Yesterday’s El Clasico between Barcelona and Actual Madrid, and Barcelona’s 2-1 win, is the proper microcosm of the place Barcelona is now. Whereas they had been a lot the higher group, the win nonetheless got here, in some methods, by the slimmest of margins. Marco Asensio’s obvious winner late was dominated out by him being not more than a foot offside, and Franck Kessie’s precise winner quickly adopted on a counterattack as Madrid pressed and pressed for a successful aim that may have saved the La Liga race alive. It sounds unusual to say a couple of group that’s now 12 factors clear on the prime and can canter to the title, however contemplating how Barca needed to dodge, duck, dive, dip, and dodge their monetary restraints to construct this now championship group final summer season, the entire soundtrack could possibly be Megadeth’s “Pores and skin O’ My Enamel.”
Barca definitely wouldn’t have gained yesterday with out midfielder Frenkie De Jong, who was the perfect participant on show by a distance. De Jong led everybody in probabilities created, tackles, and dribbles, whereas additionally rating second in passing accuracy behind teammate Andreas Christensen, who had the advantage of attending to play passes to his fellow defenders beneath little strain. De Jong did it from the strain cooker of midfield, the place he merely thwacked the whole Madrid trio of Modrić, Kroos, and Camavinga.
That’s been the story of De Jong all season, the place he’s amongst Barca’s leaders in each passing, creating, and defensive class. He’s been all-action, as he’s form of needed to be as Sergio Busquets’s age catches up with him. However like the remainder of the group, Barca needed to stroll a mighty advantageous tightrope simply to maintain within the group, even when it definitely felt like they didn’t wish to and wished his wage off their more and more shady books. Like each different margin name with all their levers, it went their method although it may need been in opposition to their needs initially. The perfect transfer is typically the one you don’t make and all that.
However like every part else with Barca nowadays, how lengthy can they keep on this tightrope?
When the invoice comes due
As talked about final week when learning Barca’s ref-payment scandal/accusation/mess, La Liga’s president is saying that earlier than subsequent season, the membership goes to should slash some $200 million off its payroll. That quantity will likely be disputed by Barca all by way of subsequent summer season’s switch window, and so they’ll play their now patented-shell recreation with levers and methods to attempt to fudge that quantity as greatest they will. However it will likely be almost unattainable for them to maintain La Liga officers glad with out some actually exhausting selections.
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Some selections have already been made for them. Gerard Piqué retired, which cuts about $15 million in itself. Busquets’s contract is up after the season, which ought to save round $39 million if they simply let him stroll (although they’d battle to switch him cheaply). Jordi Alba’s deal is up after subsequent season, however he’s pale right into a extra reserve function this season behind Alejandro Balde and each he and the membership could search alternate options, which is one other $22 million if they will discover a new house for him. That’s $75-$78 million proper there, however they’re nonetheless a good distance from the end line.
Some trimming across the edges would possibly get them midway there or near it, however that is probably not sufficient. Which is the place De Jong is available in. He’s the membership’s highest earner, additionally at almost $40 million a yr reportedly, and he’s about the one participant they’ve who would have a severe, severe sale worth. Actually, he could be the largest sale they might supply, which might assist offset what they should trim from their wage invoice to fulfill Spain’s FFP guidelines. If his asking worth was round $90 million final yr, the rumored quantity agreed between Barca and Manchester United final summer season earlier than De Jong refused to budge, he’s in all probability within the triple digits now.
The issue with promoting somebody like De Jong, after all, is that it’s a must to substitute him. This turns into trickier with Busquets’s future cloudy, together with whether or not or not the membership can preserve hotshot Gavi round both. Should you squint, perhaps Gavi and Pedri together with a cheaper-than-De Jong holding midfielder might paper over the cracks, however given every part that’s fairly a wager. De Jong is a do-everything midfielder simply coming into his prime years who kicked Madrid up and down the sphere. These items don’t develop on timber, and any substitute certainly would eat up a very good chunk of the financial savings promoting De Jong would offer.
Very similar to final summer season, De Jong doesn’t should go. He’s beneath contract by way of 2026 and there are few different golf equipment that will likely be glad to pay him the $40 million he’s taking down per yr now. United may need to attend for a sale of the membership to be accomplished earlier than they know if they will, although one can’t rule out Chelsea sustaining the Leslie-Chow-at-Caesars binge they’ve been on since Todd Boehly took over. He could stick round simply because he desires to once more.
And since Barca all the time budgets with probably the most optimistic views, they’ll want him. Their grand plan this season was constructed on reaching the latter phases of the Champions League. Then it was amended to successful the Europa League when that first pie-in-the-sky outlook crashed and burned. Then that thudded into the bottom too. Logic and cause hardly ever if ever enter the Barca boardroom, so you may guess subsequent yr’s plan will nonetheless be banking on a Champions League run. How do they handle that with no De Jong?
That is the Wallenda routine that Barca will proceed to should cope with to appease the foundations and but preserve a contending group. Every little thing, largely, has labored out this yr. However you may’t reside on the wire.