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Why are Barcelona ready to swap Arthur for Miralem Pjanic?

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Arthur Melo (Barcelona)

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ByAlexander Netherton
25/06/2020 at 09:46 | Updated 25/06/2020 at 10:47

Barcelona’s oddly structured deal to swap Arthur for Juventus’ Miralem Pjanic is explained by the Spanish club’s precarious financial position.

What is happening?

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Juventus have long been linked with a move for Barcelona’s Brazilian Arthur. The 23-year-old midfielder has struggled with injuries but has impressed in his time on the pitch since his arrival in 2018, but Barcelona are open to selling him for 80 million euros.

Once that deal is completed, Pjanic is expected to go the other way, with the Bosnian 30-year-old playmaker set to join the current Spanish champions for 70 million euros.

Juventus head coach Maurizio Sarri and Miralem Pjanic during a training session.

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Why are Barcelona ready to sell Arthur?

In an ideal world, Barcelona would probably keep Arthur unless they received an exceptional offer for him. He is technically talented, in a position they need to keep strong, and despite his injuries he looks like he can play at the top of European football for the next decade - hence Juve’s interest. However Barcelona need to get some cash to balance the books and so are being targeted by the Italian side.

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Why are Juventus happy to sell Pjanic?

The Bosnian is another excellent player, but at 30 he is coming towards the end of his career and to swap him for Arthur, seven years his junior, for about 10 million euros net spend is too good a deal to turn down. They will also benefit from recognising the income from letting an asset leave at a profit. Pjanic’s transfer fee of 32 million euros will likely have been amortised over the past few years since his 2016 move from Roma. Arthur cost a similar figure from Gremio, so both clubs will be able to record a profit on the players as assets. It doesn't change the bottom line of how much cash they actually have, but it does make for a healthier accounting appearance. They have made a profit on the buying and selling of their respective players, before wages are taken into account at least.

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How have Barcelona got into such a state?

The £200 million-odd earned from selling Neymar has certainly helped ease transfer expenditure over the past few years, but Barcelona are chronically mismanaged. They have perhaps the best squad in the world, but it is a mishmash. The 33-year-old Lionel Messi is on half a million euros a week, but there are huge wages for Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Arturo Vidal. Transfers for Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele have so far produced little value and are expensive missteps. Martin Braithwaite is 29 and not really needed anymore, and even Pjanic will likely move on in a couple of years.

It was only a decade or so ago that Barcelona had to reportedly ban colour photocopying in a drive to cut costs, and things have improved since. More sponsorship money, more ticket revenue, getting people into the club museum and Champions League broadcast money all adds up. Unfortunately for them so has the wage bill, which stood at 80% of pre-coronavirus turnover. It is an unsustainable state of affairs, with 50% the acceptable rule of thumb.

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona reacts during the Liga match between Sevilla FC and FC Barcelona at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on June 19, 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

Will this fix everything?

In word, no. In two words, absolutely not. The extra revenue will allow Barca to extend the problem into next season and probably beyond. As several of their players, noted above, decline in powers they will be moved on to other clubs willing to take a chance on their remaining seasons, but they will likely be compensated for leaving before their contracts are due to end.

The options for Barcelona are to cut costs, increase revenue, or a mix of both. With the impact of coronavirus potentially lasting for years to come, the emphasis will have to be on reduced expenditure. While transfer fees and wage inflation will likely slow due to the global effects, other clubs have more solid foundations to operate upon, so Barcelona will need to move on their older players, bring in new signings - historically a key weakness of the club - and maintain their ability to challenge for trophies.

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