Barcelona must sell Raphinha to bankroll another summer of spending

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Raphinha Barcelona Manchester United 202-23
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The newly-crowned Spanish champions need to raise cash if they are to improve their squad this summer, and the Brazil winger could bring in a huge sum

Raphinha's presentation as a new Barcelona player was slightly odd. He awkwardly rolled a ball back and forth to Joan Laporta, before reluctantly posing for a picture with the club president. He was then handed a kit without a number, a byproduct of the Blaugrana's uncertainty over player registration during the summer of 2022. The team that had spent €65m on him and were showing him off to the world couldn't even guarantee that he would play in the coming months.

Of course, Raphinha broke out all of the standard platitudes, anyway. He described playing for Barca as a "dream come true". He noted that some of his idols had played for the club. He pledged to do whatever it took to help his team win.

Now, 10 months later, that same player has an official number and 34 league appearances to his name. He has won La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup. He has become a regular for the Brazilian national team.

But he might also be the first player to leave Barcelona in a summer of transition. The Blaugrana have lofty ambitions in the transfer market, namely in their goal to sign a certain Argentinian World Cup winner. However, they can't spend until they sell.

Raphinha, and his expected handsome transfer return, might be the key to unlocking a big summer, making him the ideal martyr that will allow his dream club to solve a litany of financial problems, and bring about the long-coveted return of Lionel Messi.

  1. A puzzling signing
    FC Barcelona

    A puzzling signing

    Barcelona's financial issues are well-chronicled at this point. According to some estimates, they need to raise somewhere in the region of €200m (£176m/$215m) in order to be able to register a few current players and sign new ones. They have already made strides in that area, allowing fringe players on lofty salaries to walk, forcing a trio of club legends out of the door, and, bafflingly, getting rid of their in-house TV network.

    But these are small dents in a massive number. Raphinha, and his likely €70m(£61m/$75m) price tag, would smash a huge chunk out of their debts.

    His signing didn't make much sense last summer. Barca, arguably, didn't need anymore attacking options. With Robert Lewandowski sealed, Ousmane Dembele enjoying a career revival, and a handful of options off the bench, right-wing wasn't a priority. Still, once it became clear that Raphinha was not keen on another season battling relegation, Leeds were looking for a buyer, and the Blaugrana paid up.

    Given the role Raphinha played in keeping Leeds in the Premier League with his 11 goals and three assists, €65m seemed like an agreeable price at the time, especially considering Chelsea were offering more. Add to that the fact that he wanted to be a Barcelona player — rejecting other clubs to play at Camp Nou — and this seemed like a solid piece of business. It may not be perfect, but here was a 25-year-old with a sumptuous left foot and passion for the club. Those players are hard to find.

    The issue is, Barcelona already had one of those. Dembele had experienced something of a turnaround at the end of the 2021-22 season, turning the barrage of boos from the Camp Nou faithful into vaguely interested applause and a new contract.

    That left Raphinha, a big-money signing, confined to the bench — at least in the big games. Barcelona knew he was, and is, a painfully one-dimensional player, a right winger and nothing else. It was always going to be a problem.

  2. How it's worked

    How it's worked

    But it hasn't been all bad. In fact, at times, Raphinha has been crucial to Barcelona's success. Dembele, predictably, picked up an injury in January and was out of action for four months, and that thrust the Brazilian into the starting XI. For the most part, he seized his moment well. His return of seven goals and four assists since the World Cup is welcome for a Blaugrana side that saw star striker Lewandowski endure something of a blip.

    Raphinha's impact stretches beyond the numbers, too. It is perhaps simplistic, but Raphinha simply wants to be on the ball. Manager Xavi's lopsided 4-4-2 formation meant that Raphinha is often the player furthest up the pitch for the Blaugrana, their most obvious out ball should they look to spring on the break. And Barcelona have used him often, with Raphinha among the top players in the world in progressive passes received, according to FBRef.

    But it is when he receives the ball that things tend to go awry. Although Raphinha is an excellent dribbler and dangerous attacking threat, the winger's decision-making leaves a lot to be desired. Too often, he is found skying a shot over the crossbar, with Lewandowski's stern, angry glare daring him to make the same decision next time.

    And therein lies the problem in what Raphinha is being asked to do. He and Dembele, although similar in position, are markedly different players. Dembele is a far more natural creator, who is notoriously allergic to hitting the back of the net. Lewandowski had developed a good relationship with the France winger over the first half of the season, an understanding he hasn't quite struck up with Raphinha — yet.

    It is of little coincidence that only one of Raphinha's four La Liga assists since Dembele's injury ended with a Lewandowski finish.

  3. In the future?
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    In the future?

    Still, there could be a long-term fit here. Xavi showed with his switch to a 4-4-2 halfway through the season that he is willing to tinker with his side. It was that switch, in fact, that got Raphinha into more advanced positions, where he has done the bulk of his damage this calendar year.

    The Blaugrana have also experimented with playing both Raphinha and Dembele in the same team in a 4-3-3 system. Most recently, the two-footed Dembele started on the left, while Raphinha settled into his more natural right-wing position. But it didn't really work for either. Dembele barely touched the ball, while Raphinha endured a forgettable game against Real Sociedad. They switched halfway through the first half, a decision that could do little to boost Barcelona's stalling attack.

    Those minutes shared on the pitch don't necessarily suggest that the two are entirely unable to play with each other, but it is clear that neither is a capable left-winger. And in a battle between Dembele and Raphinha for a spot in Barcelona's regular XI, Xavi will likely always give favour to the Frenchman.

  4. Time to sell

    Time to sell

    Whether Raphinha will willingly agree to a limited role remains to be seen. Indeed, players of his quality, experience and price tag, do not regularly accept occasional appearances. And while the Blaugrana will be fighting for the Champions League as well as La Liga next season, and will therefore need a deeper side, Raphinha would be an immensely expensive backup.

    For Barcelona, though, his price tag and quality are a good thing. Despite all of his faults as an attacking player, and his clear imperfections in this Barca system, he is still a player who could finish the season with 20 goal contributions in all competitions. There are plenty of teams around Europe — ones with deep pockets — who will pay handsomely for his services.

    There are few, if any, other players on the Blaugrana's books who represent his value. Ansu Fati has been floated as a potential departure, but the 20-year-old hasn't been fit for two years, and still looks every bit a player forcing his way back from injury. Ferran Torres, meanwhile, is a peripheral presence, a player who seems to do all of the bits that a striker should do — other than put the ball in the net.

    They can both fetch handsome returns, but neither can guarantee the €70m(£61m/$75m) someone would likely be willing to fork over for Raphinha. And Barcelona need to cash in where they can.

    Although the departures of Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets has certainly helped their finances for next season, they are still well short of being able to spend. Such a chunk of change will not be found immediately, but Raphinha's sale will be an important part of the incremental growth required.

  5. How it might work
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    How it might work

    Still, there is no real indication that Raphinha wants to leave the club. Indeed, he turned down a handful of other big teams last summer, including Chelsea, due to his desire to play for Barcelona. The worst case scenario is that this becomes an ugly replication of the Frenkie de Jong saga of last summer.

    Back then, the midfielder didn't really want to leave, and Barcelona weren't keen on letting him go, either. But he would fetch a handsome return, and was perhaps just expendable enough to flog to Manchester United. It all became a massive distraction. Barcelona, Messi hunting and all, do not want that this time around.

    This could yet get more complicated, too. Barcelona's boardroom is undergoing major changes just two weeks before the transfer window opens. Long-time Cule and highly-regarded executive Jordi Cruyff is leaving. Mateu Alemany, a crucial part of Barcelona's post-Messi revival, announced his departure, before swiftly changing his mind. Meanwhile, Deco has been added to the boardroom — a problem waiting to unfold given that he is currently Raphinha's agent.

    So, in this clash of personalities, priorities and personnel, Raphinha's presumptive sale could be botched. Seldom do clubs need to get rid of a player more than the Blaugrana need to get rid of Raphinha. It is, after all, his departure that could unlock the long-coveted signing of Messi, as well as other additions in key areas.

    Raphinha probably won't like it. Xavi might not, either. But Barcelona need cash on hand, and letting Raphinha go is the easiest way to turn a quiet summer into a free-spending one.