Barcelona are once again planning emergency action to rescue their stricken finances, with their move to sign Joao Cancelo delayed two days before the transfer window shuts.
Late on Monday, Cancelo was at Lisbon airport ready to take a private plane to Barcelona but was told not to fly as the club could not yet afford to complete his loan from Manchester City.
The 29-year-old had to take his bags and return to the city, where he has now been staying for over a week with City’s permission.
Barca sources, speaking anonymously as they did not have permission to comment (like all sources in this article), claim the situation has been caused by a delay in receiving funds from a commercial agreement reached earlier this month. However, the German company involved, Libero Football Finance, says Barca requested a change in the agreement, and that it does not believe there has been a delay in the payment.
Nevertheless, Barca president Joan Laporta and club treasurer Ferran Olive are preparing to sign a bank guarantee, putting their personal wealth at risk, that will provide the club with an immediate injection of €20million (£17.2m; $21.7m). It would be the third bank guarantee Barca executives have arranged in this way over the past 12 months.
The Spanish champions need to improve their finances to meet La Liga’s rules on salary spending. As it stands, they cannot sign full-back Cancelo, nor can they fully register their squad, making some players ineligible to play.
Earlier in August, two days before their opening fixture in La Liga against Getafe, Barca only had 12 first-team squad members registered.
The commercial arrangement involving Libero allowed them to register more players in time for kick-off, including summer signings such as Ilkay Gundogan, and key squad members whose new contracts required them to be re-registered, such as Ronald Araujo.
But now, with the transfer window closing at 11pm UK time on Friday (midnight on Saturday in Spain), Barca’s next moves in the market have been halted — although club sources insist the Cancelo deal will still be completed.
What do Barca say has happened?
The commercial deal Barca announced on August 11 was with Libero and “private investors” advised by an Amsterdam-based investment firm (NIPA Capital). It is worth €120million for a 29.5 per cent share in the club’s Barca Studios media arm.
It is essentially a resale of a deal agreed with two different buyers last summer. That deal was one of several ‘financial levers’ pulled as Barca raised a total of €868m by selling stakes in the club’s future business. The aim was to fix holes in the club’s finances and provide funds to invest in new players.
According to sources familiar with the latest deal, €60m was to be paid this year — €40m from Libero and €20m from the private investors advised by NIPA.
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Barca claim they have received €20m from NIPA but nothing from Libero. According to Barca sources, they were expecting to have already received €20m of the €40m Libero agreed to pay. They said Libero has until Thursday to transfer the sum.
But Libero told The Athletic that the initial terms of the agreement were for payments to be made in late October or early November. It said the agreed schedule had been changed suddenly, as Barca needed the money for this transfer window. Libero believes the money will still be paid on time.
What does this mean for the Cancelo deal?
There might be uncertainty about the full state of Barca’s finances but one thing is for sure: right now, Barca can’t sign Cancelo. Despite agreeing terms with City and the player days ago, they cannot promise the Portugal international he will definitely be registered for La Liga. Not yet.
Barca sources insist that the bank guarantee will provide a solution, but it seems likely that, once again, if the club does indeed find a fix for all the financial issues that have been looming over them all summer, it will only come at the very end of the transfer window.
La Liga calculates a maximum spend on wages for each team according to a club’s revenue. The competition body will only approve a new registration if it believes the figures match up. As it stands, according to Barca sources, Cancelo’s registration would not be approved.
Nor can Barca currently register new signing Inigo Martinez — and if they fail to register him before the transfer deadline passes, the 32-year-old centre-back would be entitled to leave the club on a free because of a clause in his contract.
Back-up goalkeeper Inaki Pena is the other member of Barca’s first-team squad who remains unregistered. In May, the 24-year-old signed a contract extension that formally promoted him from Barcelona Atletic, the club’s reserve team. As this is a new contract, it needs to be registered again. Current Barca Atletic goalkeeper Ander Astralaga, 19, has been on the bench for Barca’s three La Liga fixtures.
What about other transfer targets?
Cancelo is now waiting for a call in which Barcelona confirm they are finally in a position to complete his loan.
The other name on Barcelona’s watchlist is Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix. The Portuguese forward is very keen on the move and according to sources close to the player, “he is only waiting for Barcelona”.
Sources at Barca say a deal for Joao Felix could only arrive “if conditions on the deal are really favourable to us”.
But the 23-year-old’s potential arrival would also require, apart from the completion of this bank guarantee, some Barcelona players to be sold or sent out on loan. Ansu Fati is top of the list of candidates.
Joao Felix: In limbo at Atletico, coveted by Barca – what’s next for €127m forward?
All the three players mentioned here (Cancelo, Joao Felix and Fati) are represented by super agent Jorge Mendes. He will play a crucial role in Barcelona’s last moves on the market.
All of this sounds very familiar…
In recent transfer windows, Barca have been through many dramas around registering players because of their troubled finances.
In 2021, summer signings such as Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia arrived early in the window but were not registered until after the season had started in mid-August. In January 2022, Ferran Torres was bought for €60million and only later did Barca work out a way for La Liga to accept his registration.
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Last summer, new signings, including Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha, were only able to play Barca’s opening league game against Rayo Vallecano after a fourth lever was activated — just over 24 hours before the season began.
The situation remained so tight that, even after pulling the four levers, Laporta and Olive used €11million of their own funds including bank guarantees so that Jules Kounde could be registered before the transfer window shut. That arrangement was recovered during the January 2023 window and the €11m was never actually drawn down.
Then, just before the club’s 2022-23 annual accounts were closed on June 30 this year, Laporta and other club executives provided another new bank guarantee worth €6.7million to avoid further restrictions from La Liga on their transfer business for the coming season.
So was this deal with Libero just another lever?
It’s more of a ‘lever 2.0.’
Last summer, Barca sold a 24.9 per cent stake in its Barca Studios media arm. The buyers were crypto-company Socios.com and Orpheus Media.
Earlier this month, Barca recouped those stakes and sold them on to new investors.
In November last year, La Liga introduced new financial regulations that are designed to discourage clubs from selling future assets in the way Barca did so transformatively last summer.
But these new rules do not apply to Barca’s deal with Libero and NIPA — because the Barca Studios ‘lever’ was pulled last summer, before the regulations came into force.
(Top photo: Lexy Ilsley – Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)