“The football is over now and the work in the office begins,” said Xavi Hernandez after Barcelona ended their 2021-22 La Liga campaign with a 2-0 home loss to Villarreal.
Barca eventually finished second in La Liga, climbing from ninth, where Xavi found the club when he returned to replace Ronald Koeman as coach in November. Subsequent eliminations from the Copa del Rey and the Europa League meant a second season in three years without a trophy.
“A lot of things have to be changed to try to be more competitive and fight for trophies,” Xavi continued. “We cannot have another blank year. Many changes are needed. We need to improve and strengthen ourselves.
Some of this planning has progressed well; Agreements have been reached to sign free agents Andreas Christensen from Chelsea and Franck Kessie from AC Milan, while other targets have been identified including Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich and Raphinha from Leeds United.
However, picking players they would like to sign is the easy part – figuring out how they can afford it is much harder. Barca’s €1bn debts and La Liga salary cap regulations mean they can’t even register Christensen or Kessie until they cut the wage bill yet.
Barca sporting director Mateu Alemany, technical secretary Jordi Cruyff and club president Joan Laporta have made progress. Philippe Coutinho has already joined Aston Villa on a cut-price exit, while Luuk de Jong returns to Sevilla after a loan spell. There is no confirmation yet of new offers for Dani Alves, 39, or long-time injured utility player Sergi Roberto. Xavi would like Ousmane Dembele to re-sign but the France international is still considering his options.
The Camp Nou dressing room is always full of players that Xavi doesn’t want to use, but doesn’t want to leave. Between back and forth, Barca could have a 20-man turnaround this summer. For Xavi to get the team he really wants, a team that can really challenge for the top trophies next season, here is an XI the club really needs to move on as soon as possible.
Neto spent three seasons as a substitute for first-choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, making just 21 appearances since arriving from Valencia for €26million in 2019.
The 32-year-old Brazil international, once selected, reportedly left Barca 12 months ago but no attractive offers have been received. This year, the Catalan press claimed Everton and Aston Villa could be interested, as he was linked with Flamengo in January.
A return to his country of origin may make more sense at this stage. But with two more years left on his contract, Barca would probably have to pay him a hefty sum to make that happen.
Ronald Koeman trusted Dest during his coaching tenure, but Xavi was less convinced by the United States international, to the point of re-hiring his former team-mate Alves to play at right-back.
Barca would like to recoup the €25m they paid Ajax to sign Dest in 2020. The 21-year-old has been on Chelsea’s radar since the start of the year, despite not being not at the top of the list. Sevilla and Bayern Munich have also been mentioned as possible destinations.
Dest himself will have to be convinced to leave, like many of his teammates. He loves life in the Catalan capital and started building a house in the resort town of Sitges last January.
Barca have been trying to push Umtiti forward for most of the past four years, ever since suffering a knee injury to help France win the 2018 World Cup.
But no club has ever come close to honoring the terms of the exceptional deal the defender signed just before this tournament in Russia. This contract was extended last January until June 2026, but it was purely an accounting maneuver to allow Barca to register their winter signing Ferran Torres.
Maybe a brave team will take the 28-year-old on loan but no matter what, Barca will remain responsible for his salary. At some point, they’re surely going to have to bite the bullet and pay him to leave.
Lenglet enjoyed two decent seasons at Barca after arriving from Sevilla for €36m in 2018, but his form and confidence have waned over the past two years – as evidenced by his conceding a string of silly penalties .
Still just 26 years old, Lenglet should not be short of suitors to help him regain his previous level. Tottenham, Newcastle, Everton and Arsenal have all been linked with the France international in the Catalan press.
Again, there’s the question of a contract that runs until 2026, and Barca will do well to get back everything they paid for him. So a 12-month loan where his full salary is covered – allowing Barca to register Christensen’s free signing – could prove a suitable option.
Mingueza, produced by La Masia, played 27 games in total last season, mostly before Xavi replaced Koeman in the dugout. He knows he’s not in the manager’s plans for next season and he’s not on big salaries that would tempt him to stay put.
The 23-year-old’s versatility means he shouldn’t be short of La Liga contenders. Both Getafe and Valencia are aware of his situation and need defenders this summer, although neither is likely to meet the €10m Barca would like to charge.
Riqui Puig has been hugely popular with many Blaugrana fans and pundits, but less so with the coaches as much younger playmakers like Pedri and Gavi have overtaken him in regular first-team places.
Xavi also made it clear that the 22-year-old La Masia graduate isn’t in his plans. With just one year left on his contract, he could be loaned out, but a sale for a small fee with a buyout option would make more sense.
Real Betis and Celta Vigo have watched him in the past, while Valencia have been linked this week.
The summer 2020 swap deal with Juventus involving Pjanic and Arthur Melo remains a symbol of the financial ‘manoeuvres’ by Josep Maria Bartomeu’s board that left the club in such a dire state.
After a season on the bench at Camp Nou, the Bosnia and Herzegovina international played 26 times on loan at Besiktas in 2021-22, although he last completed 90 minutes in February.
Inter Milan and Napoli may now be keen to bring the 32-year-old back to Serie A, but he is unlikely to match the salary on his current deal which still has two lucrative years to run.
“At the moment I see myself staying two more years at Barcelona and finishing my contract,” Pjanic said last week. “We’ll see. Never say never.”
Frankie de Jong
De Jong’s case is different from most others in this XI, mainly because Barca believe there are other clubs who will offer them a significant amount of money to sign him.
That’s why some at Camp Nou are interested in the idea of the 25-year-old Dutchman moving to Manchester United, if the Old Trafford club will pay nearly the €86m he cost when Bartomeu was president. Xavi would like him to stay but accepted that some sacrifices are needed given the financial situation.
On international duty this week, De Jong said he ‘didn’t think’ Barcelona and United had reached an agreement over his transfer, while adding that ‘I prefer to stay with Barca’.
Barca were already in a financial mess when they paid €31m for Trincao in January 2020. They wanted to sell him last summer but had to send him on loan to Wolverhampton Wanderers instead.
After Barcelona loaned Adama Traore to Wolves in January, the deal was expected to be permanent this summer, with Trincao staying long-term at Molineux and both players valued at around €30m.
Laporta said last week it could still happen, although the president admitted such swap deals don’t really help the club cope with La Liga’s salary cap rules. Wolves may also not want to spend so much on a player who managed two goals and one assist in 28 Premier League games last season.
Trincao’s former club Sporting Lisbon are interested in taking him on loan but it wouldn’t be so attractive for Barca.
Braithwaite is another who has been told he is not in Xavi’s plans. After returning from injury in January, the Denmark international was only allowed 10 minutes of playing time in the second half of the season.
Barca are hoping Braithwaite will want to get playing time ahead of November’s World Cup, and they would agree to a fee of around half of the €18m they paid for him at the start of 2020.
However, after charting his entire career path so carefully to reach the Camp Nou, Braithwaite still believes he can convince Xavi to give him a chance.
“I’m having a lot of fun at Barcelona,” he told Danish publication Bold this week. “I haven’t played much, but we have a good coach and I know I’ll probably get an opportunity if I’m here and keep working hard.”
Depay has had a rocky season after arriving on a free transfer from Lyon last summer, and 13 goals in 38 games in all competitions isn’t enough for a Barcelona starting striker.
The Dutchman’s case is not helped by his association with former club figures Koeman and Bartomeu, as the current regime brought in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in January and are now trying to secure Lewandowski and Raphinha.
Depay only has 12 months left on the two-year contract he signed last year, so this summer is Barca’s only chance to secure a fee for him.
“I feel at home in Barcelona, I expect to return there for the new season,” he told Dutch publication NOS while on international duty this week.
(Top photo: José Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)