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Barcelona take a risky path by preparing to spend... will it pay off?

Joan Laporta’s strategy carries risk and the possibility of reward

FC Barcelona Unveil New Signing Andreas Christensen Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Joan Laporta got a raw deal. When he took over as FC Barcelona president for the second time, he found a club financially close to ruin after the mismanagement of former president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

He didn’t and still doesn’t have a lot of options or a lot of easy choices. In his first year back in charge, he focused on lowering the wage bill and maximizing profits, but that’s been difficult even when big earners have been sacrificed.

This summer, he has been faced with, broadly, two ways of going forward. One was to balance the budget by making as many cuts as possible, and the other one is a more aggressive route that includes mortgaging the future to some extent. He chose the latter option, it seems.

Both strategies have their pros and cons, and at this point, no one knows what will work better. But it’s worth exploring both ideas.

While Laporta is keen on earning higher profits and lowering costs, that alone is not enough to balance the books and keep the team competitive. He’s also taken to pulling the so-called “economic levers” to try to give the club some financial breathing room.

What these “levers” amount to are essentially loans for the club. The team is selling a percentage of the rights to future earnings for a set price today, hoping that in the long run, the team will be in a more healthy position and will be able to buy back those rights.

In the short term, that can help the club navigate troubled waters and still sign star players such as Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich. In the long term, if things go well, that means Barcelona can return to its position as one of the best clubs in the world, and earnings will rise, and things will be back to normal.

However, if things go wrong, that could be a real problem for Barcelona. Those levers can’t be pulled indefinitely. If this money is used unwisely - if the signings flop - then things could get much worse.

The less risky path is to engage in austerity. Obviously, this is a sliding scale rather than a binary choice. That means someone could take a severely thrifty approach or merely a moderate one, or smart spending strategy vs. an extravagant one.

Still, it would probably mean relying mostly on free transfers and youth players, while continuing to shift top earners. It would allow for one big signing, but not much more than that, probably. Basically - it would be like last season, when Barça spent a good amount on Ferran Torres but otherwise relied on loans and free players to improve the squad.

Last season, Barcelona struggled to second place and were a non-entity in Europe. Two years in the wilderness like that is normally unacceptable for the club. But it’s also not without precedent, and it could be seen as the wiser choice in the long run.

The risk from that is that the club stagnates at an important moment and this leads to a negative feedback loop. To get to become a “superclub” these days, you have to spend a lot initially. Once you join this unofficial club, revenues can become more self-sustaining, but actually getting in is the hardest part. Potentially leaving it could be devastating - ask AC Milan.

Still, there’s a good argument that this approach would at least be less risky. Equally, it’s probable that the reward is less.

Is Laporta navigating the situation in the best way? I turn to you, the reader, with that question.

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