It was July 1 and Chelsea was trying to do business. The new owner, led by American Todd Boehly, was close to completing his first major signing after agreeing a deal with Leeds United for Brazilian winger Raphinha.
As Athleticism reported, the price has been set in the region of £60m, most of it upfront. Chelsea were then cleared to take the next step and began planning a medical for the 25-year-old. Standard procedure. There was just an unexpected problem: this medical examination never took place.
Indirectly responsible for all this, a club in a very complicated situation; a party threatened by long-term and short-term debt and in daily contact with investment firms to unravel an impossible puzzle over their numbers. It was, of course, Barcelona.
The Catalans have been tracking Raphinha for months. After Chelsea agreed a deal with Leeds, the Brazilian’s agent – former Barcelona and Chelsea star Deco – flew to Camp Nou to update the club.
Barca agreed to put pressure on Raphinha at the last minute to secure his transfer. It was a dream move for the 25-year-old, who was waiting for the club, and added pressure to the potential deal.
Athleticism reported on Monday that the two clubs are close to agreeing a deal and that one is finally imminent, with Raphinha due to travel to Barcelona today.
Still, Barcelona are still struggling to register new players. To bring in a new signing under La Liga rules, they have to recoup €3 for every €1 spent on new wages.
However, the club aren’t just absolutely willing to spend – they’re dictating the rhythms of several European giants’ summer planning. As unbelievable as it may seem, the top clubs have to wait for Barcelona to solve their problems to progress with their own transfers.
The most publicized example is probably that of Robert Lewandowski.
After averaging 50 goals in all competitions over the past three seasons, the striker said after securing his latest Bundesliga title that his time at Bayern Munich might have come to an end.
Lewandowski reaffirmed that point weeks later while on international duty. He has a year left on his contract at Bayern but is determined to join Barcelona this summer. His agent Pini Zahavi and Barcelona president Joan Laporta have been working on a deal for some time.
Barcelona sources are impressed with the will and commitment Lewandowski and his side have shown to push. Despite being 33, having an elite player campaigning to join the club is a morale boost at Camp Nou.
And again, this is causing collateral damage to another top European club.
Bayern Munich are not about to lose their biggest attacking threat; they must execute a plan to replace him as soon as possible.
The German club are working on a strategy if a deal for Lewandowski is reached. Bayern executive Hasan Salihamidzic has confirmed negotiations for Juventus defender Matthijs De Ligt in what would be a blockbuster deal, and the cash earned for Lewandowski would play a key role.
So Juventus are also waiting to see what happens at Camp Nou.
Laporta confirmed last week that an offer had been sent to Bayern for Lewandowski.
“We have made an offer which they are going to evaluate and we are awaiting the response,” he said. According to reports in Germany, Bayern would demand around 50-55 million euros to complete the deal.
Lewandowski returned to training with the German champions on Tuesday. The team will travel to the United States this weekend to begin its pre-season tour.
It is in the interests of all parties that the transaction is settled by then. It is, however, well documented that Barcelona’s moves are not always dominated by their sporting choices but by the club’s economic situation. Everyone should sit down and wait.
Leeds traveled to Australia for their pre-season tour, leaving Raphinha in the UK. His case has multiple ramifications for multiple clubs. First for Leeds, who are waiting for the deal to finally be done so they can use the money to search for a new striker.
“We are actively looking for a striker and I feel like if we get a striker it will feel pretty close to full strength and feel good in the squad,” Leeds head coach Jesse Marsch said. last week.
21-year-old Club Brugge striker Charles De Ketelaere has been reported as the main target. Sealing Raphinha’s exit would massively help advance their planning.
Chelsea were simply unsure if they could land Tuchel’s desired winger but were waiting for news from Barcelona before turning their attention to other players. Even on Monday, they still couldn’t assume Raphinha’s transfer saga was over.
The last club hit in the arena is Arsenal, who were also keen on Raphinha. Their proposal didn’t reach such advanced stages as Chelsea, but the Brazilian core of players that Mikel Arteta assembled at the club could have been a turning point for the winger.
There are three other clubs whose agendas have been affected by Barcelona – but because of other potential deals.
Chelsea will always be in that mix with Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso. Both have been heavily linked with Barcelona. It is understood these were two main names discussed at the meeting Boehly held at the Via Veneto restaurant in Barcelona, alongside Laporta and club bosses Mateu Alemany and Jordi Cruyff.
These would be cheaper deals than Raphinha as Azpilicueta and Alonso enter the final year of their contracts. It is understood, however, that Barcelona won’t make the next move until they manage to ease the economic pressure.
So what really had to happen at Camp Nou to trigger the domino effect of potential signings and offers?
As difficult as it is to find reasonable explanations for Barca’s situation, club sources insist that their ‘economic levers’ are ready to be pulled.
“We have several operations well advanced, waiting for our ‘second lever’ to be activated. Then we can execute signings and please our manager,” Laporta added last week.
The ‘second leverage’ will be another sale of 15% of their future television rights, potentially to investment firm Sixth Street, which could be valued at around £300m.
There’s another potential problem Barcelona face. How likely will they be to convince some members of the squad – for example, Frenkie de Jong – to take a pay cut as the club close in on expensive new signings?
It is understood this was one of the topics discussed last season when the club were in talks with Frenchman Ousmane Dembele over a new contract. As the club got used to their new economic reality, a fee of £47million was agreed with Manchester City for Ferran Torres last January.
This didn’t affect Dembele’s case though. The 25-year-old winger is set to put pen to paper on a two-year contract extension, taking a 40% pay cut.
It’s just another factor in a seemingly endless list that influences any transfer activity at Camp Nou.
But the fact that Barcelona are still able to postpone medicals at Chelsea, lure Bayern Munich’s biggest star or tempt two Span international defenders to switch the Premier League for La Liga boosts confidence within the club. .
One has the feeling that some of their greatness, despite the reality of the financial problems of recent years, could still remain.