Saturday, October 1, 2022

Five Barcelona predictions: Race to register players and financial issues loom as Joan Laporta seeks trophies

The soap opera that is FC Barcelona continues ahead of the season opener at Real Sociedad on Saturday . The historic Spanish club is looking to once again return to the top of both Spanish and European soccer, aiming for an identity that doesn’t revolve around the legendary Lionel Messi. The Argentine superstar may be at PSG, but Barça president Joan Laporta, in a recent interview with CBS Sports, did not shy away from making it clear that he wants Messi back in a blaugrana shirt. Still, there are pressing non-Messi-related issues at hand for Laporta, including his road to register all the new players he signed this summer. It’s as if they are playing the career mode in a sports video game with the “Salary Cap” option toggled to off. We saw how their financial issues resulted in losing Messi and the difficulties they had in registering new players last season, but will their shocking spending see more massive changes at the club?

With all those hurdles in mind, here are five predictions for Barça’s season. As always, you can catch them all season long in the Champions League on Paramount+, with the draw set for Aug. 25.

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1. Finances see Barça start season without signings

How in the world has this cash-strapped club been able to spend all of that money this summer? Just take a look at some notable signings:

  • Over $63 million for Raphinha
  • $55 million for Jules Kounde
  • $49.5 million for Robert Lewandowski

Not to mention snagging Ferran Torres from Manchester City in January, this is a team that less than a year ago couldn’t meet their payroll. With a reported debt of more than $1.3 billion, they’ve attempted to balance the books to be in compliance with La Liga and all the regulations needed to field a successful team. They’ve sold club assets to come up with close to $700 million, according to The New York Times. They sold 25 percent of their domestic TV rights to an investment fund, they sold naming rights to the Camp Nou and struck a new jersey sponsorship deal with Spotify, and that is only the beginning. Instead of paying off those debts, they’ve gone all in on buying players, including coveted free agents Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen. What’s wild is that both players have a clause in their contracts that would allow them to leave the club if they are not registered in time for Saturday’s league opener, according to ESPN. It does not appear as if that clause will be triggered, as Fabrizio Romano reports that both players remain calm and expect to be part of the team for years to come.

Even Leeds United owner Andrea Radrizzani said in a recent interview with The Athletic that he doesn’t understand how Barça are doing this. And that comes after their negotiation with Barça on the transfer of Raphinha. Radrizzani said he’s prepared to take action if they don’t fully pay for the player. 

“It would be ridiculous [if the payments aren’t made], I could not imagine something like that happening,” the owner said. “If not, we will have a global case about Barcelona.”

Barça’s big spending cost them Messi. Only time will tell what this big spending could end up costing them. But I predict that these financial issues cause at least one key signing to leave or be ineligible at the start of the campaign. 

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2. Pedri becomes an absolute superstar

We know that the sport has its new superstar strikers in Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland, but right there in terms of superstardom will be the 19-year-old Spanish international Pedri. With the intelligence on the ball of a young Xavi yet the mobility and passing of Andres Iniesta, Pedri is the type of player that could get Barça back to the top. He’s that special and he’s that creative in attack. He’ll be the reason why they are in contention for the treble late on in the season, though as you’ll see, they come up short. But Pedri will become a face of the game after an unbelievable season.

3. Barça win Copa del Rey … but it’s not enough

Book it: Barça will win a trophy this season. I have them taking home the Copa del Rey against Sevilla in the final. Barça cruise through the competition with very little trouble and win the final comfortably with a brace from Ousmane Dembele. It’s not their first choice of trophy, but it is a significant moment for the club in what felt like would be a longterm rebuild. 

4. A deep UCL run raises hope

Barcelona make a run to the Champions League semifinals, proving that they may be closer to reaching the summit of European soccer than most thought. They receive a fortunate draw in the round of 16 and the quarterfinals and ultimately bow out to either Manchester City or Liverpool. The big difference in them getting this far is the partnership between Pedri and Lewandowski, with the two combining on the season for over 40 goals and 15 assists. 

5. They win one El Clasico but don’t win La Liga

Barça managed to win one El Clasico meeting during the La Liga season, but rivals Real Madrid win the league by about five points. The team manages to do quite well and remain in the thick of the race late on, but injuries impacting the depth of the defensive midfield sees them slip up when it matters most, finishing in second place and just ahead of Atletico Madrid.

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