If the sale of Emerson Royal to Tottenham was a bit odd – he’d only officially joined Barcelona a month earlier – it’s Antoine Griezmann’s departure that will sting the most: the sheer humiliation of admitting a player who signed with great pomp and ceremony two years ago to return, initially on loan, to Atlético Madrid.
Still, nothing could be done about it: Barcelona’s most pressing need was first to save and then to raise money, and by the end of the transfer window it had done just that. Lionel Messi is gone; Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto have all agreed to shorter terms; Griezmann is off the payroll. By next summer, when his move to Atletico becomes final, Barcelona will have generated $115 million in sales.
Of course, what Barcelona couldn’t do is sell the players it needs most to sell: the high earners, the waning stars, the memories of his years of folly. Philippe Coutinho, Miralem Pjanic and Samuel Umtiti are all still there. Barcelona doesn’t have much in common with Real Madrid, but there may be some common ground here.
Whether Real’s approach (or approaches) to seducing Kylian Mbappe this summer was real or not, we’ll never know, not really: Real Madrid insist it was, Paris St.-Germain is adamant it wasn’t. Regardless, the club have spent the past few seasons trying to raise the money necessary to sign 22-year-old Mbappe – money that would have been used either as a transfer fee or as a golden handshake.
To do that, it would have liked to sell players like Gareth Bale and Isco: big names for money to match. But no one came forward, and so Real Madrid had to cash in on a string of promising youngsters: Achraf Hakimi and Sergio Reguilon and Óscar Rodríguez last season and Martin Odegaard this summer.
The policy has worked, of course, but it raises an inevitable question: How much brighter would Real Madrid’s future have been, how much more balanced would its side have been, had it been able to add Mbappe to a promising young team, instead of having to sell many of those players to fund his eventual arrival?
It’s the same question that lingers at Barcelona. Emerson, like Junior Firpo and Carles Aleña and Carles Pérez and Arthur before him, may not have made Barcelona great again, but at least he would have helped rejuvenate an aging squad. Instead, it was sold, as they all were, to cover the costs of the past mistakes. Barcelona’s finances are in better shape now than they were a month ago. However, the price is high: it had to take out a mortgage tomorrow to pay yesterday.