By JOSEPH WILSON
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Working against the clock, Barcelona sold off even more of its club assets on Friday so it could meet the Spanish league’s financial rules and clear Robert Lewandowski and other summer signings to play in its season opener.
The troubled Spanish club was only able to ensure that its star signing will be available against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday after it sold 24.5% of its Barça Studios production hub to Orpheus Media in a deal worth 100 million euros ($103 million).
That improved its financial balance enough to satisfy the Spanish league, which added Lewandowski and fellow newcomers Raphinha, Franck Kessié and Andreas Christensen to its list of players eligible to play following a transfer to a Spanish club this summer.
But, by late Friday, the league had yet to declare eligible all the players that coach Xavi Hernández wanted at his disposal.
Barcelona has yet to register France defender Jules Koundé, who arrived from Sevilla last month, along with Ousmane Dembélé and Sergi Roberto, who are considered new players by the league since they signed new contracts after their old deals had expired. They won’t be available to play until they are cleared by the league.
Last month Barcelona sold an initial 25% stake in its production hub to Socios.com, a blockchain provider, for another 100 million euros as well as 25% of its Spanish league television rights for the next 25 years for nearly 670 million euros ($689 million).
All told, the heavily indebted Catalan club has mortgaged its future for 870 million euros ($895 million) in order to sign Lewandowski, Raphinha and Koundé for a combined 160 million euros ($165 million). Kessié and Christensen arrived as free agents.
But the Spanish league has strict financial requirements that limit the amount clubs can spend on players’ salaries and transfers based on the clubs’ financial health. Despite efforts to reduce costs and pay down its debt, Barcelona still holds 1 billion euros ($1 billion) in debt and has seen its salary cap slashed by the league in recent seasons.
Earlier on Friday, Xavi said he was “optimistic” that he can have his new players available for the first game of the season.
“Everyone at the club is very optimistic,” Xavi said. “We have until two hours before the match.”
The club is also pushing to sell players with big salaries like Frenkie de Jong or players unwanted by Xavi such as Samuel Umtiti and Martin Braithwaite.
Orpheus Media is run by Catalan businessman Jaume Roures, the owner of Mediapro, a major television company involved in Spanish soccer but whose 2020 broadcast rights deal for the French league collapsed. Roures was a major financial backer of Barcelona club president Joan Laporta when he returned to run the financially troubled club in 2021.
Roures said on Friday that he was not sure if the money he paid Barcelona would be sufficient.
“The league won’t have any problems with this operation,” Roures told Cadena SER radio. “If the 100 million euros are enough, I don’t know. If it isn’t, the (necessary) amount must be close to that.”
Xavi also said that Barcelona may not be done signing new players, but that any arrivals would have to come after current players were sold. Barcelona is linked to interest in Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso, who would provide competition for Jordi Alba at left back.
Laporta at least was able to avoid the embarrassment of having Lewandowski watching from the Camp Nou stands on Saturday.
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