Barcelona have all but sealed the signing of Manchester City forward Ferran Torres for €55 million (£47m/$62m), despite having a €1bn (£849m/$1.1bn) hole in their finances.
The Catalans remain mired in debt, leading many to wonder how they can afford to bring in a top-class attacking reinforcement in January.
The deal makes great sense to the parties concerned. Xavi wants quality in the final third; Barca are desperate for a player that can add goals and help them finish in the top four.
Torres, who left Valencia in the summer of 2020, has not nailed down a regular starting spot at City and jumped at the chance to return to Spain, especially for a club of Barcelona’s size, despite their recent piled-up humiliations.
City, for their part, have plenty of backup, with Raheem Sterling back in form after flirting with the exit, among various other forwards jostling for a spot in the side. They also signed Torres for €23m (£20m/$26m), so are making nearly triple their money back if he succeeds at Camp Nou, and the cost of the deal rises to €65m (£55m/$74m) once add-ons are taken into account.
Regardless of all those concerned being satisfied with the arrangement, the numbers have to add up for it to actually happen.
The up-front funding for the deal with City is not a problem, because Barcelona were recently loaned half a billion euros by investment bank Goldman Sachs. However, the issues lie with La Liga’s own financial fair play rules and spending limit, which they are far exceeding.
Just as Barca had to wait until the last minutes of the summer window to register Sergio Aguero, thanks to Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets taking pay-cuts, Torres will not be immediately able to play without further action to lower club costs.
Aguero’s recent retirement and decision to sacrifice the second year of his contract with Barcelona has eked out some room, with the Blaugrana able to spend what they save only on a 1:4 ratio because they are over La Liga’s spending cap.Getty Images
For example, if Barcelona make €100m (£85m/$113m) of savings, they are permitted to spend €25m (£21m/$28m) on transfer fees and wages for new players.
Sporting director Mateu Alemany will have negotiated a low salary with Torres for the first six months of his contract, rising through the length of his deal, to help with minimising this season’s costs. The transfer fee will be amortised over the length of his contract, which is also the key to another part of the club’s plan.
Barca’s most pressing issue is to sign Ousmane Dembele to a new contract, with the France striker’s deal up in the summer. Not just so they do not lose him for free, but so the remaining portion of his transfer fee can be paid over the remaining years of his deal, instead of just this campaign.
That would create further breathing room and help set the ball rolling for getting the Torres registration through.
Dembele may also be asked to shift around his salary payment structure to let the club bring Torres in. It is in the interests of everyone at the club that more help arrives in attack, as it will aid Barcelona’s challenge for a top-four spot and Champions League football next season.
Sergi Roberto is another player with an expiring contract who might negotiate a new deal that minimises what he is owed in the short term.
Most importantly of all, the club will need to offload unwanted players. In recent weeks Philippe Coutinho has been left on the bench and seen players like Riqui Puig and Ferran Jutgla come on or start ahead of him.
It is a message from Xavi. The Brazilian’s time is up, and if Barcelona could sell him, or even loan him to get his wages off the books for this season, it would be a huge help.Getty Images
Similarly, Samuel Umtiti is another player who is not required, with Xavi having started him against Osasuna in his first appearance of the season to put him in the shop window.
Reserve goalkeeper Neto is another who could depart, with the club happy to utilise La Masia graduates Inaki Pena or Arnau Tenas in his place on the bench.
Other clubs will also see a potential opportunity to strike for some of the club’s stars, including Frenkie de Jong and Sergino Dest, although president Joan Laporta will be loathe to let any of the club's teenage starlets like Ansu Fati, Gavi, Pedri and Nico Gonzalez depart.
As well as the team’s dependence on them, they also carry the fans’ hopes. The Torres deal will boost morale there too.
While some will view the operation as an extravagance for a club that cannot afford it, it is also a sign that Barcelona are not dead - something potential sponsors and investors will approve and value.
Atletico Madrid’s defeat by Granada on Wednesday leaves Barca just two points off Champions League qualification, despite their dismal start to the campaign. It means immediate investment in this targeted area might now help secure the club’s medium-term financial health.
Missing out on the top four is not something Barcelona’s tattered account books can bear, particularly after their stumble into the Europa League, and Torres can help stave off another crisis.