Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Or so the saying goes. These days, there is no shortage of smoke emanating from Barcelona regarding Erling Haaland. Seemingly.
It wasn’t long ago that we spoke of FC Barcelona as a club not just in transition or turmoil – they were both of those things, to be certain – but as a club in full-blown crisis.
What’s happened in the last eight to 10 months under the second Joan Laporta administration and with Mateu Alemany calling the shots has been nothing short of remarkable. A club that needed to not simply shed payroll but offload it wholesale (to the extent that they were unable to retain the services of the greatest player the sport has ever seen) have successfully shifted the gigantic contracts of both Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho for the remainder of this season, at least, and perhaps permanently.
As a result, over the summer and during the January transfer window, the club was able to add – via loans and free transfers, of course – Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia, Adama Traore, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and the beloved Dani Alves, who made the trip back across the Atlantic from Brazil to serve the club he loves for little more than what was once a single game check. In that same January window, the club showed itself once again capable of shopping in the luxury aisle, with the €55 million acquisition of Ferran Torres from Manchester City.
One could be excused for thinking that, with those salaries and the fee for Torres, Barça would be precluded from any additional big-money business, at least in the immediate future.
Not so fast, my friends!
If persistent rumours are to be believed, the Blaugrana have their sights set even higher: Borussia Dortmund’s superstar striker, 21-year-old Norwegian Erling Haaland, whose services – sought after by just about every big club in Europe – this summer will carry a price tag of €75 million.
How is it, then, that a club facing cash crunches and unable to scrounge up the most meagre of transfer fees less than a year ago, is eagerly discussing a second transfer of more than €50m in a six-month stretch? Of course Griezmann and Coutinho’s salaries coming off the books – provided their strong performances thus far at Atletico Madrid and Aston Villa and manageable transfer fees get deals over the line – along with (barring an 11th-hour contract renewal) Ousmane Dembélé’s, will certainly create some flexibility. Maybe that, along with some tinkering on the margins, is enough to fund fees for Torres, Haaland, as well as those of existing veterans, as well as those of the young stars who are negotiating contract extensions. Figuring that out is above my paygrade.
However, what we can assume (sort of) is that Barça’s interest in Haaland is very real. Because it is being claimed the club has – indirectly, of course – opened lines of communication with the player.
According to a report in Marca, Barça legend and manager Xavi Hernandez – who’s made no secret of his admiration for Haaland’s talent and expressed desire to have him at Barcelona – along with the club’s sporting advisor (and the son of one of the patron saints of ‘Barça DNA’), Jordi Cruyff, reportedly took a trip to Munich, where the duo met with none other than Haaland himself.
When asked, Xavi would neither confirm nor deny rumours of the meeting, stating only: “I can’t disclose details, but I can only say that we are working for the present and the future of the club… I can’t say any more, when I can we will be the first to say it.
“In this situation [regarding Haaland], I have nothing to say and nothing to announce, only that we are working for the good of the club, for the future and the present.”
When asked about his role and influence in the selection of players, Xavi insisted that he is neither solely responsible nor the final word on player recruitment. He referred to himself, Laporta, Alemany and Cruyff as ‘a team’, and added that “they trust me a lot [but] I don’t decide things alone. No one decides unilaterally.”
Naturally, the question was then put to club president Joan Laporta. Unsurprisingly, according to Sport, Laporta denied that Barcelona had undertaken any formal negotiations with Haaland at a dinner with supporters clubs: “I deny that there has been any kind of negotiation with Haaland.”
But when asked about the supposed meeting in Munich between Xavi and Haaland, his response was less clear cut: “That is none of my business. It is a conversation between athletes without any negotiation.”
Laporta was questioned at the same event about Haaland’s representative, Mino Raiola, about whom he said “I have a good relationship with Raiola,” but then added that “if I want a player, I have to talk to his club.”
What, then, to make of all this? Given the manner in which clubs – not just Barcelona, but also, yes, sometimes Barcelona – conduct themselves in these protracted transfers for top-tier players, it would be reasonable to assume that the supposed Munich meeting did take place, especially as Xavi was spotted in the city and did not deny the meeting.
Then again, Borussia Dortmund themselves say Haaland was in Munich for medical advice as he recovers from a muscular injury.
“We tried to optimise a few things, it’s also not unusual to get a second opinion,” Sebastian Kehl, who will be promoted to sporting director at Dortmund this summer, told Ruhr Nachrichten. “That’s why he was in Munich.”
That Haaland is certainly likely to be the most hotly-pursued transfer target this summer – with not only Barcelona, but also Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Real Madrid, among others, chasing his signature – it’s also not unreasonable to assume that other clubs have (or will) attempt similar clandestine gambits.
For now, it’s impossible to say whether these happy coincidences constitute evidence that Erling Haaland will be on the pitch at Camp Nou to start the 2022-23 season. What’s impossible to deny, however, is that Barcelona are doing nothing to discourage speculation of their involvement in the talented young striker’s next move.