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PETE JENSON: Luis Suarez is being ruthlessly dumped by Barcelona, and here’s why

In the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final of the Champions League only one rival player was able to beat Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

The goal that Luis Suarez scored low under the dive of the world’s best keeper, after he had rounded Jerome Boateng, now looks like being his last for Barcelona.

Suarez was called by new coach Ronald Koeman on Monday and told he needed to find another club.

Treating the third-highest goalscorer in Barcelona’s history like a journeyman loanee denied a second season was lacking in class. The leaking of the story also seemed shoddy.

Everybody wondered who leaked the news that Lionel Messi had told Koeman he felt ‘more out than in’ at the club. This leak to the same Catalan radio station had most in Barcelona surmising that it’s the club making Koeman’s discussions with players public knowledge. Of course there’s no hiding Messi’s unhappiness now following his fax to the club stating his intention to leave on a free transfer.

But while a potential legal battle over Messi’s future looms, Suarez will certainly go for free. Estimates put his salary at €15million (£13.5m) a season, so that amount at least will be saved. 

But why get rid of a player who will not raise a transfer fee? Especially when you will have to pay off a decent size portion of his final year.

Why get rid of a player who, even in a below-par season last year, scored 21 goals in 36 games and provided 12 assists? And why further upset Messi by ditching his closest pal? 

There’s a good answer to each of those questions.

First the tactic of getting rid of players who don’t raise a fee – Barcelona have been trying to sell players who in theory ought to raise a fee for over a year now without success.

They have tried to sell Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti but the latter two have not raised a sufficient level of interest and the best they were able to manage with Coutinho was to loan him to Bayern, who paid €8.5million (£7.6m) and covered his wages.

Now they are turning to players who have one year left on their contracts – Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal all have deals ending in 2021, although Suarez was due another year if he had played more than 60 per cent of matches next season.

Players with a year left are easier to shift. Moving Jordi Alba on when his contract runs until 2024 was always a fanciful idea.

It’s also true that the wage bill is Barcelona’s biggest problem. If it was around 60 per cent of revenue before the pandemic it will creep up to 80 per cent post pandemic and that is completely unsustainable – big earners have to go. The club could sell Martin Braithwaite and get a fee for him but they prefer to lose a big earner and keep a player who is on one of the lowest contracts at the club.

The financial black hole that Barcelona could easily be sucked into in the coming seasons cannot be underestimated. 

Smaller clubs in Spain get as much as 90 per cent of their income from the TV deal which should not change greatly as games continue to be transmitted. But for Barcelona the television money only makes around 25 per cent of overall income. They rely so heavily on match-day ticket sales, and all that surrounds the football tourism industry so ravaged by the pandemic.

As for missing out on all those goals – 198 in 283 games, plus 97 assists – Koeman is convinced he can revive Antoine Griezmann by playing him more centrally. 

He’s already gone public over his feeling that Griezmann under-performed because he was played for the most part on the wing last season. It’s true Griezmann started his career as a winger but he had long since been transformed into a more central forward by Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid.

In a 4-2-3-1 with Griezmann as the No 9 and Messi – if he is convinced to stay – behind him flanked by Francisco Trincao or Dembele on the right and Ansu Fati or Coutinho on the left, there ought to be goals in the team – although there are doubts about whether Griezmann will be any happier operating as the furthest forward player being battered by centre-backs than he was playing wide.

Which brings us the third question. Messi likes Suarez. Aside from their excellent relationship off the pitch he saw him as the perfect foil on the pitch. Why sell Messi’s mate?

Barcelona right now don’t seem to be too bothered what Messi thinks. New coach Koeman is playing hardball. 

In his maiden press conference he questioned whether he really needed to ‘convince Messi to stay’. He has also said he doesn’t want to work with anyone who doesn’t want to be at the club.

It’s no longer just a far-fetched conspiracy theory that part of the board would not mind if Messi left. Messi’s salary works out at around £95m per year. Messi believes he can leave for free, but if Barca won that battle yet still lost him for a fee – let’s say £90m, well short of his £632m buy-out clause – then the club would be £185m up. That sort of money would certainly help sort out the finances.

Some even have their fingers crossed that Inter, backed by the owner of Suning Holdings, Zhang Jindong, and his son, the club president, Steven Zhang, will finance the move.

Of course it can’t be suggested and it still might not happen but if Messi were to leave it would solve certain problems for the outgoing board who need to leave the finances in better shape than they are currently in. 

It’s notable that Suarez, Vidal and Alba, the three players Messi is closest to – are all either up for sale or have been threatened with being sold.

And of course there is one more reason why selling Suarez suits Barcelona. When the club wins no trophies in a season and appears in institutional chaos it helps to be able to point the finger of blame elsewhere.

The 33-year-old, who scored that ultimately meaningless goal in Lisbon, is an easy target in these unusual times.

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