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Arthur-for-Pjanic swap: the dark plot unfolds – Concluding Part of a 3-Part series on ‘Why Barcelona are a mess’

Barcelona’s Arthur-for-Pjanic swap was essentially a business move albeit for all the wrong reasons

For all the publicity and hype that the deal stirs up, it is nothing more than a sleight-of-hand flourish to camouflage the financial mess that Barca has now found itself mired in. Regardless of however good the buzz this deal generates, even if both players were to end up perfect fits in their new homes, this still doesn’t stop it from being another veiled expression of failure that is the awkward manifestion of a systemic malfunction of the clubs involved, particularly in this case, Barcelona.

It’s in actuality not so much the departure of Arthur in itself that saddens some fans, and for sure it’s certainly not the arrival of Pjanic. What the swap has actually revealed is, especially with the haste in which the deal was pushed through in the wink of an eye, is a very telling sign that things have gone totally awry at the Blaugrana. Even if it all ends up being somehow the right move for all the right footballing reasons – which it could – it was still a deal struck for all the wrong reasons.

Since coming on board at Barcelona in 2018, Arthur has started less than 50% of their games. He sustained a lot of injuries and also received a lot of flak with reports of nights out filtering to the local media oddly at just the right moments. The occasions whenever he was fielded, like in his performance at Wembley leading Barcelona to an impressive 4-2 win over Tottenham in the Champions League, group stage, back in 2018, that feat was never repeated. And he who had been welcomed as the ‘New Xavi’ could only manage at best just four goals and six assists. At the game with Sevilla last week, he was constantly moving backwards, not unlike a metaphorical depiction of the Barca of recent months.

Yet for all this, that’s still not why he is actually leaving the club supposedly for greener pastures. For all the problems and the flaws attributed to him, a poll in Sport showed that 77% said it was not a good idea to sell him, despite the question being a loaded one that is also not entirely accurate:

“Is it a good idea to sell him for €70m?” Arthur in fact hadno desire to leave, he was unwillingly pushed out. Truth be told, it certainly wasn’t Barcelona’s coaching staff exerting their influence to push him towards the exit. They actually did not want him to leave.

Why should he want to make an exit? After all, he was tagged and tipped for greatness at Barcelona and and leaving would not have made any sense at all. And to leave in such haste all of a sudden like a tornado that whizzed by and is sudddenly gone? That’s a clear sign of something dodgy happening behind the scenes – Barca badly needed an almost instant fix to balance their books. Arthur just happened to be the timely and most logical option for the club.

In reality Arthur’s departure had little to do with football more so than it has to do with financial imponderance, which then begins to throw light on an apparently quirky deal wherein Barcelona and Juventus conveniently swapped the players over, with an extra €10m paid on top by Juventus. Although it was officially reported to be a €70m deal, that figure was not paid except as an entry on the spreadsheet.

The valuation of the two players indeed looks appreciably high in a post-pandemic market, a book transaction that clearly requires the participation and commitment of two willing parties. Nor are those fees, which exist in isolation as Pjanic commands only a value of €60m supposedly because Arthur has been deliberately priced to be “worth” €70m. By the simple move of setting the price as high as they possibly could, both clubs found the denouement for their dilemma not on the pitch, but happily off it. For Barcelona, this is only a short-term solution at best as their financial woes stretch a really long mile.

The players themselves? Mere pawns to be pushed around on a corporate chessboard for momentary relief as for the present juncture both clubs that little closer to being able to post a profit before the end of the financial year when the auditors come a-knocking on their doors, which is at the end of this month, by the way. How convenient and timely. The actual incoming “money” on the move is €10m, with the outgoing cost spread across the duration of their contracts through amortisation. Voila! An instant ‘profit’ close to €50m, on the books that is. Let’s not forget also that this is really handy when it comes to FFP regulations. Apparently the accountancy is more creative in this case than the midfielders themselves are.

For Barcelona, or more pertinently their board, that is of special significance. Barcelona already needed to raise €124m in sales this season, which put them in the position of needing to find around €60m before July 1. And that was before the effects of the pandemic were were factored into the calculations. If they didn’t, the board of directors would find themselves personally liable for 15% of the loss, as per the 1990 law that still governs club financial structures. This is the sole reason why Barcelona were so strapped and desperate to get a deal done the quickest way possible, and why a bewildering, strange swap deal happened almost overnight.

The cold fact that Barcelona found themselves in that compromising position raises deep concerns, especially the way they ended up in this quandary. The consequence of what that means is deeply telling and merits even more concern. To make matters worse, a global pandemic brought along by a particular virus only happened to exacerbate matters for this once erstwhile club of repute. Take a deeper look and it speaks volumes about their ability, or the lack thereof, to build a squad whose median age is on the rise. Of course, the true tale is about the eroding of the entire Barcelona structure and ultimately the whole institution if this were allowed to persist.

Sadly, anarchy appears to have taken over at the helm. The players are at a loss and totally clueless how to move next. Thankfully, there is still a Lionel Messi who has the hutzpah and the backing of both his team, and the eternally loyal fans, to back his every call and action.