Losing 4-0 in a Champions League semi-final shook Barcelona to the core last week and the reaction has been just as dramatic. Tuesday’s video of Antoine Griezmann saying goodbye to Atletico Madrid supporters might not have mentioned Barcelona but the Frenchman’s destination is now very clear.
Barcelona set out two stand-out objectives after the Anfield debacle – win the race to sign Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax and complete the signing of Griezmann, forgetting all about his video snub to the club last season.
Greizmann’s capture gives them back a front three to match the trident that shot them to a treble in 2015. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will hope to form just as deadly a front-three with Griezmann as with Neymar. And the signings will not stop there.
Well-informed Catalunya Radio say a four-man Barcelona delegation including general manager Pep Segura and director of football Eric Abidal met with Mino Raiola in Montecarlo in April to thrash out a deal for De Ligt. And Barcelona are confident they will be able to announce the signing before the end of this week.
There was some reticence because Gerard Pique has had a superb season and De Ligt plays on the same side as the 32-year-old retired Spain international. But Barcelona believe the 19-year-old Ajax captain is the perfect long-term replacement for Pique but could also play alongside him.
Barca are attacking the problems that were laid bare at Anfield from two directions. De Ligt is a teenager and very much the future. Griezmann is already a World Cup winner.
“Not all the arrivals with be teenagers. Sometimes you have to sign the players who are 27, 28,” said president Josep Bartomeu. Barcelona’s plan last summer was to do exactly that with 28-year-old Griezmann seemingly on his way to the Camp Nou. Barcelona need a sure bet after two wild cards missed their target. Philippe Coutinho – save for a brief loan spell at Espanyol – was unproven in La Liga. And Ousmane Dembele was a raw teenager with pace to burn and two good feet, but a deficit in football intelligence, decision-making and consistency that they are still trying to address those problems.
Griezmann has been there and done it. He has won a league, not to mention a World Cup, he will no more need time to adjust than Ivan Rakitic did when he arrived from Sevilla in 2014.
He was the last unmitigated success — along with Marc Andre ter Stegen and Luis Suarez — who arrived the same summer.
Raktic, ironically considering his success, is now in the departures lounge because the club cannot finance De Ligt and Griezmann without shedding big earners who will command a transfer fee. Rakitic ticks both those boxes which is why even though he has barely put a foot wrong in five years, he could leave for the right offer.
Samuel Umtiti is in a similar position. The 25-year-old France defender only cost €25m from Lyon. His current value is closer to £52m and Barcelona would gladly cash in.
Neither Umtiti nor Rakitic has ever let the club down but Frenkie de Jong’s arrival from Ajax this summer would cover Rakitic’s departure. And if De Ligt comes too then Umtiti would also be pushed down the pecking order.
Barcelona have already spent £65m upfront for De Jong with £9.5m to be added in variables. That covers their annual transfer spend and further recruits mean dipping into other pots – money accrued for players sold, being the biggest of those pots.
Griezmann’s buy-out clause is £104m. De Ligt is unlikely to come in at less than £64m with commissions included and that means £173m is needed from sales over the coming windows.
Selling Coutinho would be popular with most supporters if it brings in something close to the cash paid out for him. Selling him presents problems, however. The club will have to take a hit on the outlay spent on him a year and a half ago. And even then it’s difficult to see where he will go. A failure to move on Coutinho will hasten plans to flog Malcom whose sale will be far less lucrative. The 22-year-old cost just over £34m last summer but a season of frequent inactivity has only sent that down. The alternative would be selling Dembele but getting their money back on the France winger looks an even longer shot than recouping the Coutinho cash.
Another who will be sold is goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen who has said he is tired of not playing. The Dutch keeper has two years left on his deal and Barcelona will want just under half of the €60m (£52m) release clause to let him leave. Replacing him will be difficult because anyone coming in can look forward to spending most of the season on the bench such is Marc Ander ter Stegen’s fitness consistency and reluctance to miss any games.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde also wants to reinforce the left-back position because Jordi Alba had no real cover. He could recall Marc Cucurella who went out on loan to Eibar this season. Or he could try to bring Alberto Moreno or Nacho Monreal in from Liverpool or Arsenal, loaning out promising but still raw Miranda. Other raw but promising players: defender Jean-Claude Todibo, midfielders Riqui Puig and Oriol Busquets and forward Abel Ruiz will either be loaned or blooded depending on sales.
Other loanees returning are Denis Suarez and Rafa Alcantara. Both will be sold as every last euro is sent the way of Griezmann and De Ligt — the two players who Barcelona fans hope will help them reach the Champions League final next season and continue their domestic domination of Real Madrid.