Joan Laporta may well end up selling Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United this summer, but first the Barcelona president will have to know for how much he can auction off another bit of the fabled people’s club that has been unbolted and offered up to the highest bidder.
The pursuit of United’s key transfer target this summer is made all the more difficult for the fact that they are trying to buy him from an institution in some state of financial disintegration.
At yet another assembly of the Barcelona members on Thursday, Laporta was given permission to sell off 49.9 per cent of the club’s merchandising arm, effectively plundering future revenues for upfront cash in an attempt to offer some stability to the Catalan debt-monster.
It is a common practice now in Spanish football. La Liga has sold the share of future television rights to the private equity group CVC Partners.
Real Madrid have a similar arrangement with global private equity fund Providence for sponsorship; another with Santander Bank for their television rights in return for liquidity; and another with investment firm Sixth Street, and the venue experience company Legends, for a share of their stadium revenue. These are two clubs that are supposed to belong to their membership, of course, but as the years of overspending go by and the debts rise, so bits are sold off and it makes you wonder what might be left.
For United, the matter is just as pressing — how soon do they make their move for De Jong? Barcelona want to recoup their full 2019 investment of around €86m. United value the Dutch midfielder at around €65m. No one doubts that the reasons for Barcelona to sell are manifest across their financial results, where this latest borrowing will doubtless be dressed up as revenue. The question is who needs the deal the soonest, and the heat is already rising.
The new United regime under Richard Arnold, the chief executive, is well aware it needs to shed a reputation for overpaying for good and mediocre footballers. As for De Jong, he is a priority because he will enable United to play the way that manager Erik ten Hag wants, with a midfield playmaker capable of taking the ball in the teeth of the press and navigating a way out.