Haaland to Barcelona? Cash-strapped Catalans risk selling their soul to pay for superstar striker

Erling Haaland Dortmund Barcelona GFXGetty Images

'Erling Haaland's agent has arrived in Barcelona for transfer talks with Joan Laporta' - it felt like an April Fools' Day joke, and a lame one at that, given it was so unbelievable. 

How on earth could Barcelona afford to sign the most in-demand striker in world football, when they couldn't even stump up €3 million (£2.7 million /$3.6m) for Manchester City reserve Eric Garcia in January?

It made no sense. Yet, on Thursday, footage quickly emerged of Mino Raiola and Haaland's father, Alf-Inge, being collected at Barcelona airport ahead of a meeting with Laporta and his emissaries. 

For Blaugrana fans devastated by their club's grim financial situation, this was manna from heaven. The rumours were true! Barca could really sign Haaland!

They could, in theory - but at what cost? 

As things stand, Barca are simply not in a position to make this deal happen. The Blaugrana are nearly €1.2 billion (£1.1bn/$1.5bn) in debt. Of even greater concern, though, is the fact that their short-term debt is approximately €500m (£425m/$590m) and must be repaid by June 30.

Even accounting for further wage cuts, loan repayment deferrals to existing creditors, and the potential sale of unwanted players on massive salaries, Barca clearly need financial aid just to balance the books, let alone fund an expensive signing such as Haaland.

Help may be at hand, though, from Goldman Sachs. The American multinational investment bank has already offered the Blaugrana a 30-year, €800m loan for the Espai Barca project, which includes the redevelopment of the club's training facilities, Camp Nou and its surrounding areas, offices and arenas.

However, that proposed deal – one of Josep Maria Bartomeu's final acts as president – must still be approved by both his successor, Laporta, and the club's Assembly. There is no guarantee that it will be given the green light.

The original cost of the Espai Barca project was meant to be €600m (£530m/$730m) and Bartomeu intended to split it evenly between the club's treasury, external investors and the sale of the stadium name to a commercial partner.

However, there is now widespread concern among club members over what it would mean for Barca's status as a registered association if one company were to pay for the entire project, which has now spiralled to an estimated €815m (£722m/$988m).

As it stands, it is prohibited for anyone or anybody to own shares in FC Barcelona, and the Blaugrana have insisted that Goldman Sachs wouldn't be obtaining anything resembling a stake in the club.

Last October, though, Marc Ciria, a leading economist and Laporta confidante, claimed in an interview with EFE that Barca intended to use the Goldman Sachs loan to pay player wages.

"Goldman Sachs is fine with that because it is charging interest of between 3 and 4 per cent," Ciria stated. "If Barcelona doesn’t pay it, Goldman will come knocking.

“The question is how the non-payment of the debt will be executed. With the club's assets? With the stadium? Because when there is a loan from an investment bank, the clauses are much firmer than those of a traditional bank."

Ciria added that there were two possible outcomes from entering into such an agreement: "the conversion of the club into a public limited sports company", or an investment group such as Goldman Sachs owning up to 70% of Barca.

This claim provoked immediate comparisons with the recent change of ownership at AC Milan. 

The Italian club's previous Chinese owners, led by Li Younghong, borrowed money from Elliott Management Corporation to fund a takeover but when they defaulted on that loan, the American hedge fund took control at San Siro.

Elliott have since run the club shrewdly and intelligently, putting Milan in an excellent position to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2014. However, the issue of ownership is far more controversial and contentious at Camp Nou, where it is wrapped up in the Catalan cause.

Barca, in theory, is meant to be run and owned by members, not companies, and the club's former financial vice-president Jordi Moix quickly denied that the Goldman loan would be used for anything other than the redevelopment plan.

There is now widespread scepticism about a potential deal which could see them sell their soul for short-term relief, that could create long-term problems.

For example, when disgraced former president Bartomeu first announced that Goldman Sachs would help fund the Espai Barca project, he insisted that there would be no economic interest or guarantees involved in the deal.

However, Moix then admitted in January that there would be "some guarantees included" while insisting that "the structure of the club is not at risk".

Erling Haaland Joan Laporta Dortmund Barcelona GFX
Getty/Goal

Nobody, then, is quite sure what to believe at the moment, which explains why Raiola's appearance in Barcelona was met with such incredulity. 

Given Barca's financial situation and Haaland's likely transfer fee, something doesn't add up here.

Unless the club is set to secure a colossal amount of investment to clear its debts and invest in the squad, there is no way that Barca are in a position to even consider signing the Borussia Dortmund striker.

While it is clear that Barca will need money from somewhere by June 30, meaning an investment deal could well be done with a group like Goldman Sachs, it seems far more likely that the Raiola-Laporta talks were merely a publicity stunt. 

The pair have an excellent relationship, dating back to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Maxwell's moves to Camp Nou in 2009, and news of their meeting in Barcelona will have benefited both. 

Certainly, the first leg of Raiola's tour of Europe's elite clubs couldn't have gone any better for the 'super-agent': it generated a huge amount of media interest which could well spark a lucrative bidding war for his client.

Meanwhile, the mere fact that Haaland's father came to Catalunya already had people connected with Barcelona hailing 'the Laporta effect'.

Club members were enthused by his promise to make La Masia the base of his new project, but being seen to be discussing deals with one of the major players in the transfer market will have only boosted the popularity of the new president.

So, while Laporta's talks with Raiola over a possible Haaland transfer to Barcelona were obviously no April Fool's Day prank, giddy supporters should be careful what they wish for. If something feels too good to be true, it usually is.