Financial woes threatening to topple El Clasico giants
Liverpool occupy a curious position as regards the home team in today's 238th Clasico at the Nou Camp. Barcelona's financial figures published this month show that Liverpool are their single biggest creditor - with €118m plus significant add-ons still pending for the sale of Philippe Coutinho.
Two of those extras are easily achievable: another €10m when Barcelona qualify for two more editions of the Champions League and €20m for 100 games played by the Brazilian. Another €5m is due were Barcelona to win the Champions League.
Liverpool cut a good deal for Coutinho, selling a player who wanted to leave and replacing him seamlessly. However, that is some liability, even to a club the size of Barcelona, whose accounts paint a sorry story. For all the millions around the world who will watch today, for the drama and the cutaways to Lionel Messi injured in the stands, both they and Real Madrid are facing a financial storm.
Football is so committed to the tradition of Real and Barcelona signing the best players that the clubs' recent financial results have been largely ignored. There is a collective belief that the cash to buy the likes of Neymar, Harry Kane or Eden Hazard will be found somewhere - but the reality suggests otherwise.
Real would have had to report an €87m loss had they not sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus for €100m and replaced him with the cut-price Mariano. How is that going? They are seventh in the table, with the hapless Julen Lopetegui vulnerable if today goes badly. But then the former Spain manager was just another cheap option.
As for Barcelona, their projection of a record-breaking €960m revenue next year has been the fiscal equivalent of a cunning decoy run. In their latest accounts, to June 30 this year, the club reported that net debt stood at €157m, quite some leap from the previous year where they were claimed to be €8m in credit. Even more so when you consider that Real and Barca have both changed the way in which they calculate net debt.
The clubs say they are just following the protocol of La Liga president Javier Tebas - they often do that when explaining an awkward new measure to their members - and that debt calculation now does not need to take into account unavoidable obligations such as accrued wages. As with Real, July 1 is the second of Barcelona's massive biannual salary payments, and all that cash sits on the club's balance sheet to be included in the June 30 financial snapshot before it disappears.
At the general assembly at Barcelona, more democratic than the one Florentino Perez presides over at Real Madrid, members asked why the new debt calculation had been adopted. The official answer was that it was decreed by Tebas, although a more likely explanation would be to calculate the debt according to the old formula.
Were Barcelona to have taken all their obligations into account on June 30, their debt would have been €490m. It is in the constitution of the club that if their debt rises to more than twice the value of the earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, then the board is obliged to take emergency measures to reduce the debt, or resign. Clearly a debt of €490m more than surpasses that threshold for action.
As for Real, things are little better. They are borrowing €575m for a stadium rebuild that will not add a single extra standard seat. They borrowed to cover their wage bill. They announced a €45m loss in the next year's accounts for the demolition of the dated Esquina shopping mall that adjoins the Bernabeu. They even racked up losses of €29m on their basketball club.
Barcelona's cumulative losses on their multi-sports teams alone came to €40m, including €28m on their basketball side; they spent nearly €10m on their handball team, whose budget is greater than all the 15 other teams in Spain's top division put together.
If they are to pull off the big-money signings everyone automatically expects then it will need a lot of co-operation from the selling parties.
Today's Clasico will be the first since 2007 not to feature either Ronaldo or Messi, the personal battle for pre-eminence that has dominated world football for 10 years and taken one of the world's great sporting and political rivalries to another level. Madrid have failed to replace their talisman. Barcelona are in their situation despite the €200m cash sale of Neymar, who was once assumed to be the long-term successor to Messi.
The little maestro may yet win his fifth Champions League this season, which would cost Barcelona another €5m to Liverpool - a reminder that while it may have been a wonderful decade, it has come at an extraordinary price.