Barcelona set Lionel Messi decision date as Antoine Griezmann transfer plea sent
Barcelona have set themselves an end date of August 15 to get their financial issues sorted and to have Lionel Messi’s new contract signed and delivered to La Liga.
That is the date that the cash-strapped Blaugrana - around £1bn in debt - kick off their new campaign, when they face Real Sociedad.
Barca desperately need to reduce their outgoings ahead of the new campaign to comply with La Liga’s spending limits - and are finding Javier Tebas in no mood to negotiate and hand them any leeway.
As such, they currently can’t register Messi’s new contract, nor new signings Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Emerson Royal; fail to get their finances in order by the close of the transfer window, and all will be unable to play until January.
That gives Barca just over six weeks to have everything in shape, but club chiefs want things done by the opening day of the season - as unlikely as that currently appears.
Barca are attempting to make savings by moving on players and a number of youngsters and fringe stars have gone, such as Junior Firpo, who moved to Leeds.
But there are still mega salaries - dished out during the Josep Maria Bartomeu era - draining the club. Those big salaries mean the likes of Miralem Pjanic, Samuel Umtiti, Philippe Coutinho and others just don’t have a market right now when it comes to selling.
The club’s biggest hope when it comes to making savings is sending Antoine Griezmann through the Camp Nou exit door.
Currently, he costs £30million per year in terms of his gross salary, with another £20million per year in amortisation costs; sell him, and it’s £50million saved over each of the next three years - so a total saving of £150m - plus an incoming of whatever transfer fee they can get.
That’s very much a best case scenario however. Actually getting a deal done for the France international is, again, proving much more difficult.
Griezmann’s No.1 choice is to return to Atletico Madrid, and Diego Simeone would love to have him. But talks over a possible swap deal involving Saul Niguez fell apart and Atleti don’t want to take on the 30-year-old’s full salary. Barca even asked to involve Joao Felix in the move, or that Atleti pay £18million - both non-starters.
Atletico president Enrique Cerezo has since refused to rule out a deal for Griezmann this summer, insisting “everything is possible”, but they will only do it on their terms.
Others can see Barcelona coming and the Premier League ’s elite have been targeted, with Chelsea and both Manchester clubs offered the player. Chelsea and City both held talks with his representatives, as both are looking to add a centre-forward this summer. However, he is very much a backup option, with Erling Haaland and Harry Kane the respective priorities.
The desperation to move on Griezmann can be seen in current president Joan Laporta’s changing public stance.
At Memphis Depay’s presentation on Thursday night, he was adamant that Barca’s No.7 was going nowhere: “Griezmann is a Barca player, he has a contract with the club until 2024 and unless circumstances change, we are counting on him.”
But, in the next breath, he cut a very different tone.
"There have been some movements on the market and we can't deny that there's been interest in him. That's a sign of his quality.
"It's a special market and you have to use your imagination, perhaps thinking in swap deals, but we value Antoine a lot. The club made a big investment in him and we are happy with him.
"It's not easy for a club to come in with an offer for a player at his level. But the transfer window is just getting started and there's a market for Griezmann.
"If things start moving, we're open to all proposals because we're in a delicate moment financially and we have to balance the books for to comply with the league's financial fair play rules.
“We are making these balances and are open to all the options that the market can give us but we don’t want to harm the team competitively.”
Laporta also claimed that “good progress” is being made over Messi’s new contract, with the Argentine currently a free agent.
“The player has always said he wants to stay on and we are making good progress with the negotiations.
“(Rafael) Yuste and (Mateu) Alemany are working very hard. What we all want is for Messi to stay at Barca. To stay for a lot of years and play alongside such talented footballers as Depay.
“We are very satisfied with the attitude being shown by both parties, which an operation like this needs. Leo is on holiday right now, but he has a whole team working to get him a contract that suits everyone.”
But right now, that feels like a whole lot of posturing, when they’re continuing to struggle to balance the books.
August 15 is fast approaching.
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