Chelsea and Manchester United are in a dead heat to sign Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona, but the Catalan giants are set to make the Premier League pair wait to complete a deal for the Dutchman.
Barcelona spent more than €160 million this summer, and the debt-ridden club activated enough “financial levers’ – liquid capital now in exchange for a percentage of revenues later – to register all but Jules Kounde ahead of their La Liga opener against Rayo Vallecano.
Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie were handed debuts in the goalless draw, but the blank in front of goal wasn’t all that failed to go to plan for Barca once play got underway.
Gavi disappointed in midfield while Sergio Busquets was sent off for a second bookable offence deep into injury time at the Camp Nou, meaning he is suspended for next Sunday’s trip to Real Sociedad.
It means De Jong, who came off the bench to replace Gavi after an hour on Saturday, will be needed from the start in San Sebastian. Miralem Pjanic is also expected to come into midfield alongside the in-demand Dutchman.
Kounde could was also injured last weekend, hence Barca registered Lewandowski, Raphinha, Christensen, Kessie as well as the re-signed Ousmane Dembele and Sergi Roberto ahead of him, and the Catalan giants need to balance the book if they are to safely register the French defender – something even more pressing given Christensen’s uneasy start.
De Jong is the players Barca would most like to sell, at least from a financial perspective. The 25-year-old is the highest earner at Camp Nou, still owed €20m in deferred wages, and would likely command the highest transfer fee of any player in their squad.
But part of the reason Joan Laporta sold off some of the club’s future revenues for superstar players now is that he is aware of the need for the club to win things if they are to remain one of the most admired institutions in the game.
Having drawn with Rayo, they can’t afford to slip up against Sociedad given how strong Spanish and European champions and Clasico rivals Real Madrid look at the start of tis season, and in order to keep pace, Xavi needs a best XI now.
De Jong is in that, especially with Busquets suspended. The transfer window closes on 31 August, and Barca have three more games until then – including a friendly with another potential suitor in Manchester City.
Until Busquets is back and one of Kessie, Gavi or Pjanic looks convincing, Barca are now unlikely to rush De Jong out the door.