Tue. Mar 9th, 2021

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MARTIN SAMUEL: Barcelona cannot afford Man City kid Eric Garcia let alone Lionel Messi

10 min read

Eric Garcia has said he would play for Barcelona for nothing. Given the latest news about their finances, he may have to.

Manchester City‘s asking price for their 20-year-old centre half is in the region of £2.65million, or what they pay Lionel Messi for around 10 days work.

Either way, it is nothing for a promising young player who has already won the European Championship at Under 17 and Under 19 level, and has been capped four times by Spain.

Lionel Messi's future is far from certain with Barcelona in a state of financial crisis

Lionel Messi’s future is far from certain with Barcelona in a state of financial crisis

Barcelona, however, cannot afford it. Their annual financial report, published this week, revealed a debt of £1.04billion, including negative working capital of £531m, unpaid transfer fees worth £283m, unpaid wages of £177m, bank loans of £248m, bonds of £177m, outstanding debt to suppliers of £74m and to public administrators of £49m.

State-backed credit of £129m appears to have covered last summer’s sixth-monthly wage bill.

And yet this is the club, and the league, that presumes to lecture English football on financial fair play. How fortunate that in UEFA’s many pages of fiscal governance, none seem to cover running up a 10-figure debt. It might be argued that Barcelona have the commercial strength to ride this out, but not in a pandemic.

They did not sell Luis Suarez last summer because Ronald Koeman had lost his marbles and considered him a spent force. They sold La Liga’s current top goalscorer — and now playing for its top team, Atletico Madrid — because they couldn’t afford him.

FFP, we are often told, was necessary to prevent another Portsmouth. That is not true because it was being planned before the Portsmouth crash but, even without that convenient myth, where is FFP on Barcelona? Where is La Liga president Javier Tebas on a club that may have to change its entire ownership structure to survive?

Barcelona can't even afford Manchester City's asking price of £2.65million for Eric Garcia

Barcelona can’t even afford Manchester City’s asking price of £2.65million for Eric Garcia

We know what he thinks about Manchester City’s interest in Messi, because he made that clear last November. ‘The only Premier League club that talks about registering Messi is City, since they compete outside rules,’ said Tebas. ‘What I worry about is they can access a player while breaching UEFA’s rules.’

And £1.04bn debt? That’s within UEFA’s rules, yes? That’s fine by Tebas. A club the size of Barcelona that cannot afford the same transfer fee that took Chuba Akpom from PAOK Salonika to Middlesbrough last September, that’s healthy?

The whole swirl of uncertainty that has surrounded Messi’s future for close on a year makes sense now. It is not just about him, it is about them. Whether they can afford him, mainly. Not at his current rate, it seems.

For unlike Garcia, Messi will not grace Barcelona for nothing. Conservative estimates of his worth speculate £500,000 weekly, after tax. And if Barcelona have not got the money for Garcia, they certainly do not have it for Messi.

Presidential candidate Joan Laporta may pontificate about Paris Saint-Germain’s disrespect in making public their interest, but that is not the same as keeping him. Securing Messi costs money, Laporta’s talk is cheap.

The attitude of presidential rival Agusti Benedito seems more realistic. ‘I’m not optimistic,’ he said. ‘The most likely outcome is that he leaves us in the summer.’

Messi almost departed Barcelona last summer after becoming disillusioned with the club

Messi almost departed Barcelona last summer after becoming disillusioned with the club

Yet what Messi would Manchester City get? The scars of Barcelona’s economic decline seem to be affecting many at the club. Messi was sent off for the first time in his Barcelona career earlier this month, for an incident off the ball. That moment summed up the degeneration around him. He has lost allies on the pitch, and off it, and his club has lost its way.

Barcelona have made mis-steps before — all clubs do, even the best and biggest — but Messi’s genius got them through. Coaches changed, players moved on or retired, but Messi’s gift was the balance.

Now, not only are Barcelona’s problems increasingly insurmountable, Messi is increasingly part of those problems. At 33, they can no longer keep him in the style to which he is accustomed. Unless, of course, he takes the Garcia route.

One imagines, as always, he will have better options.

EVEN BRAZIL CAN’T WIN THIS ONE  

The pull of the Brazil national team is strong. England managers, who often face a battle to free players from clubs, particularly for friendlies, have always marvelled at the way Brazil commands loyalty, no matter the fixture, no matter the venue.

A friendly in Saudi Arabia on October 12, 2018, saw Ederson, Fabinho, Fred, Gabriel Jesus, Richarlison, Lucas Moura — and Neymar — on the field, with Roberto Firmino and Alisson happily on the bench. The next year, many of the same group were present in Abu Dhabi for a friendly against South Korea. Plainly, the Brazil shirt has a cache few others can match. Yet, equally, when so many Brazilian players leave for Europe at an early age — Firmino played one full season at Serie B’s Figueirense, Fabinho has never kicked a ball in Brazilian club football — they may also feel a desire to repay their country of birth.

So in March there is an enormous dilemma involving CONMEBOL’s World Cup qualifiers. On the 25th, Argentina face Uruguay in Santiago del Estero before travelling to play Brazil in Recife five days later. Both destinations are affected by this government’s new quarantine rules, with 10 days isolation required on return and no exceptions.

Playing for one of the leading South American nations could take a player out of games between April 2 and April 12, meaning two Premier League fixtures and the Champions League quarter-final, first leg.

Roberto Firmino and Willian on the substitutes bench for Brazil's 2019 friendly in Abu Dhabi

Roberto Firmino and Willian on the substitutes bench for Brazil’s 2019 friendly in Abu Dhabi

Even featuring in the return would require staying fit in quarantine. It is, in all likelihood, a four-game absence at a vital time.

Yet, for once, rules favour the clubs. FIFA amended their regulations on player release last year, so obligations do not apply if ‘there is a travel restriction to or from either location’. CONMEBOL has a choice. Find alternate locations for these fixtures or risk entire countries being denuded of their best talent.

The last Brazil squad included only four players from outside Europe, only one of whom started against Uruguay, and European-based players will come under immense pressure not to travel.

CONMEBOL finds a solution, or their qualifiers become a joke, because the clubs win this one.

NO CASE FOR UNITED DEFENCE   

No, there did not look to be much of a foul by Harry Maguire on Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale on Wednesday, but the disallowed goal that resulted is not the reason Manchester United lost. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should direct his criticism closer to home. Have a look at Sheffield United’s winner.

Traffic cones would not have been more static than the Manchester United players defending that attack.

Officials make mistakes, yes, but so do players. Most weeks, the referees get it right — but if Manchester United defend with as little urgency between now and the end of the season, they’ve got no chance.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should direct criticism closer to home after shock Sheffield United loss

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should direct criticism closer to home after shock Sheffield United loss

WHY TUCHEL’S WORDS SHOULD CONCERN JAMES AND MOUNT

It is no great shock that Billy Gilmour appears more determined than ever to pursue a loan move away from Chelsea.

He had decided on that path even when Frank Lampard was in charge. Gilmour wants to go to the European Championship with Scotland and knew that once N’Golo Kante returned to fitness, he would again be down the pecking order.

Wednesday night’s omission from Thomas Tuchel’s first match squad will have confirmed his desire to leave, not provoked it. What Reece James or Mason Mount will make of any change in circumstances, however, may be a different matter. When Tuchel first reeled off what he knows and what excites him about Chelsea, the young British players weren’t mentioned.

‘I already know the likes of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Toni Rudiger,’ said Tuchel. ‘I wanted many years to have N’Golo Kante in my team, also Olivier Giroud, we have a clear picture. To find a guy like Cesar Azpilicueta in your office is simply amazing.’ It was James who often kept Azpilicueta out of the team. Now, if Chelsea play a flat four, he is his understudy. Against Wolves, Tuchel went with Callum Hudson-Odoi in a wing-back role that would have seemed made for James. Instead, he watched from the bench.

Mason Mount and Reece James were both named on the bench by Thomas Tuchel vs Wolves

Mason Mount and Reece James were both named on the bench by Thomas Tuchel vs Wolves

James and Mount are too good — and have been too good this season — to go backwards at this stage of their careers.

They were not the reason Chelsea’s form slumped. Indeed, if everyone in Lampard’s squad had delivered at their level, he would still be in a job. Obviously, this is one game, on the back of one training session, and Tuchel spoke more encouragingly yesterday. Patience is needed and good players will always choose first to fight for their place.

Every Chelsea regime bar the last one, however, has been no ally of the young and homegrown.

If, by the end of the season, James and Mount’s status is that of fringe, cup players, no one would blame them for seeking a fresh challenge.

They have proven Premier League quality and are too good to be grateful spectators.

RODRIGO’S EMBARRASSING THEATRICS

Rodrigo wished it to be made clear he did not spit at Fabian Schar in Leeds’ match with Newcastle this week. He did, however, collapse like a punctured inflatable tube man for no apparent reason, when confronted. We can all agree on that, yes?

ABUSE IS WRONG ON BOTH COUNTS  

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on the defensive now that his comments to Romelu Lukaku have been taken to have racist connotations.

‘Go do your voodoo s***, little donkey,’ Ibrahimovic told Lukaku during a heated row in the Milan derby. It was a reference to an old story —which Lukaku denies — about him consulting a witch doctor during his time at Everton.

Ibrahimovic claims no racist intent. And society is right to police any hint of racially-charged language. Yet Ibrahimovic was replying to Lukaku’s comment: ‘I’ll f*** you and your wife.’ 

Sexist and sexually aggressive, yet we seem fine with that. We never understand that common abuse opens the door that racist abuse saunters through unchallenged. We cannot address one without the other. Neither man emerges from this well.

Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were involved in a heated bust-up during Milan derby

Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were involved in a heated bust-up during Milan derby

DESPERATE BID TO PRESS AHEAD WITH THE EUROS 

UEFA met with the 12 host cities for the 2021 European Championship this week and, unsurprisingly, all wanted to press ahead. They surely know the pan-European tournament as envisaged is doomed but, if they withdraw, they will forfeit the right to compensation. It must be UEFA’s decision to limit the competition to four venues, or maybe one country.

The talk will be of athlete welfare and fan inclusion but the bottom line is finance. The hosts want to be paid out, the governing body and insurers want to keep costs down. If the IOC curtail the Tokyo Games early, they would owe fortunes to organisers, broadcasters and sponsors. Keep planning and, if the event is ultimately cancelled, Covid-19 may even be classed as a force majeure, greatly reducing liability.

FAIR PLAY JAMAL, GERMANY IT IS

Jamal Musiala is likely to play for Germany in March, ending his chances of representing England. Musiala was born in Germany, plays in Germany with Bayern Munich and has a German mother. His father is Nigerian. He sounds an unlikely Englishman, but between the ages of seven and 16, he lived here.

Musiala was educated at Whitgift School, like many members of Chelsea’s academy, and has represented England at Under 15, Under 16, Under 17 and Under 21 level. Yet, with questions of nationality increasingly complex, Gareth Southgate has remained consistent.

Admirably, he offers no guarantees and makes no calls for expediency’s sake. At 17 in an Under 21 side, if Musiala wishes to play for England, the pathway is there. If he chooses Germany — or if Joachim Low is willing to offer him a fast-track and that appeals — it is his call. Let’s face it, born in Stuttgart, playing in Munich, he sounds pretty German.

REFEREES NEED TO GET A GRIP OF THE RULES

So, it turns out some referees really don’t know the rules. The clarification that Manchester City’s first goal against Aston Villa should not have stood is hugely embarrassing for Professional Game Match Officials Limited and their chief, Mike Riley. PGMOL have retreated from their position that Rodri could legally tackle Tyrone Mings, despite arriving from an offside position.

This is no victory for fair play. English football would not be allowed to work with a different offside law, just because we thought it fairer. Simply, our referees got it wrong and their only excuse is an honest misinterpretation of vague wording. Yet the rest of Europe did not have that problem because Cristiano Ronaldo was given offside for doing what Rodri did, for Juventus, the same night. Still, rules should be tight. Any allowance for rogue interpretations is failure.

Manchester City's goal against Aston Villa got everyone talking after Rodri teed up Bernardo Silva despite running back from an offside position

Manchester City’s goal against Aston Villa got everyone talking after Rodri teed up Bernardo Silva despite running back from an offside position 

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