Barcelona’s drive to reduce their wage bill has hit a significant obstacle as they struggle to make room to register their new signings and Lionel Messi’s new contract, various sources told ESPN.
The club must reduce their outgoings to ensure they comply with La Liga’s spending limits next season. If they can’t, they risk not being able to register Messi’s new contract or new signings Memphis Depay, Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia and Emerson Royal.
Barca have until the end of the transfer window on Aug. 31 to submit Messi’s deal and their new signings to La Liga, but internally they want everything resolved before Aug. 15, when they kick off their league season at home to Real Sociedad. League president Javier Tebas has said he will not relax the rules for Barcelona, and a failure to get their finances in order could see Messi, if he signs the five-year deal revealed by ESPN last week, unable to play until at least January, as happened with Getafe midfielder Pedro Leon in 2014.
Barca managed to move on several youngsters and fringe players earlier in the transfer window, including United States international Konrad de la Fuente’s move to Marseille, but they are struggling to get rid of the big earners.
The club have also failed to agree to terms on a pay cut with long-serving players Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto. Sources said director of football Mateu Alemany has spoken with the trio’s agents, but none have shown an appetite to cut their earnings to help the club yet. Busquets earns around €16 million a year at the club, while Alba is on €13m and Roberto €10.5m.
ESPN previously explained that the quickest way to make those savings was through Antoine Griezmann, but talks for the forward to return to Atletico Madrid have stalled. Barca and Atletico had been in negotiations over a swap deal, which would see midfielder Saul Niguez move in the other direction to Camp Nou, but they cannot agree on player valuations.
Griezmann, who would fancy a move back to Atletico over a Premier League switch, according to ESPN sources, doesn’t want to take a hit on his salary of around €35m a year, which means Barca may have to contribute to his wages in order to push any deal through. They did something similar when Luis Suarez left for Atletico Madrid last summer.
Miralem Pjanic and Samuel Umtiti have been told they don’t have a future at the club but neither are close to leaving yet. Like Griezmann, Pjanic, who is drawing interest from Italy, doesn’t want to take a wage cut. Sources say none of the clubs who want the Bosnian midfielder can match his earnings.
Philippe Coutinho, who earns around €24m annually, and Neto (€6.5m) are two other candidates to leave this summer, but they could end up staying. Barca don’t want to take a big hit on the £142m they paid Liverpool for Coutinho in 2018, as revealed by ESPN, and coach Ronald Koeman is wary of letting Neto go with first-choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen out injured. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens