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Barcelona Keep or Dump: Will Messi stay? Can Dembele, Coutinho, Pjanic raise funds?

Keep or Dump series: Arsenal | Bayern | Man United

Barcelona could learn a thing or two from their women’s team who won both league and Champions League this season. The men let the Spanish title slip away with one win in five games, were hammered by PSG in the Champions League round of 16, and had to rely on the Copa del Rey for silverware salvation as they beat Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in the final. Oh, and they’ve also had to contend with star player Lionel Messi’s desire to leave, a boardroom meltdown, a presidential election, and a debt level that has reached around €1.2 billion — which the doomed European Super League was supposed to fix.

All in all, it’s been a rough season on and off the pitch. Still, returning president Joan Laporta said a “cycle has ended” and warned big decisions will be made as a “renewal process” begins. Laporta has some financial plans, but the club will mostly be targeting free transfers, like Manchester City‘s Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia, Paris Saint-Germain‘s Memphis Depay or Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum.

The wage bill needs to come down, which may mean Messi moves on when his contract expires this summer, though sources have told ESPN that the club want to offer him a new three-year deal. And there is the need to oust a number of under-performing stars as well, particularly in defence.

With that in mind, here’s a player-by-player analysis of the existing Barcelona squad. Where a player is simply marked “Keep,” the decision was beyond any reasonable doubt.

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Various factors are taken into consideration including age, wages, character and contract length (we went with Transfermarkt for contract expiry dates for consistency). And there will be moving parts, too: departures or arrivals that cause chain reactions, sometimes unexpected.

Note: Some players have contracts that include the option of a further year on expiry. For consistency, all contracts below relate to the primary year of expiration.

Jump to: Defenders | Midfielders | Forwards | Overall assessment

GOALKEEPERS

Marc-Andre ter Stegen (29 years old, contract expires in 2025)

HUNTER: There’s plenty of clubs who would want to sign him, no question. But he remains a team leader, rarely drops form and has the attributes Barcelona need in a goalkeeper. He’s a keeper.

LOWE: Watching games in empty stadiums has underlined what a quiet team Barcelona are. Ter Stegen is one of the few who even talks. He’s a leader, a consistent performer, and should see out his entire career at Camp Nou.

VERDICT: Keep

Neto (31, 2023)

HUNTER: He is too good to be kicking his heels on the bench at Barcelona and is blocking the progress of two academy prospects. He could raise a bit of much-needed cash.

LOWE: Signed for the wrong reasons: more financial engineering than footballing. Now should be allowed to move on for both footballing and finance reasons. And for his own sake.

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €10m)

Inaki Pena (22, 2023)

LOWE: Did you see the recent penalty shootout against UCAM Murcia where he saved four? He should be No. 2, though that means he won’t get as many minutes as with the B team. Give him the Copa del Rey, at least.

VERDICT: Keep and extend if he impresses

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1:32

Herculez Gomez says Barcelona are at their best when USMNT’s Sergino Dest is a contributing member on the pitch.

DEFENDERS

Samuel Umtiti (27, 2023)

HUNTER: The Frenchman has a fighter’s attitude but has also attracted a fighter’s injuries… and reputation with the officials. He’s a smashing left-footed passer of the ball but is too slow defensively and has to go. Eric Garcia can replace him when he arrives on a free transfer.

LOWE: Sad to say, Umtiti just can’t do it anymore because of his knee. Give him a chance somewhere else, if any clubs are interested.

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €10m)

Clement Lenglet (25, 2026)

HUNTER: His obvious value as a left-footed centre-back is overruled by his persistent tendency to get sent off/gift own goals/commit penalty fouls.

LOWE: At times he seems low-key excellent. And then the inevitable error happens. The most accident-prone player in Spain. Not always his fault, and you suspect he might go somewhere else and play well, but Barca should let him go if there’s an offer… which there should be.

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €25m)

Gerard Pique (34, 2024)

HUNTER: He may have meniscus problems with his knee coming down the line but he is still hungry and the boss of the backline. He helped land the shirt sponsor in 2016 and signed a new contract in October 2020.

LOWE: If there was a good offer for him, Barca would let him go. But, at 34, there won’t be. He is still a leader, still important, still understands the game better than anyone else. But the truth is that he’s not as good.

VERDICT: Keep

Ronald Araujo (22, 2023)

HUNTER: Potentially a huge talent for this club. But every top side in Europe is looking for a talented young centre-back. Moreover, he eventually wants to play in the Premier League. Only let him go if the price is around €100m and helps the club’s horrible debt situation. Otherwise extend him to preserve his value next year.

LOWE: Keep and play him. Now. Every game. Stop messing about with him.

VERDICT: Keep and extend

Jean-Clair Todibo (21, 2023)

LOWE: Seems to have everything you need from a centre-back and his lack of opportunities has surprised at times, but something is clearly missing. He wants to turn his loan at Nice permanent, while the emergence of Araujo and Oscar Mingueza (and the potential arrival of Garcia) makes his future at Barcelona even less promising.

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €8.5m)

Oscar Mingueza (22, 2023)

HUNTER: Raw and over-enthusiastic, but reminiscent of the legendary Carles Puyol at the same age. Fast, daring and has pretty good distribution — especially down the wing — he is a local boy who loves the club.

LOWE: Although my enthusiasm for Mingueza is less than for Araujo, keep, absolutely. Unless there’s a risk of him not getting minutes and then maybe look to loan him.

VERDICT: Keep

Jordi Alba (32, 2024)

HUNTER: A revelation. He has a long contract, no desire to leave and no clubs really interested in signing him at this stage of his career. But the upgrade in attitude, performance and attacking threat during 2020-21 was so enormous that Luis Enrique recalled him for Spain..

LOWE: The Alba Conundrum. Still better than anyone else; yet in “those” moments, he is still the player in the photo of the disaster. Keep, but worry about the big games against the best opponents.

VERDICT: Keep

Sergino Dest (20, 2025)

HUNTER: Irrespective of whether manager and mentor Ronald Koeman stays or not, this kid has attitude, talent and pace. He can play left or right, though is still very tentative, particularly using the ball high up the pitch. Develop and see how he goes.

LOWE: Develop. This is the key. The material is there, but the player is not yet. Move him on if there’s a really big offer. If not, give him some continuity.

VERDICT: Keep

Sergi Roberto (29, 2022)

HUNTER: Roberto is extremely football smart, reliable in two or three positions and has spent his whole career at Barcelona. While not athletically fast, he has a quick brain. In non-financial crisis times you would keep him but he could raise some much-needed funds in the final year of his contract.

LOWE: Useful if you keep; useful to raise money if you let him go. It depends what’s out there but he’s too often a scapegoat.

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €20m)

Junior Firpo (24, 2024)

HUNTER: He’s not got much football intelligence, though other teams will like his rangy pace and occasional goal threat.

LOWE: Oddly wooden. Seemed a good signing from Betis in 2019 — a no brainer in fact — but he hasn’t been. A club in England like West Ham or Arsenal will probably still want him.

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €10m)

Moussa Wague (22, 2023)

HUNTER: He’s not got the right skillset for what’s coming at Camp Nou, so it’s time to move on.

LOWE: Unlikely to find a club to take him on as he’s not impressed on loan at Nice or PAOK, but if they can find one then let him go.

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €4m)

MIDFIELDERS

Frenkie de Jong (24, 2026)

HUNTER: The Dutchman is an exceptional player and is gradually becoming a team leader too. He shouldn’t be shunted around positionally as he’s a key Barcelona element immediately and in future.

LOWE: Keep. Encourage. Liberate.

VERDICT: Keep

Pedri (18, 2022)

HUNTER: Phenomenal. The brilliant simplicity of a young Andres Iniesta, positional vision of Sergio Busquets. Nobody should be this wise this young. Keep him forever.

LOWE: Keep. Protect. Build around.

VERDICT: Keep

Philippe Coutinho (28, 2023)

HUNTER: Nice bloke, but he’s been a horrible fit at Barcelona since his €160m move from Liverpool in 2018. Too individualistic in a “system” team, he has lacked confidence, has struggled with injury and doesn’t work hard enough defensively.

LOWE: Not entirely his fault, but a symbol of Barcelona’s abject failure. Dump. But then they’ve been trying to move him on for a while now.

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €40m)

Miralem Pjanic (31, 2024)

HUNTER: He hasn’t reached the heights of his form at Juventus and has been eclipsed by younger talent this season. But he has a reputation and CV which can yield some income. Liverpool midfielder Wijnaldum could replace him if Barca sign him on a free this summer.

LOWE: His signing (in a “swap” deal plus €12m for Arthur with Juventus) was a disgrace. Brought to the club for all the wrong reasons, his performances haven’t impressed. Is he any good? In Spain, who knows?

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €30m)

Sergio Busquets (32, 2023)

HUNTER: He commands a large salary but so long as the coach is Koeman, or Xavi, and the midfield is populated with teammates who’ll do defensive running for him, his footballing brain remains absolutely elite. His best season for some years but the club will want to lose his salary when his contract expires.

LOWE: I would always prefer to see a player like this finish his career at the club he started with, but if there’s a massive offer then Barca should take it.

VERDICT: Keep

Carles Alena (22, 2023)

HUNTER: A nice footballer whose chance in the first team has come and gone. There will be plenty of other clubs interested when he returns from loan at Getafe and he’s the type of player who Barcelona can’t afford to keep loaning out.

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €15m)

Matheus Fernandes (22, 2025)

HUNTER: Only joined in August 2020 from Palmeiras for around €7m but he’s not good enough to make it at Barcelona.

LOWE: Who? He’s played one game. Move him on and find out who recommended him.

VERDICT: Dump (Estimated fee: €5m)

Riqui Puig (21, 2023)

HUNTER: Every time he plays, he thrills, but he’s not played enough. Has shown he has all the skills, but needs to develop with first-team football. Keep and loan to a club like Celta for vital experience.

LOWE: Keep him and play him. If you can’t, then loan. I agree, Villarreal or Celta would be a nice fit.

VERDICT: Keep and loan

Ilaix Moriba (18, 2022)

HUNTER: An unbelievable gem who is ready for the first team already — a rarity for an 18-year-old. The midfielder is going to be a leader, a scorer, an icon of the coming years. Vital that he signs a new long-term contract as soon as possible so that he’s a cornerstone of the future and that his release clause is prohibitive.

LOWE: Keep and play him every week.

VERDICT: Keep and extend

play

0:42

Julien Laurens and Gab Marcotti discuss the rumours linking Memphis Depay and Sergio Aguero to Barcelona.

FORWARDS

Lionel Messi (33, 2021)

HUNTER: Keep if he’s going to be happy, inspired, sharp and focused. And if you can afford to pay his wages. But if he’s not happy with the financial offer or returns from this summer’s Copa America tired, grumpy and not fully sure that he wants to be at Camp Nou, he’ll leave of his own accord when his contract expires.

LOWE: Keep? Dump? It’s not your decision, Barcelona… It’s his.

VERDICT: Keep and extend if they can

Antoine Griezmann (30, 2024)

HUNTER: It depends on who the coach is… If Koeman is still there then the decision is in the balance as they blow hot and cold. If Koeman leaves, then Griezmann will want to stay. He has more to give and you can’t find a player of his quality easily.

LOWE: Brilliant player. Good person and professional too. And yet, it’s so hard to judge this one. If a big offer comes in, that might make Barcelona’s decision for them. But if Messi goes, Griezmann should stay and Barca should sign a partner who can give him confidence.

VERDICT: Keep and assess

Ansu Fati (18, 2022)

HUNTER: Keep, for sure, but work hard to get him cured of his meniscus problems and fit again. He also needs a new contract, though his current buyout clause of €400m is at least prohibitive.

LOWE: Keep. Of course. But, frankly, his knee injury is a worry. What if it never happens for him?

VERDICT: Keep and extend

Ousmane Dembele (24, 2022)

HUNTER: Tough one. No player, with the possible exception of PSG’s Neymar, can go from 0-60mph with the ball at his feet quite like Dembele. But can he continue to stay fit and become a more reliable scorer? Only let him go if an offer over €80m comes in. Otherwise, extend him.

LOWE: He could have been something special, and maybe still could one day, but Barca should take any offer while they still can. This is no longer a kid in his first season and his injury issues have hindered him since a €105m move from Dortmund in 2017.

VERDICT: Split Keep / Dump (Estimated fee: €50m)

Francisco Trincao (21, 2025)

HUNTER: The young Portugal winger is more than good enough to be a Barcelona player. He only arrived in August 2020 for €31m from Braga and his future depends on what the club manage to do with other players around him. He is worth some patience and a loan may be best.

LOWE: Too young and too talented to give up on, but he won’t get a lot of opportunities, especially if Barca sign Memphis Depay this summer.

VERDICT: Keep and loan

Martin Braithwaite (29, 2024)

HUNTER: An admirable player, Braithwaite is determined to stay and is capable of being very stubborn. Barca haven’t got much to spend, so keep him unless there is an offer too good to ignore.

LOWE: Useful as a squad player and at a reasonable salary. But if there’s an offer and he wants to go, then let him.

VERDICT: Keep and assess (Estimated fee: €10m)

Konrad De La Fuente (19, 2022)

HUNTER: Loads of potential but the United States international needs higher level tests than Barcelona B. Sources told ESPN the club are open to offers, but they should send him out on loan and see how he does. They also have an option to extend his contract until 2024.

VERDICT: Keep, extend and loan

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

With a financial situation that needs action, not words, Barcelona are facing a tough summer. Messi’s future is key as they will want to keep him — both for PR reasons and also because he’s still arguably the best player in the world — but the savings they would make on his wages could allow them some breathing space. They would, however, need to replace him. No easy task.

Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero is available on a free transfer and could be a good option to bolster the attack, though he is 32. Having made the poor decision to let Luis Suarez move to Atletico Madrid, where he promptly won them La Liga, sources told ESPN that Barca see Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland as the outstanding candidate to lead the team’s attack for the next decade, but they will have to wait until 2022 when his €75m release clause kicks in. As a result, Real Sociedad‘s Alexander Isak, Villarreal‘s Gerard Moreno and Benfica‘s Darwin Nunez could be options, especially if Braithwaite doesn’t stay.

In midfield, our assessment would see youngsters like Puig and Moriba offered more chances if the club could raise funds by letting Pjanic and Coutinho go. While the arrival of Depay and Wijnaldum could plug some gaps should Dembele depart.

Defensively, if Umtiti and Lenglet are allowed to leave, Garcia would replace them, while Araujo and Mingueza would also play more minutes. Though with Pique turning 34, another versatile defender or two may be required — perhaps Real BetisAissa Mandi, who is available on a free, or Arsenal‘s Hector Bellerin — if Barca are to challenge across all competitions again.

The club are also exploring replacements for manager Koeman, but president Laporta doesn’t want to sack him without having a successor in place, multiple sources have told ESPN. Barca recently sounded out Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick, who is likely to take up the vacant Germany job instead when he leaves Bayern this month, while a source close to club legend Xavi told ESPN he is in no rush to take on the top job at Camp Nou, having just extended his contract as coach of Qatari side Al-Sadd.

Unlike previous years, Barca won’t be able to spend their way out of trouble. Youth will play a part, but their decision-making on some key players will also shape their future. With or without Messi.

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