Barcelona have told their leading goalscorer from last season, Memphis Depay, he should seek a new club. It is becoming an annual event.
This time a year ago, Lionel Messi, whose 38 goals for a troubled Barca in 2020/21 seemed to have persuaded Messi to extend his long relationship with the club after a difficult patch, was waved off. He was shocked when the club brusquely told him they could no longer afford him, even at half his previous salary.
Messi, much missed and still loved by Barca fans, is now a Paris Saint-Germain player. Where Depay, liked and respected for his enthusiasm and the goals he contributed in a challenging post-Messi season, finds his next niche remains to be seen.
But there will be a market for the Dutchman. Nor will the rejection of Barcelona be held against Depay. Turnover is so high and haphazard at Camp Nou that any player who finds himself superseded there is not so much seen as a failure as simply unfortunate to have been trapped in an endlessly revolving door.
To recap: In the last 12 months, Barcelona have said farewell to the greatest forward in their history, Messi. They have sold their costliest ever player, Philippe Coutinho, for what amounted to a loss of 85 per cent on his original purchase price of €140m-plus.
They have loaned back to Atletico Madrid the World Cup-winner Antoine Griezmann, who they bought for €120 million from the same club. They have let expire the contract of Ousmane Dembele, who cost them €120m five years ago, and then re-signed the French attacker, who has started barely a third of Liga matches in his time at Barca, a matter of weeks later.
In the same period, they have acquired Ferran Torres from Manchester City, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Arsenal, Raphinha from Leeds United and said hello followed by a sad goodbye to Sergio Aguero.
You could forgive Depay if he whispered ‘Good luck - you may need it,’ when he welcomed yet another striker, Robert Lewandowski, into the squad on Monday, following the much-hyped arrival of the Pole from Bayern Munich, where, like Aubameyang at Arsenal, and Aguero at City, he was the figurehead goalscorer season after season.
The capture of Lewandowski stands out from several of these comings and goings because Bayern had wanted to keep their prolific marksman and serial champion.
Aguero, whose brief Barcelona career was cut short by a heart issue that forced him retire, and Aubameyang had reached the end of their time at their Premier League clubs – and because Barcelona have paid a sizeable fee.
The initial €45m for a striker with a year left on his Bayern contract looks like a reasonable deal for the buyers, but the context of Lewandowski’s age – he will be 34 next month and has a three-year deal with Barca – poses some questions; the state of Barca’s finances poses many more.
Lewandowski and Raphinha alone have cost over €100m this summer, a close-season that began with warnings from La Liga that Barcelona’s debts – reported as close to €1 billion earlier this year – and overheads meant that they could not register new players until they had addressed a shortfall of over €140m in meeting the Spanish league’s obligatory financial fair-play regulations.
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The club have worked ingeniously at doing so, but at the cost of effectively mortgaging portions of their projected future income from merchandise and broadcast deals.
Barca can and will present a better set of accounts to La Liga, but there is still a level of brinkmanship to their many deals of the summer. The sales of Depay and Frenkie de Jong – wanted by Manchester United – may become essential in order to get all the new signings registered within the income-to-outgoings balance stipulated by La Liga.
Lewandowski and Raphinha are just two of the newcomers. Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen have also joined this month, and although they came in on free transfers, they impact significantly on the wage bill. Christensen’s former Chelsea teammates, Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are also being targeted.
Kessie came from Italian champions AC Milan, Lewandowski from the Bundesliga holders. Laporta is not shy about stressing that, for all Barcelona’s well-reported economic issues and a trophy drought that stretches back to the Copa del Rey of Messi’s final season there, Camp Nou is still a desired destination for stars.
“We were competing with clubs like PSG and Chelsea,” the Barcelona president said of the chase for Lewandowski. “I like that he wanted to come to Barca, accepted a lower salary here and withstood a lot of pressure from Bayern.”
The pressure Lewandowski takes on now is bigger: To reproduce the sort of prolific finishing he gave to Bayern and that, for over a decade, Barca could take for granted from Messi, the legend whose shadow lingers over the many attacking players who pass through Camp Nou’s revolving doors.