptance that somewhere, in this case most likely de Jong, a valuable asset will have to be taken as collateral damage.