Barcelona mortgages its future on quick resurrection

Barcelona mortgages its future on quick resurrection
FC Barcelona’s new French defender Jules Kounde shakes hands with Club’s President Joan Laporta during his presentation ceremony at the Joan Gamper training ground in Sant Joan Despi, near Barcelona, on Monday. (AFP)
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Updated 02 August 2022

Barcelona mortgages its future on quick resurrection

Barcelona mortgages its future on quick resurrection
  • Laporta's board sold off 25% of their Spanish league TV rights for the next 25 years for $679 million
  • They sold a 25% stake of their Barça Studios production hub for another $102 million on Monday

BARCELONA, Spain: Crippled by debt and fielding a team that were no longer among Europe’s elite, Barcelona’s leadership decided there was only one alternative after watching Real Madrid sweep up the major trophies last season.
They chose to double down and spend, spend, spend.
Barcelona will enter the season with immediate hopes of winning after adding striker Robert Lewandowski, defender Jules Koundé and winger Raphinha to an uneven squad composed of promising youngsters and several unwanted players.
But the three signings for more than a combined 160 million euros ($163 million) — making it Europe’s leading spender of the offseason — have come at an even larger cost that will burden the club for the next quarter century.
With Barcelona about to close last season with a financial loss for the fourth straight year and no money to spend on transfers, club president Joan Laporta took the gamble that the only way to save the team and stave off their seemingly unstoppable slide into mediocrity was to mortgage their future.
After receiving the approval of Barcelona’s club members, Laporta’s board sold off 25 percent of its Spanish league TV rights for the next 25 years for 667 million euros ($679 million). The club quickly used that cash to make its splash in the transfer market.
“It’s true that I would have preferred not to have had to sell a percentage of the TV rights,” Laporta said this week from New York, where Barcelona completed their preseason tour of the United States. “But the situation was complicated and required us to be brave and take decisions, because soccer does not wait for anyone and our fans, who are used to winning, deserve a Barça that can compete.”
The Catalan club’s shopping spree may not be over. They sold a 25 percent stake of their Barça Studios production hub for another 100 million euros ($102 million) on Monday.
The club have pledged a third of that much-needed income to new players, a third to savings, and a third to paying off debt that despite efforts to bring it down still stands at 1 billion euros ($1 billion).
The sacrifice of future revenue comes after Barcelona sold the naming rights of Camp Nou. Europe’s largest soccer stadium will bear the name of audio-streaming service Spotify, as will Barcelona’s shirts at the season opener against Rayo Vallecano on Aug. 13.
Laporta, who inherited a debt-ridden club when he returned to power last year, has also remained a firm backer of Madrid president Florentino Pérez’s scheme to establish a Super League.
But not even the Spotify deal and shedding the salaries of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann for practically nothing in return in recent years proved enough to balance the books.
The mismanagement by previous president Josep Bartomeu, combined with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, left the club saddled with a massive debt of more than 1.3 billion euros ($1.3 billion) and the largest payroll in soccer.
Barcelona’s financial difficulties have, predictably, been accompanied by their team’s fall from grace.
Barcelona haven’t won the league title in three seasons, after having won eight of the previous 11. The team haven’t lifted the European Cup since 2015, when it won the Champions League for the fourth time in a decade. They won nothing last season after Messi left for Paris Saint-Germain.
All told, the once mighty Barcelona have become known for their economic mess, scandals involving Bartomeu despite his denials of wrongdoing, their inability to retain Messi, as well as humiliating defeats, including a historic 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich.
For Laporta’s critics, it was fitting that Barcelona announced the sale of their second package of TV rights while the team were training in Las Vegas ahead of its friendly “clásico” against Madrid, which Barcelona won 1-0. For some, like former England player Gary Neville, auctioning off TV rights smacked of going for broke.
“Barcelona still pursuing the Super League? This is why! A desperate club (1.2 billion pounds) in debt selling future revenue streams to spend on players today in the ‘Hope’ it pays off! Rolling the dice stuff this with a giant of a club,” Neville wrote on Twitter.
Laporta argues that he had no choice: The alternative was only more losing, fewer fans and dwindling income.
Pressing home the need for the unprecedented measures in June, Laporta told fellow club members that when he took charge after winning club elections in March 2021 the team was nearly bankrupt.
“We couldn’t meet the payroll. We were clinically dead. We restructured the debt, reduced spending and slashed the player payroll substantially, but it still was not enough,” Laporta said. “By finding new revenues and sponsors we went from being dead to the intensive care unit, and now we can finally get back to living a normal life (after selling the TV rights).”
Still, even in the most favorable analysis, the decision is painful.
“From a financial point of view, it is never good news when you sell assets,” economist Marc Ciria, who in 2015 formed part of an unsuccessful presidential run by Laporta but now has no connection to the executive, told The Associated Press.
“Barcelona have spent (nearly) 125 years acquiring patrimony, and TV rights are one of the few assets that is guaranteed to increase in value. But it is also clear that Barcelona, for its status, cannot afford to have another season like the last one.”
Ciria calculates that, not even including inflation, Barcelona have sacrificed at least 1 billion euros ($1 billion), starting with 41 million euros ($42 million) this season, in future TV revenues in exchange of 670 million euros ($684 million) now.
But, for Ciria, the greatest threat to the sustainability of Barcelona is the bloated player salaries. He calculates that just to break even this season the club would need to reduce its salary load to 450 million euros ($457 million). It stood at 518 million euros ($526 million) before the latest signings, which also include free agents Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen.
Barcelona is also under pressure to reduce their salary load so it can meet the Spanish league’s financial rules and be able to register their new players so they can play games.
Dani Alves, Adama Traoré and Luuk de Jong have all left after finishing their deals, but of its players under contract it has an agreement to transfer Óscar Mingueza to Celta Vigo and has loaned out Clement Lenglet and Francisco Trincão.
Barcelona want Frenkie de Jong to accept a transfer to Manchester United or take a pay cut. Martin Braithwaite, Samuel Umtiti, and Riqui Puig were all left off Barcelona’s squad for the trip to the United States and the club want them gone.
Last season, Barcelona flopped out of the Champions League’s group phase for the first time in two decades. They finished a distant second in Spain to Madrid, which also won the European Cup to only increase the frustration of Barcelona supporters.
The additions of a world-class scorer in Lewandowski, a top young center back in Koundé and the flare of Raphinha should provide coach Xavi Hernández with what he needs to improve a squad featuring Spain midfielders Pedri González (19 years old) and Gavi Páez (17).
But one year after Messi’s wife handed him a tissue as he wept while saying farewell to the club he helped make great, Barcelona are at a crossroads where it appears the only two ways forward are renewal or decline.


Germany fighting for survival as Spain, Japan eye last 16

Germany fighting for survival as Spain, Japan eye last 16
Germany's coach Hans-Dieter Flick (L) and assistant coach Hermann Gerland attend a training session. AFP
Updated 27 November 2022

Germany fighting for survival as Spain, Japan eye last 16

Germany fighting for survival as Spain, Japan eye last 16
  • Germany will suffer a humiliating exit in the group phase if they lose their Group E clash with in-form Spain
  • The prospect of an early German exit was practically unthinkable before the tournament

DOHA: Germany face a fight for World Cup survival on Sunday in a must-win clash with Spain as Japan and Belgium look to seal their place in the last 16.
For the second World Cup running, Germany will suffer a humiliating exit in the group phase if they lose their Group E clash with in-form Spain at the Al Bayt Stadium.
The four-time champions were left staring down the barrel of elimination after crashing to a shock 2-1 loss to Japan in their opening fixture on Wednesday.
The prospect of an early German exit — four years after bowing out at the same stage at the 2018 finals in Russia — was practically unthinkable before the tournament.
German coach Hansi Flick insisted on Saturday his team had the quality to bounce back against a rampant Spain team who obliterated Costa Rica 7-0 in their opening game.
“We have a team that has quality, that can implement the things (we are working on), and we are very positive about it,” Flick said.
“We need to arrive with courage and with faith in our quality for this game against Spain.”
Spain coach Luis Enrique meanwhile says his team face a “beautiful challenge” as they chase a win that will see them into the last 16.
Luis Enrique cautioned however that Germany’s World Cup pedigree — they won their fourth title in 2014 — meant nothing could be taken for granted.
“They are world champions, when you look there are four stars on their shirt,” the Spain coach said. 
“I have a lot of respect for their players, they are world class, and their history is there to see.”
- Past their peak -
A Spanish victory would mean Japan would also secure their passage to their knockouts if they beat Costa Rica.
On paper, a place in the last 16 is beckoning for the skilful and energetic Blue Samurai against an aging Costa Rica team that looked to have been reeled in by Father Time during the dissection by Spain.
Japan captain Maya Yoshida warned on Saturday however that there was no danger his team would take the Costa Ricans for granted.
“They got hammered in their previous game so I think they’re really going to go for it,” Yoshida said.
“There are no easy teams at the World Cup. They will be fighting for the pride of their country and we have to be mentally prepared to deal with that.”
Elsewhere on Sunday, 2018 third place finishers Belgium could advance with a victory over Morocco in Group F.
Belgium captain Eden Hazard admitted on Saturday that the Red Devils’ vaunted “Golden Generation” is also past its peak — but insisted they remain World Cup contenders.
“To be fair I think we had a better chance to win four years go,” the 31-year-old said.
“The team was better four years ago but still we have the quality to win games and to win the competition. We have a few guys, they are a bit older now but we have experience and the best goalkeeper in the world (Thibaut Courtois).”
Sunday’s other Group F game sees 2018 runners up Croatia look to edge toward the last 16 against Canada, playing in their first World Cup since 1986.
On Saturday, France became the first team into the second round after two goals from Kylian Mbappe inspired a 2-1 win over Denmark in Group D.
Argentina also resurrected their campaign following a shock opening defeat to Saudi Arabia after goals from Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernandez secured a 2-0 win over Mexico in Group C.
“We knew that we had to win today, that another World Cup was starting for us and we knew how to do it,” Messi said.


Odds stacked against African teams at World Cup, says Ghana coach

Odds stacked against African teams at World Cup, says Ghana coach
Ghana's coach Otto Addo addresses a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 27 November 2022

Odds stacked against African teams at World Cup, says Ghana coach

Odds stacked against African teams at World Cup, says Ghana coach
  • No African side has ever gone beyond the quarter-finals at a World Cup
  • “There was never a point where everybody had an equal chance at the start. Never in FIFA history,” Addo said

DOHA: Ghana coach Otto Addo said Sunday the chances of an African team reaching the latter stages of the World Cup will remain limited until the continent is awarded more places at the tournament.
No African side has ever gone beyond the quarter-finals at a World Cup, although Ghana were a missed penalty away from reaching the last four at South Africa in 2010.
Addo, speaking on the eve of his team’s Group H match against South Korea, said Africa, with 54 teams, deserved more slots.
“There was never a point where everybody had an equal chance at the start. Never in FIFA history,” Addo said in Doha.
“It’s very, very difficult if you have five slots to get far. If you have 12 or 14 slots — I don’t know how many Europe get — the probability that a team will get further is much, much higher.”
Thirteen of the 32 nations present in Qatar come from Europe. Asia has six representatives, with South America and the CONCACAF region sending four each.
Senegal are the only African side to have won a match at the Qatar World Cup. None of the five African teams who took part four years ago in Russia made it out the group stage.
“Everybody still has chances, some more, some less, but I’m hoping and praying at least one or two (African) teams can advance to the next stage,” said Addo, who played for Ghana when they made the last 16 on their World Cup debut in 2006.
The Black Stars play South Korea in their second match on Monday after losing their opening game 3-2 to Portugal.
Addo had criticized the performance of American referee Ismail Elfath, insisting the penalty Portugal were awarded for a challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo was a “gift.”
But he said he had had time to reflect on the defeat.
“I can use this stage to apologize if I was a little rude, I was very emotional after the match,” said Addo.
“It’s in the past. It’s over, you can’t change it. Everybody on the pitch is a human, everybody makes mistakes. I do mistakes too. 
“I was surprised the VAR didn’t come but there’s nothing we can do. The day after the match we cut it off and we concentrated on South Korea.”


Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ past best, admits Hazard

Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ past best, admits Hazard
Belgium's Spanish coach Roberto Martinez attends a press conference at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha. AFP
Updated 27 November 2022

Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ past best, admits Hazard

Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ past best, admits Hazard
  • “To be fair I think we had a better chance to win four years go,” admitted 31-year-old Hazard
  • Hazard has struggled to repeat the form he showed at Chelsea since he moved to Spain in 2019

DOHA: Eden Hazard admitted Saturday that Belgium’s best chance to win the World Cup had come and gone but said they still have the quality and experience to lift the trophy in Qatar.
Belgium, who finished third at the tournament in Russia in 2018, are still ranked second in the world but many of the much-vaunted “Golden Generation” are now in their 30s.
“To be fair I think we had a better chance to win four years go,” admitted 31-year-old Hazard, speaking on the eve of Sunday’s match against Morocco.
“The team was better four years ago but still we have the quality to win games and to win the competition. We have a few guys, they are a bit older now but we have experience and the best goalkeeper in the world (Thibaut Courtois).
“We have one of the best midfields in the world, right now. We have good strikers. We have the team and I think it’s just the desire to want to win, and the mentality.”
He added: “Belgium can win the World Cup if we are in form. If we are not it will be tough.”
The Real Madrid forward said he was not over-worried by Belgium’s struggles in their opening Group F match against Canada, which they won 1-0, but he urged the team to play without fear.
- No fear -
“The first match you always have a bit of fear, you don’t always want the ball,” he said. “Now we need to get over that. We need to not be afraid to dribble, to play the killer pass. That’s what was missing in the first match.”
Hazard has struggled to repeat the form he showed at Chelsea since he moved to Spain in 2019 but he said he was able to brush off criticism over his performances.
“There has always been criticism,” he said. “Even when you play well you get criticized. I just try to focus on playing the best I can for my country and I’ll give everything I can.”
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez was relaxed about his side’s form, highlighting the lack of preparation time before the tournament in Qatar.
“Slowly you’re going to see teams getting ready after three games in the tournament,” he said.
“So rather than having that preparation for a World Cup, for a major tournament where you have three friendlies and you have four weeks to get everybody in the optimal condition, the teams need to get ready while they are in the tournament and that’s dangerous because it can cost you points.”
Martinez gave an update on the fitness of leading striker Romelu Lukaku, who is recovering from a thigh injury.
The Spaniard said the forward was not expected to be available until the third group game against Croatia, in line with previous expectations.
“He’s ahead of what he should be,” said Martinez. “I don’t expect him to be involved tomorrow unless something goes extremely well today.”


Japan make five changes for Costa Rica World Cup match

Japan make five changes for Costa Rica World Cup match
Updated 27 November 2022

Japan make five changes for Costa Rica World Cup match

Japan make five changes for Costa Rica World Cup match
  • Attackers Ritsu Doan, who came on and scored against Germany, Yuki Soma and Ayase Ueda come into the starting line-up

DOHA: Japan made five changes from their team that beat Germany in their World Cup opener as they face Costa Rica on Sunday.
Attackers Ritsu Doan, who came on and scored against Germany, Yuki Soma and Ayase Ueda come into the starting line-up as Japan look to take a big step toward the knockout round.
Right-back Miki Yamane replaces the injured Hiroki Sakai, while fit-again midfielder Hidemasa Morita comes in for Ao Tanaka.
Costa Rica make only two changes to the team that started the campaign with a 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Spain in Group E.
Teenage winger Jewison Bennette and defender Carlos Martinez drop to the bench, with Gerson Torres and Kendall Waston replacing them.

Starting line-ups:
Japan (4-2-3-1)

Shuichi Gonda; Miki Yamane, Kou Itakura, Maya Yoshida (captain), Yuto Nagatomo; Wataru Endo, Hidemasa Morita; Ritsu Doan, Daichi Kamada, Yuki Soma; Ayase Ueda
Coach: Hajjime Moriyasu

Costa Rica (5-3-2)
Keylor Navas; Keysher Fuller, Oscar Duarte, Francisco Calvo, Bryan Oviedo, Kendall Waston; Celso Borges, Yeltsin Tejeda, Gerson Torres; Anthony Contreras, Joel Campbell
Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez (COL)

Referee: Michael Oliver (ENG)


Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico
Updated 27 November 2022

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico

Messi magic guides relieved Argentina past feisty Mexico
  • Messi equalled Diego Maradona's Argentina record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup
  • Substitute Fernandez made sure of the three points when he curled a superb shot into the top corner in the 87th minute

LUSAIL, Qatar: Lionel Messi thumped in a 64th minute goal and Enzo Fernandez added another late in the game to give Argentina a 2-0 victory over battling Mexico in their World Cup Group C match on Saturday and reignite their tournament hopes.
Messi, who equalled Diego Maradona’s Argentina record of 21 matches and eight goals at the World Cup, was nowhere to be seen for more than an hour before picking up an Angel Di Maria pass, finding just enough space and rifling in from 20 meters.
Substitute Fernandez made sure of the three points when he curled a superb shot into the top corner in the 87th minute.
The result restored order for the Argentines in Group C after their shock opening 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia.
Argentina, on three points, can guarantee progress with a win over Poland, top on four, in their final game on Wednesday.
“Today starts another World Cup for Argentina,” Messi said. “I tell people the same thing, that they continue to believe.
“The first half we didn’t play as we should and in the second, when we calmed down, we started to play the ball better and until the goal we went back to being what we are.”
Mexico, who have now lost all four World Cup clashes with Argentina, have one point and must beat Saudi Arabia, on three, to have any chance of continuing their run of making the last 16 in the last seven World Cups, but even that might not be enough.
HIGH TENSION
With the prospect of an Argentina elimination, tensions were high on and off the ball in a scrappy first half but with the two sets of fans creating an electric atmosphere in the stadium.
The opening period did not live up to the match’s billing with neither team wanting to commit too many players forward and apart from a free kick by Mexico’s Luis Chavez in the ninth minute that sailed past the goalmouth there were few chances.
Mexico’s high pressing game stifled most of their opponents’ attack and Argentine talisman Messi, struggled to find any space to maneuver in a congested midfield.
Apart from a Lautaro Martinez effort that was well off the mark and another from Messi, Argentina were toothless up front.
But in a major blow to Mexico, skipper Andres Guardado, a veteran of five World Cups who until then had been a commanding presence in midfield, had to be taken off injured in the 42nd.
The Mexicans still carved out two more chances before the break with Alexis Vega first curling a free kick over the wall for keeper Emiliano Martinez to save and minutes later thundering a shot over the bar.
The South Americans looked more determined after the break but had no real chance before their 35-year-old captain dragged them out of trouble with his second goal of the tournament.
The stadium erupted in cheers once more with Fernandez’s late strike which sealed Argentina’s first win in the tournament and rekindled Messi’s hopes of a first ever World Cup title.