Barcelona sells more assets in attempt to register players

Barcelona team players celebrate after winning the Joan Gamper trophy match between FC Barcelona and Pumas Unam at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Joan Monfort)

Working against the clock, Barcelona has sold off even more of its club assets in the hopes of meeting the Spanish league’s financial rules so Robert Lewandowski and its other signings can play in the season opener.

But still, just one day before Barcelona is scheduled to host Rayo Vallecano at Camp Nou, the Spanish league had yet to declare as eligible seven players that coach Xavi Hernández wants to have at his disposal.

Barcelona said Friday that it had agreed to sell 24.5% of its Barça Studios production hub to Orpheus Media in a deal that would earn it 100 million euros ($103 million).

Last month Barcelona sold an initial 25% stake in its production hub to Socios.com, a blockchain provider, for another 100 million euros as well as 25% of its Spanish league television rights for the next 25 years for nearly 670 million euros ($689 million).

All told, the heavily indebted Catalan club has mortgaged its future for 870 million euros ($895 million) in order to sign Lewandowski to lead its attack, along with winger Raphinha and defender Jules Koundé for a combined 160 million euros ($165 million).

But the Spanish league has strict financial requirements that limit the amount clubs can spend on players’ salaries and transfers based on the clubs’ financial health. Despite efforts to reduce costs and pay down its debt, Barcelona still holds 1 billion euros ($1 billion) in debt and has seen its salary cap slashed by the league in recent seasons.

The club hopes that this new injection of another 100 million euros will help its financial balance enough to convince the league to declare its pending players as eligible.

But, as of Friday afternoon, the league had not registered Lewandowski, Raphinha, Koundé, free agent arrivals Franck Kessié and Andreas Christensen, or Ousmane Dembélé and Sergi Roberto, who both signed new contracts recently after their old ones had expired and so are considered new signings by the league.

Xavi said he was “optimistic” that he can have his new players available for the first game of the season.

“Everyone at the club is very optimistic,” Xavi said. “We have until two hours before the match.”

The club is also pushing to sell players with big salaries like Frenkie de Jong or players unwanted by Xavi such as Samuel Umtiti and Martin Braithwaite.

Teams have until the end of the month to register new players if they want to play in the Spanish league this season. Real Betis is also still waiting to register several players.

Orpheus Media is run by Catalan businessman Jaume Roures, the owner of Mediapro, a major television company involved in Spanish soccer but whose 2020 broadcast rights deal for the French league collapsed. Roures was a major financial backer of Barcelona club president Joan Laporta when he returned to run the financially troubled club in 2021.

Roures said on Friday that he was not sure if the money he paid Barcelona would be sufficient.

“The league won’t have any problems with this operation,” Roures told Cadena SER radio. “If the 100 million euros are enough, I don’t know. If it isn’t, the (necessary) amount must be close to that.”

Xavi also said that Barcelona may not be done signing new players, but that any arrivals would have to come after current players were sold. Barcelona is linked to interest in Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso, who would provide competition for Jordi Alba at left back.

The club’s most pressing task, however, is avoiding the embarrassment of having Lewandowski and company watching from the stands on Saturday.