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Aubameyang set for Barça, but Catalans fail to offload Dembélé


Thoughout transfer deadline day, I couldn’t help thinking just how tricky the football business is. A club of the stature of Barcelona, a century-old organisation that has boasted the likes of Samitier, Kubala, Cruyff, Maradona and Messi, has spent the whole of January hanging on the whims of Ousmane Dembélé, a lad whose whole world is PlayStation, pals and pizzas. Or, worse still, hanging on the whims of his agent, who isn’t even good for the odd stepover, dribble and shot against the bar. Yesterday, Barça’s bosses worked hell for leather to offload Dembélé to Tottenham and bring in Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and in the end were only 50% successful: Aubameyang is set to join, but Dembélé is staying at the Camp Nou.

To balance the books, Aubemayang - who is to arrive as a free agent, allowing Barcelona to register him beyond the deadline - will earn very little for now, but more next season. To get themselves out of their tight financial spot, the Catalans are resorting to sweeping things under the rug. They’ve extended Samuel Umtiti’s deal in exchange for paying him less until June and more in future years, just as they persuaded top earners to defer part of their wages in the summer. Meanwhile, part of Philippe Coutinho’s salary will be paid by Aston Villa, who he has joined on loan until the end of the season. As a result, Barça have been able to sign Aubameyang, Ferran Torres and Adama Traoré (Dani Alves has also joined, but he signed before these latest financial manoeuvres).

It’s been a real high-wire act for sporting director Mateo Alemany, who does deserve credit. With cut-price signings and postponed payments, he has bolstered a forward line that had suffered another blow with Ansu Fati’s latest injury. It’s clear that the players brought in aren’t in the same class as the likes of the recently departed Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi, but that’s the way things are. Dembélé is staying, and is not going to be winning any popularity contests, as he has been fiercely insensitive to the needs of the club. But while he’s there, Barça may as well use him. They simply must finish at least fourth in LaLiga, and could do with winning the Europa League, too. They’re going to need everyone.