Beware: Things can only get better for Barça

In the first of two reports about the giants of the Spanish game, Pete Jenson reveals that reports of a Catalan demise are premature

Sunday 23 October 2011 06:21

The world would appear to be Barcelona's oyster. After all, on Sunday they provided seven of the starting XI that won Spain their first World Cup. As praise was showered on the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol – all Barça men – the fact that only Barcelona players scored for Vicente del Bosque's side in South Africa seemed to imply that the trophy should reside in the Nou Camp alongside the host of honours the Catalan club have won in the past two years.

Yet in the very week of Spain's historic triumph, Barcelona's new president Sandro Rosell was finalising a €150m (£126m) loan without which, he had implied last week, the players would not be paid. The club that had just conquered the globe seemed to be paying a heavy price for that success.

Rosell now claims the reality is rather less dramatic. Barça pay their players twice a year and one of those two dates is the end of July. The club were also faced with a temporary cash-flow problem brought about by doubts when the estimated €123m due to them from MediaPro, the majority television rights holders of La Liga, would arrive for next season. Having to pay half their entire wage bill in one go while also needing working capital to pursue summer transfer targets such as Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas left them stretched, hence the loan, which had in fact been pre-arranged by the former president Joan Laporta.

On Tuesday Rosell oversaw his first board meeting, having been elected last month, and appeared to contradict himself slightly by suggesting the loan secured from a group of 25 banks, led by La Caixa and Banco Santander, has been taken out because the club had not been financially well-managed by Laporta. The former Nike executive then boasted about being able to secure €5m more than Laporta, and claimed that the extra credit obtained was a sign of financial good health.

The new man's message was that Barça's huge earning potential has made it rich – but with better stewardship it should be even richer. That will almost certainly mean no Cristiano Ronaldo-sized bid for Fabregas .

Had Laporta not already served his maximum three terms of office the fiercely nationalistic lawyer, who is now dedicating his time to politics and to campaigning for an independent Catalonia, might have pursued his dream of an all-Catalan Barça (plus Lionel Messi) at all costs. Rosell will be more prudent.

Barcelona have debts of between €200m and €400m depending on which candidate you believed in the build up to last month's presidential election. But like their great rivals Real Madrid they are able to use their powerful position to tap into such credit. Real borrowed a large part of the €250m they spent on new players last season. Both clubs benefit from rarely being turned down by national financial institutions whose customer bases are largely made up of the two clubs' supporters. The fact that Real and Barça take the lion's share of TV revenue in the Spanish game gives them another advantage over top English clubs, who share their payments with smaller teams. It is a situation that has hung various Spanish teams out to dry since the recession began and contributed to the 25-point gap between Valencia in third and the top two in La Liga last season.

As well as having the front three that started both the semi-final and the final of the World Cup for Spain – Pedro, David Villa, newly arrived from Valencia, and Andres Iniesta – Barça also have Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to complete their striking resources. The Swede will stay unless somebody can match the €40m paid to Internazionale for him last season. Inter also got Samuel Eto'o into the bargain, but that will be forgotten if Barcelona can raise a face-saving figure.

If he remains, then the Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, who won his own battle with Rosell yesterday by remaining true to his preference for short-term contracts, signing a one-year deal instead of the proposed three-year contract, will try to take advantage of Ibrahimovic's freshness after a summer spent just watching the World Cup on TV.

In defence Barcelona need a left-back and a reserve right-back to cover for Dani Alves. They will look to promote from their youth team to cover central defensive shortages caused by selling the Ukrainian Dmytro Chygrynskiy back to Shakhtar Donetsk for €10m less than the €25m he cost a year ago.

But it is in midfield where all attention will be focused. Yaya Touré has left for Manchester City and, if the versatile Iniesta stays up front, where he won the World Cup for Spain, then that leaves Xavi, Sergi Busquets, Seydou Keita and little in reserve. Barça's next move for Fabregas could be their last, such is the club's need to draw a line under the affair and either bring home the 23-year-old Arsenal captain or concentrate their time and financial resources on another player. Guardiola has demanded the issue does not drag on through pre-season as he tries to prepare his players for what could be their toughest season yet.

A cloud on the horizon has appeared in the substantial form of Jose Mourinho, who takes charge of pre-season training at Real Madrid's Valdebebas complex this morning. Their biggest rivals will be re-energised by the man who masterminded their defeat in the Champions League last season.

Ibrahimovic and the other non-World Cup performers return to work on Monday. They embark on a short Asian tour on 1 August before Barça's World Cup heroes return for the final preparations on a campaign that, with or without Fabregas, will see them fight Mourinho's Real on the home front and look to deliver a third Champions League in six seasons, at Wembley – where they won it for the first time back in 1992 – next May.

Tomorrow: Mourinho's Madrid

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