Football Features

Keep, sell or loan? Barcelona transfer decisions for Ronald Koeman

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 13:05, 22 July 2021

Barcelona are in a dire financial situation.

New president Joan Laporta inherited a club over a billion Euros in debt thanks to the shocking financial mismanagement of previous presidents Sandro Rosell and Josep Bartomeu. As a result, Barcelona have had to be very spendthrift this summer.

They have eschewed the recent model of galactico-level signings and instead picked up players for cheap or for free. Memphis Depay, Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia have all joined on Bosman deals while Emerson Royal cost the club just €11m given a prior agreement between the Blaugrana and Real Betis.

The thing is, even with all this careful spending, Barcelona still need to sell players so that they can lighten the load on their wage bill and slip under La Liga’s new financial fair play rules.

This has led to a lot of the Blaugrana squad losing their “untouchable” status as the club carefully considers its options over what to do with many players, including the great Lionel Messi who, while technically out of contract, is waiting to agree terms of renewal with Barcelona.

Those not at risk are Marc-André Ter Stegen, Sergiño Dest, Ronald Araujo, Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, Ansu Fati, Alex Collado, Oscar Mingueza and, of course, the four new signings. Everyone else is up for grabs, so what should Barcelona do with them?

Lionel Messi

Age: 34
Position: Forward
Contract expires: 2021

Messi has played more games and scored more goals for Barcelona than any other player in history. He is club captain and the greatest footballer on planet earth (perhaps the best to ever play the game). He loves the Blaugrana and rumour has it that not only is he happy to sign a new contract but will slash his wages by 50% to help the club through this financial crisis.

Sure, even at 50%, Messi would still command a lot of money but his presence is a huge reason why Barcelona have the kind of gargantuan revenues that made the previous regime think the good times would never stop. Messi is 34 now, for sure, but he’s still the best there is, the best there was and possibly the best there ever will be. A footballing and marketing powerhouse with no equal. Sign him up.

VERDICT: KEEP

Gerard Piqué

Age: 34
Position: Centre-back
Contract expires: 2024

Messi’s team-mate since the youth team where they played under Tito Vilanova, Piqué is the greatest centre-back Barcelona have ever had. He’s coming to the end now, and his diminished mobility after a knee injury last season means he cannot be considered a starter, but you just don’t ditch experience like his casually. Lower his wages, sure, but keep the man.

VERDICT: KEEP

Sergio Busquets

Age: 33
Position: Defensive midfield
Contract expires: 2023

Busquets is yet another legendary veteran that Barcelona have to deal with. But unlike Piqué, Busquets can still play at the very highest level and is a key part of Barcelona’s excellent midfield with Pedri and De Jong. Keep hold of him.

VERDICT: KEEP

Ousmane Dembélé

Age: 24
Position: Winger
Contract expires: 2022

Dembélé was an Mbappé-level prospect in 2017 when he signed for Barcelona, but unlike his compatriot, he was very raw and needed time on the pitch and great coaching. However, thanks to Ernesto Valverde and a horrific run of bad luck with injuries, Dembélé got neither. Now he’s barely fit (in fact he’s injured right now) and when he is healthy, he plays with no reliability whatsoever. You don’t know what he’s going to do one second to the next.

Dembele was recently condemned by Barcelona sponsor Rakuten for ‘discriminative remarks’ made while on tour in Japan in 2019 about Asian hotel staff, who he described as having “ugly faces.” Dembele apologised but denied his behaviour was related to the ethnicity of those he insulted, despite appearing to say: “What kind of backward language is that? Are you technologically advanced in your country or not?”

Football-wise, he’s utterly infuriating, but as he is currently hurt and his contract is still in place for another year, you gotta try and sell now, get what you can and then move on from this sorry, sad chapter.

VERDICT: SELL

Miralem Pjanic

Age: 31
Position: Defensive midfield
Contract expires: 2024

Barcelona signed Pjanic to balance their books with FFP, in case you needed an example of how poorly run they were under Bartomeu. The Bosnian should have been a natural fit but like bootcut jeans in 2021, he’s all wrong. Chuck him back to Juve for whatever they’ll pay.

VERDICT: SELL

Martin Braithwaite

Age: 30
Position: Striker
Contract expires: 2024

Martin Braithwaite is a hard-working striker who plays the role he’s told to relentlessly and usually makes very smart decisions on the field. Unfortunately, he has a massive talent deficiency that no amount of smart play can bridge. He’s not good enough for Barcelona’s level.

VERDICT: SELL

Antoine Griezmann

Age: 30
Position: Forward
Contract expires: 2024

A 30-year-old who has never even come close to living up to his price tag, looking out of sorts even when playing well, Griezmann can only be described as a Barcelona flop. The talent is still there, but the chance of seeing it in full at the Camp Nou is not. His wages are as colossal as his performances are minuscule.

Away from the matter of his playing ability, Griezmann was caught on camera laughing along during the aforementioned Dembele incident. Days later, another incriminating video emerged of Griezmann appearing to mock Asian language. He was subsequently dropped as ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ ambassador by Japanese entertainment company Konami, who said in a statement: “discrimination of any kind is unacceptable.”Get rid.

VERDICT: SELL

Riqui Puig

Age: 21
Position: Central midfield
Contract expires: 2023

The one-time golden boy of La Masia has fallen down the pecking order both because of Ronald Koeman’s bizarre vendetta against him (seriously, the number of times he refused to give him minutes for no good reason…) and the emergence of Pedri as a midfield maestro. That said, he is almost the ideal back-up to Barcelona’s brilliant starting midfield three. Keep, keep, keep!

VERDICT: KEEP

Neto

Age: 32
Position: Goalkeeper
Contract expires: 2023

Another weird FFP signing. Completely needless given Inaki Peña’s emergence. Ditch him.

VERDICT: SELL

Coutinho

Age: 29
Position: Attacking midfield
Contract expires: 2023

Signed to be the next Iniesta, Valverde’s cowardice and Coutinho’s own technical and tactical failings meant that not only did he fall short of that lofty goal but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call him the biggest flop in football transfer history. He’s still talented, but he won’t be showing it at the Camp Nou; get what you can and try to forget him.

VERDICT: SELL

Clement Lenglet

Age: 26
Position: Centre-back
Contract expires: 2026

Lenglet is a defender who, just 18 months ago, Barcelona would have considered untouchable. However, his form has deteriorated so much since then and he is now such an accident-prone liability that starting him in games is basically giving the opposition a goal. He’s that bad. The problem is Barcelona renegotiated his contract already and extended it until 2026, so the likelihood of him wanting to leave is very low. Still, they have to try, because yikes.

VERDICT: SELL

Jordi Alba

Age: 32
Position: Left-back
Contract expires: 2024

It’s very easy to mock Jordi Alba because, well, look at him! Giorgio Chiellini psyched him out at Euro 2020 simply by being nice and by now we’ve all seen the video of him crying at half-time at Anfield with Barcelona still 3-1 up on aggregate (they went on to lose 4-3 and Alba was exploited for one of the goals). But here’s the thing: for all the jokes, Alba is an elite attacking outlet on the left and the 3-5-2 formation unleashes him in this way while covering him defensively. Elite attacking creators are hard to find, so keep him around but with eyes open.

VERDICT: KEEP

Sergi Roberto

Age: 29
Position: Right-back/Midfield
Contract expires: 2022

Sergi Roberto can always be relied upon to perform in Clásicos, for sure, and there will always be his game-winner in the legendary 6-1 comeback, but he’s not the best or second-best right-back at the club anymore. Nor does he even crack the top four midfielders. So what exactly does he do besides look good in Hugo Boss adverts?

VERDICT: SELL

Samuel Umtiti

Age: 27
Position: Centre-back
Contract expires: 2023

Kids today will never know that just three years ago, Samuel Umtiti was genuinely one of the best defenders in the world. He played the 2018 World Cup with a knee injury (and was still one of the tournament’s best players) and when he came back to Barcelona he… didn’t get surgery to repair it.

Due to Bartomeu’s staggering incompetence, he had already been handed a colossal new contract so had no incentive to get the surgery and could afford to try and let it heal naturally. Well, it’s been three years and he’s managed just 49 appearances and of those, maybe only a dozen have been good. Barcelona should sell him, but finding a club willing to sign a 27-year-old defender with dodgy knees will be very hard.

VERDICT: SELL

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