Ferran Torres has joined Barcelona, but his debut is unclear as club tries to creatively work around debt

3:48 PM ET

  • Sid LoweSpain writer

  • “We’re back!”

    Joan Laporta was in a bullish mood. This is his usual mood on days like these. It was the first day in the rest of their lives. It was a sunny morning in the capital. There were 13,513 people gathered at the Camp Nou, a sign of optimism returning. Below them, the Barcelona president, who sang when he was the last to down there, presenting Dani AlvesXavi Hernandez, a beaming man, was ready to conquer the world. Or so he claimed.

    This was a huge deal. Ferran Torres had just joined Barcelona for a transfer fee of €55 million, plus €10m in add-ons. He was 21 years old and has been regarded as the best player in his age group. He came from Manchester City, no less. Torres was said to be the future leader of Spain’s forward line. He has scored 12 international goals including a hat trick against Germany at a rate that is higher than any other game. His salary is understood to be structured to reach something the region of €12.5m per year.

    Although it wasn’t the first major signing of Laporta’s second spell at club, it felt like one. It wouldn’t be the first.

    Laporta also said this.

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    If Torres’s arrival suggested a shift — a signing they could get excited about — a player they had persuaded to sign and who they could still see there in ten year’s time — then Laporta’s words shouted. He was so passionate about the arrival that could transform the team, the player everyone desires, the signing that would make everyone look at him and ensure that he did not back down when he was asked. Could Erling Haaland join too? “Everything’s possible,”Laporta said.

    He didn’t say no, even though it may sound a little non-committal. This was intentional. He said this: “We’re still players in the market. Everyone had better get ready because we’re back, and with the desire to do good things. We’ve got our status back. The resurgence of Barcelona is a reality.”

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    It could depend on how you define it. “resurgence,”When it becomes a reality.

    You know all this by now, so let’s get through it quickly: Barcelona are over €1.35 billion in debt; they lost €481m last year alone; they were forced to let Lionel Messi go and for free; and this season their salary-cap space, their budget, in other words, is €97.7m. It’s an eighth of Real Madrid, and less than Real Sociedad’s or Athletic Club’s. Let’s not forget England, where a Watford team has twice as much muscle. The inevitable, repeated question was asked: “How?” How could they sign Haaland?!

    Haaland is irrelevant, how could they sign Torres, in fact?

    The short answer to this question is: No. They can’t. Not yet.

    Torres will be returning to Spain after two hard years in the Premier League. But at 21 years of age, he could be a strong anchor for Barcelona for many more years. Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

    Laporta stated that everything is possible but that not all things are currently possible. That includes the registration of Torres. Mateu Alemany, the club’s director for football, stated that it should be done by Sunday. Torres tested positive for COVID-19. Torres is currently in recovery from an injury. They hope so. There is a plan. But, hopes are notorious for not being fulfilled. Even the best-laid plans can’t fix them. gang aft agleyAll of it.

    Barcelona would not have the opportunity to play Torres tomorrow if he were fit. So, let’s return to the original question: How did Barcelona sign Ferran Torres.

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    The answer is split into two parts. The first part is the cost of signing, which can be easily explained. Barcelona won’t pay much of the fee up front, the salary is spread across his contract, and the club have taken a €600m loan from Goldman Sachs, the same bank that will provide a further €1.5bn for the redevelopment of Barcelona’s new stadium.

    So where does the money come? That’s where. This is where they think this signing is in football terms.

    This is the first step, signing him up. It’s very simple. The league’s salary limit criteria is the second part of the registration process.

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    The concept and practice of having the money and being able to do the work now are two different things. The salary limit is more complicated at certain levels. It’s simple and rigid on other levels. You will not be allowed to register your player if you don’t follow the rules. End of story. It’s an automated system and the button you want is not clickable.

    Barcelona’s permitted salary limit is €97.7m calculated on the basis of what they spend and generate. It’s not that they are right at the limit; they’re miles over it, with the actual amount spent on salaries over €400m. People tend to think that the rules are meaningless, and bemoan another club for not playing fair with financial fair play. These questions are inevitable: What’s their point if they still have the ability to sign players? What’s the point of being able to be at four times their allowed salary limit and not have any tangible impact?

    First, it is not without consequence. These rules are not ignored or unenforced. Second, financial problems long-term cannot be ignored. This is not the case right now. They lost the best player in their history, Lionel Messi, for free this summer. Whatever other factors may have been involved, everyone can agree it was a huge impact. Antoine GriezmannAlso, you can leave your money for nothing. (For now, at least: There is a €40m purchase clause applicable a year on.) The summer before Luis SuarezAtletico Madrid won the league for free. Gerard PiqueAnd Sergio Busquets took pay cuts. Without Pique’s fall, Memphis DepayThey wouldn’t be able to play in the opening game of the 2021-22 seasons.

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    Each season has its limits. Last year, Barcelona’s limit was €382m, and next year, with the impact of the pandemic lessening, it will likely climb again, although it is inconceivable that it will reach the level of their actual expenditure on salaries unless that continues to drop. While you could theoretically sit on the same squad and make no changes, any new contract would violate those rules. In other words, you couldn’t renew anyone and you can’t invest anything. In Barcelona’s case, that means bringing the total under €97.7m.

    This last bit is impossible. This is because you can’t give away players’ salaries. Unilateral terminations can lead to a lawsuit that could be more costly than it saves. There is an alternative way out. You can go over the limit and still invest. However, you must show that you are addressing the shortfall. The ratio of how much money you can invest is 1:4. That is to say, for every €1 a club wants to invest in their squad, they have to have made €4 in savings.

    Usually, a combination of savings go towards any investment, of course, but to put that in very simplistic terms: If you’re over your limit, you can’t sign a player on €1m a year by getting rid of a player on €1m a year, keeping the level the same; you would have to get rid of a player on €4m a year. If it’s a very expensive player, the margin grows: If you can move on a player who accounts for more than 5% of your limit, you can reinvest at a ratio of 1 to 2, meaning a €10m player gives €5m of margin.

    Joan Laporta, Barcelona president, was quite bullish about Barcelona’s potential to spend again. But it will take a lot more gymnastics for the numbers to work. Marc Graupera Aloma/Europa Press via Getty Images

    Barcelona has no funds to register Torres at the moment, so finding them is their immediate task. (Long-term plans are a different issue, which is why some costs are postponed until then: By the summer, €40m could be incoming for Griezmann, for example, and other necessary sales may become possible.) It is not an easy task but it is possible. Laporta was his usual bullish, enthusiastic self. However, Alemany, his director of football, was calm and clear. It is this personality, combined with his competence that makes it possible for this to work.

    Alemany already stated that players had to leave before anyone could arrive. They signed Torres even though no one was going yet. “The reality is that when we signed Ferran, we knew that we didn’t have any margin with the salary limit,”He admitted to it Monday. “We made an exception with Ferran because it was worth it. We accept that and we’re working on various avenues.”

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    “If we can generate ‘fair play’ [margins], we will decide if there are other signings; [the latter] will depend on exits,”Alemany also added. Alvaro Morata, among others, is the most wanted arrival. However, it is important to register the one player they have signed. Only then can they consider other potential signings if they are successful in that.

    These avenues can be creative and time-sensitive, and they are many. Some paths are more willingly walked than others. In many cases, the solutions are very short-term, and they mean shifting costs further down to a time, they hope. A time when it will be easier to assimilate financial regulations and fit within financial regulations — when money may be coming in. Memphis Depay will likely pick apart some of the plans this summer. Sergino DestAnd Luuk de JongAll the players are lined up to leave within one year of arriving, which is a sign that there are no solutions. They work, but their hands are tied.

    The fact that it is a useful indicator of how fine the margins and how delicately balanced it is is the “An indication of how fine it is” Yusuf Demir is no longer Playing games — if he makes one more appearance, Barcelona would have to exercise a €10m purchase option — and even more clearly by a comment made by Xavi Hernández this week.

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    During negotiations for a new contract Ousmane DembeleBarcelona’s manager was asked about his opinion. He said that the Frenchman was important to him and that he would like to see him continue at the club. He said that Dembele could be the best player in his position before, but what was unique was how important and why. “If Ousmane renews, it will allow us to make one or two signings,”He said.

    Take a moment to read it again. Dembele could leave, but there would be savings. But there will be savings for Dembele if he stays. At least for the short-term. Barcelona’s plan — or, in other words, their offer — is for him to reduce his salary or spread what he is currently earning over the next few years, and to load some of that money into the back end his contract. It basically means they depend on him. He appears to have the upper hand.

    Dembele hasn’t yet signed a renewal and it looks like he might. The demands are greater that the offer, and patience runs out. So is time. “We have been talking to his agent for five months,”Alemany admitted that the frustration was clear. “We have been very patient. They knew we want him to stay and he has our offer. We can’t delay much longer. We are waiting for a definitive answer so that we can take the decisions that are convenient for the club.”

    There were rumors that he would be expelled to the stands to press him to renew or to leave now. This could even lead to him being charged a fee. But Dembele isn’t interested in going now.

    Sergio AgueroDani Alves, after his retirement, was able to renew her registration, as well as register. Sergi RobertoDeferring some of his salary is another option, which illustrates how urgent Barcelona’s problems. Alemany stated that it depends on the players leaving, but that it’s not always easy. People will tell you to sell an expensive player. Let’s try it. Samuel UmtitiThey are not in any hurry to leave. They have been trying selling Philippe CoutinhoTwo years. It appears that he might be open to leaving as the World Cup nears, and another manager doesn’t see much place for him.

    “We’re working on it, and we’re convinced we’ll be able to register [Torres] before Sunday,”Alemany said. There is a plan and there is a play. It must happen soon or the signing they made, the man who announced their return, will not be able to take to the pitch.

    “I’m calm; I know I’ll be able to register,” Ferran said.

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