Barcelona’s dramatic end to the transfer window – and how Joao Felix was signed – The Athletic

La Liga
On Monday last week, four days before transfer deadline day, Eric Garcia entered Xavi’s offices at Barcelona’s Joan Gamper training ground and told the manager he wanted to leave the club.
Garcia had received an offer to go on loan to Girona, with the promise of more regular game time. Xavi tried to talk him out of it, insisting the defender was part of his rotation plans, that he was a valuable asset to the team.
Hours after the meeting, a club source, speaking anonymously as they did not have permission to comment (like all sources cited here), told The Athletic that Garcia’s departure was very unlikely.
“To allow the player to leave, we would need a permanent sale,” they said. “Leaving on loan does not significantly enhance our salary limit, and the club would not be in a position to sign a replacement.”
Girona sources, meanwhile, dismissed the option of buying Garcia, as they weren’t even in a position to pay his full salary. By Thursday, one day before the transfer window closed, the 22-year-old’s future seemed to be at Barca. A source close to the player said any move would be “almost impossible”.
But, as is usual at Barcelona, everything changed at the very last minute. Garcia ended up going on loan to Girona, with the deal concluded on deadline day. He wasn’t the only player whose fate was decided late.
😍 Aviat de blanc-i-vermell! ❤️🤍
— Girona FC (@GironaFC) September 1, 2023

On the final day of the transfer window, Barcelona found themselves in a position of weakness. Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo had already landed in the city but the club still did not have room on their wage bill to sign them.
They had to get players out the door, and time was running out.
This is why the club changed their stance on Garcia, and why they will continue to pay part of his wages during his season-long loan at Girona. It’s also why Abde Ezzalzouli was sold to Real Betis.
Just days before, Xavi had told Abde he was more than happy to count on him for the rest of the season, but the player was open to a permanent move as he had the lowest salary among Barca’s first team, and Betis were offering a starring role in their starting XI. The Moroccan was still on the same contract he signed when joining Barcelona Atletic, the club’s reserve team made up mostly of youth players, in 2021.
Barca signed Abde two years ago from Hercules, for €2million (£1.7m; $2.1m). On Friday, they let him go in a €7.5m deal with Betis that entitles Barcelona to a 50 per cent share of any future sale. They also inserted a buy-back clause valued at €20m that is valid until 2025.
Economically, it does not look like a terrible operation for Barca. However, multiple executives from La Liga clubs told The Athletic they believed Betis got the far better deal. They described it as a smart move by Betis’ sporting director Ramon Planes, who had signed Abde for Barca.
Only time and his development on the pitch will tell if Barcelona’s decision to sell Abde was the right one. But the reality is that they barely had a choice.
Last season, La Liga president Javier Tebas said Barcelona needed to reduce their wage bill by €200million to comply with the salary limit imposed on them. The competition body sets a salary limit for each La Liga club according to their revenue.
According to figures published by Spanish news agency EFE this week, the Catalans have since managed to cut €161.7million from their wage bill. EFE said Barcelona’s spending on player’s salaries is now €404m, 54 per cent of the total revenues in the club, whereas previously it was 73 per cent.
The departure of 13 players has helped. Antoine Griezmann, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Francisco Trincao, Nico Gonzalez, Franck Kessie, Ousmane Dembele, Sergino Dest, Clement Lenglet, Garcia, Abde and Ansu Fati have all either been sold, released, or moved out on loan.
Fati, who was given Lionel Messi’s No 10 shirt just two years ago, was also given the green light to move to Brighton last week as Barca attempted to make room on their wage bill. But unlike Garcia and Abde, Fati had long been earmarked for a departure.
Last week, Xavi told him he could not guarantee him a regular starting spot, and that led to Fati deciding to seek playing time elsewhere, whereas previously he had been opposed to leaving.
Ansu Fati: Why Barcelona’s heir to Lionel Messi has moved to Brighton
In terms of incomings, The Athletic reported in depth last week on the drama that coloured Cancelo’s loan move to Barca amid financial chaos and tensions between the Spanish champions and Manchester City
The story of his fellow deadline-day arrival Joao Felix is no less interesting.
Joao Felix has been regularly linked with Barca over recent years. Last month saw an escalation when the player publicly said he wanted to leave Atletico Madrid to join Xavi’s side.
At the time, Barca’s manager wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect. Xavi was especially concerned that Joao Felix’s lack of defensive involvement would go against the style of play he wants to achieve.
Barca president Joan Laporta, however, is a longstanding Joao Felix admirer. He had already tried to include Joao Felix in the deal that saw Griezmann head back to Atletico.
As the final week of the window progressed, Xavi found himself in a tough spot, having lost options in attack, and with little time to find an adequate replacement. The only high-quality arrival Barcelona had lined up — through background work by Laporta and the player’s agent, Jorge Mendes — was Joao Felix.
Joao Felix: In limbo at Atletico, coveted by Barca – what’s next for €127m forward?
Both Joao Felix and Mendes had been pressuring Atletico all summer, pointing to Barcelona as his only option for a move. The player received an approach from Saudi Arabia, which was rejected, while last season’s disappointing loan spell at Chelsea meant there was little interest from the Premier League.
Taking into account his mammoth salary, and how broken his relationships in the dressing room were, Atletico found themselves in a weak position at the negotiating table, and the option of a loan deal with Barca was looked on favourably.
Xavi still needed to be convinced, but he was essentially presented with the reality that it would be signing Joao Felix, or no one at all, with Abde and Fati already out the door.
In that situation, Xavi could not have any doubt. Joao Felix fulfilled his childhood dream and signed for Barca.
Deadline day finally brought a happy outcome at long last for the two Joaos, then. Inigo Martinez and Inaki Pena also experienced great relief. Eventually.
Neither player, on the morning of deadline day, had been registered with La Liga, as Barca still did not have the room on their wage bill. They were the last two players to find themselves in this position.
Martinez joined Barca this summer on a free transfer after reaching the end of his contract at Athletic Bilbao. But as a result of a foot injury he had been dealing with for months, his registration was delayed. Other names were prioritised instead, with Barca not in a position to register everyone because of the salary limit rules.
Martinez’s camp, when asked on Friday whether they were concerned by the situation, insisted they trusted he would be registered before the end of the transfer window. There was no apparent consideration of any plan B, or escape route.
But since last summer, practically every player to sign for Barca has had included in their contract a clause that would let them leave on a free transfer if the club did not manage to register them with La Liga.
Martinez’s registration was finally confirmed on La Liga’s website just before midnight, alongside those of Cancelo and Joao Felix.
Pena’s was there too. He had signed a new contract last season, changing his status from a youth-team player to a first-team member. But Barca hadn’t been able to register that new contract for the same reasons as Martinez.
Pena’s spot as backup goalkeeper had been taken by youth players Ander Astralaga and Diego Kochen in Barca’s La Liga fixtures this August, but the 24-year-old is finally available again for Barca.
Another player who finally went through a formal but significant change in status on deadline day was Alejandro Balde.
His case is similar to Pena’s, in that his new first-team contract was yet to be formally registered with La Liga. But Balde could play because his old youth-team deal was still valid, whereas Pena’s had expired.
On Friday, Balde, 19, also received all the documentation to register him as a first-team player. He can now take up the No 3 shirt. But Barca are yet to officially announce details of his new deal.
(Top photo: Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

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Pol joined The Athletic in 2021, initially moving to Manchester to assist us with our Manchester City, Manchester United and Spanish reporting. Since 2015 he has been an English football correspondent for multiple Spanish media, such as Diario Sport and RAC1 radio station. He has also worked for The Times. In 2019, he co-wrote the book Pep’s City: The Making of a Superteam. He will now move back to Spain, covering FC Barcelona for The Athletic. Follow Pol on Twitter @polballus


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