Living a movie script
Nearly a billion-and-a-half dollars in debt, an inability to register new signings, and the collapse of an empire— this is the story of FC Barcelona.
Years of financial mismanagement and a few desperate attempts to stabilize the situation have caused one of the world’s most famous soccer teams to internally crumble, yet somehow maintain the same external image.
So, what exactly is going on with Barcelona and how could it affect the team’s betting odds for the 22/23 LaLiga season? Let’s take a look.
Cleaning up Bartomeu’s mess
Barca has been struggling to repair the damage caused by former owner Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned the night before a vote to oust him in 2020. As well as amassing eye-watering amounts of debt, Bartomeu was involved in many unfavorable incidents. This included the attempted creation of the maligned European Super League, pushing the club’s greatest-ever player Lionel Messi out the back door, and launching smear campaigns against former and active players and coaches.
After Bartomeu took his leave, the team eventually settled in the hands of Joan Laporta, who had previously run the team from 2003-10. However, the loss of talent and impending financial peril put him in a tough position.
“When we came a year ago, the club was in critical condition,” Laporta said in June, concluding:
We moved it to intensive care.”
Laporta’s plan to drag the club out of debt came through the use of so-called “levers.” The first lever involved the sale of 10% of the team’s television rights to American investment company Sixth Street, and the second granted another 15% to the same firm. This exchange netted the Catalan club €517m ($534.3m) for a total of 25% of their television rights for the next 25 years.
On August 1, Laporta revealed that Barcelona was ready to activate its third lever. The team owner confirmed that he had agreed to sell 25% of Barca Studios, the club’s hub for digital content creation and distribution, to the controversial blockchain-based fan platform Socios.com for €100m ($103.3m).
Even that was not enough to pull the club back above water, however, and Laporta sold another 24.5% of the media arm. This second minority share went to GDA Luma, a firm managed by the president of Cirque du Soleil, for another €100m ($103.3m).
Barcelona’s fantasy tale of financial rehabilitation does not just end with pulling the levers. Instead, they could also be up against… themselves.
According to Spanish radio Cadena de Ondas Populares Españolas (COPE), Barca used €150m ($155.06m) of its own money to inflate the sale price of the first two levers. This is why the team claims the sale produced €667m ($689.4m) in funding, but Sixth Street has only paid €517m ($534.3m).
hoped there would be no differences of interpretation.”
The Spanish giants allegedly made this happen by working with Sixth Street to create a US-based holdings company called Locksley Invest. They claimed Locksley was the actual buyer and leased the rights to Sixth Street.
Laporta hasn’t managed to pull the wool over the eyes of LaLiga, however. The league is only accepting €517m ($534.3m) despite his plea “that he hoped there would be no differences of interpretation.”
With the season 48 hours away from kick-off, Barca is still yet to register many crucial players in its squad. The list includes Robert Lewandowski, Franck Kessié, Andreas Christensen, Raphinha, Ousmane Dembélé, Jules Koundé, and Sergi Roberto. Transfers for three members of the list (Lewandowski, Koundé, and Raphinha) cost a combined €160 ($165.4m), two (Christensen and Kessié) were free-agent signings, and two (Dembélé and Roberto) are incumbents at Camp Nou.
A failure to register means that the players will not be eligible to compete in LaLiga. As a result, Barca’s ownership has resorted to more extreme methods of creating financial freedom, including threatening current players.
the 25-year-old is already owed €17m ($17.6m) in back payments
Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong has taken the brunt of Barca’s attacks. According to media reports, the 25-year-old is already owed €17m ($17.6m) in back payments and is set to make about another €21m ($21.7m) this year. Laporta has given the player an ultimatum: accept a 50% wage reduction or find a new club.
A recent video outside of team practice showed local fans swearing and shouting at de Jong, who is unwilling to accept the pay cut but refuses to leave his dream club.
Both the team and the player are entering desperate hours as his agent continues to meet with the board. His future is likely to be decided over the coming days, with Manchester United and Chelsea both expressing a keen interest in signing the Dutchman.
Title odds dropping?
Barca finished last season second in LaLiga, 13 points behind Real Madrid and two points above Atletico Madrid. They also had nearly twice as many losses as fourth-place Sevilla.
To say that Barca needed the summer investment in its squad that it received would be an understatement. Former player and club legend Xavi has shown promise as a young manager, but he did not have the depth needed to sustain a true title challenge.
However, Barcelona could certainly struggle again if they cannot get new players over the line. Both free agents Christensen and Kessié could walk, while the absence of perennial Ballon d’Or candidate Lewandowski would significantly reduce their front-line firepower. Brazilian trickster Raphinha has also excited fans in pre-season games for the club.
Barcelona currently has the best chance of winning the Spanish league
According to the top sportsbooks, including DraftKings and FanDuel, Barcelona currently has the best chance of winning the Spanish league at +120. Those odds hang in the balance, however. Should the team fail to register its players, those odds would undoubtedly suffer a significant drop.
Barcelona has not won the league since 2019 when Messi, Luis Suarez, and Antoine Griezmann were all at the club. Their first game of the new campaign comes Saturday against Rayo Vallecano. No doubt Barca fans and hopeful bettors alike will be keeping their fingers crossed that the team can make it through its current troubles.