Barcelona concerned by wealth of Manchester United, but not by losing Lionel Messi
Josep Maria Bartomeu, the Barcelona president, has admitted his concerns over the financial might of the Premier League and Manchester United’s renaissance under Louis van Gaal. Then he paused, before outlining the European champions’ position of strength.
English football may be swimming in television money, with United’s unique commercial power due to be underlined next month by the start of their world-record £750 million kit deal with Adidas, but no matter how powerful and wealthy United may be, they will never be strong enough to wrestle Lionel Messi from Catalonia.
“Ha. No, no, no, no,” Bartomeu said. “Barcelona’s income this year has increased to more than €600 million [£425 million], which is a record and no other club in the world has as big an income as Barcelona.
“We work hard, we know that the competition is getting closer, with the Premier League, Real Madrid of course, but also PSG, Bayern Munich, Juventus. So we have to do our best and our best is trying to get as much income as possible so we can try to have the best players and we want them to be paid at the level they are.”
When Barcelona face United today at the $1 billion Levi’s Stadium, the 68,500-capacity home of the San Francisco 49ers, the International Champions Cup encounter will be billed as a clash between two of football’s most ‘storied’ clubs.
For an American sporting public automatically drawn to the biggest and the best – 109,000 fans turned out to watch United’s clash with Real Madrid in Michigan last July – this game will only enhance the reputation and fan base of both United and Barça.
But with Premier League clubs due to benefit from a £5.13 billion television deal from the start of the 2016-17 campaign, even Barcelona are bracing themselves for the ripple effect.
And Bartomeu admits that Barça must be ready to resist the challenge posed by the Premier League and leading clubs such as United, Chelsea and Manchester City.
“We are going to fight this,” Bartomeu said. “It’s true that the Premier League right now is the best league in the world, not only in a sporting way but in terms of income. The new television rights contract with the Premier League is something the rest of the leagues, including La Liga, have to follow.
“In Spain, we have a new law that obliges the clubs to sell all the TV rights jointly because we have to follow the Premier League.
“The Premier League is a reference point as an organisation, we are following them and learning a lot of things from them, but we are going to fight against the Premier League. I talk about competition because we want to have the best players in our league.”
United’s big-spending approach to the transfer market has meant Van Gaal targeting Barça forward Pedro, available for a £22 million release clause, who could face his potential new employers today.
With United attempting to climb back to the summit of English and European football through a combination of major signings and Van Gaal’s experience, Bartomeu admits that he expects the Dutchman to succeed at Old Trafford as he did while manager at the Nou Camp.
“We know Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world,” Bartomeu said. “It’s a club that has always been very successful and they will be successful in the future because they are doing a nice project.
“You know that we know their coach, Louis van Gaal, very well. We know how strong, intelligent and clever he is, how he gets the best that is possible from his players, and United are going to be one of the top clubs this year, I’m sure.
“You have to remember that one of our best players of the past 15 years, Xavi, was brought through by Van Gaal. He put Xavi, [Carles] Puyol and others into the first team. Van Gaal did something very good by having a lot of confidence in our young players – he used them a lot and he was right because for the last 12 or 15 years, those players have been the best players in our team.”
With United securing a place in the Champions League play-offs by finishing fourth last season, Van Gaal clearly has work to do to close the gap on Barcelona. As champions of Spain and Europe, as well as being winners of the Copa del Rey, Barça remain the benchmark, but Bartomeu insists they can be stronger this season.
“You know that last year was fantastic for us,” he said. “It was a wonderful season, probably the best in our history, because we won everything and also with very good statistics. It was the second time our team won the three trophies – the league, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey – so everybody is very happy in our city and all our socios [fans] are very happy.
“This year, we have tried to work with the same team, but also bring in some players who can give us a bit more competition for places, like Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal, and young players are coming from our B team and will join our A team. So next year, in our opinion, our team will be more competitive.
“This year, we have six possible trophies that we want to win. It’s not going to be easy, but we are going to try.”