"I'm wiped out," said one member of Barcelona's recruitment team after sleeping for just three of four hours following one of the most frenetic days in memory at the offices at the club's out-of-town training ground. A day full of sandwiches, pizzas for dinner, telephone calls, emails and negotiations.
At the centre of the action was director of football Mateu Alemany and technical secretary Ramon Planes. "We've never had a deadline day like that," said one club employee.
The day started with most of the work done, but with some deals to finalise. And one of them, the departure of Antoine Griezmann, was one of the most difficult operations in recent years. But it was the club's big priority.
The exits of Ilaix Moriba to RB Leipzig, Rey Manag to Spezia and Emeron Royal to Tottenham were all on track. In fact, the club made official announcements on all of them in the early evening on Tuesday.
After announcing that the captains Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba had agreed pay cuts to allow Sergio Aguero to be registered with LaLiga, it was confirmed that Ilaix (18.12 CET), Rey Manag (18.52) and Emerson (19.25) had departed. Having accepted that Miralem Pjanic was set to stay, the most important objective left, keeping in mind a move was also being sought for Alex Collado, was to get rid of Griezmann and bring in a forward, per coach Ronald Koeman's request.
The departure of Griezmann was more or less an obligation due to the club's disastrous financial situation. Getting rid of the almost 40 million euros he earns gross annually was a priority. Knowing that the player only wanted to return to Atletico Madrid, weeks ago they had sounded out a swap deal for Saul Niguez.
Griezmann, condemned to leave
"We would have swapped Griezmann for Donald Duck. Not because it's Griezmann, but because of his salary. We can't take it on anymore," the club explain. So Alemany suggested another swap with Atletico Madrid, this time for Joao Felix. It was the perfect play. Goodbye to the Frenchman, who had also not delivered on the pitch at the start of this season, and hello to a new forward to strengthen Koeman's attack. "Even though it seems like a lie because some information suggests otherwise, the truth is there were moments when that deal was about to happen," sources elaborate. Diego Simeone had said yes to the swap. He wanted Griezmann back and he doesn't have too much faith in Felix, given he also has Luis Suarez, Correa and now Mathues Cunha in attack.
Koeman was also happy with the agreement. But the deal was blocked by Miguel Angel Gil Marin, Atletico's CEO. "There was a moment when it was about to be done, but Gil Marin got scared," sources close to the talks add. He didn't want to let the club's record signing, 127 million euros, young and with potential, leave the club only to then see him succeed at Camp Nou.
Atletico Madrid were keen to bring Griezmann back, though, so continue to work on it as Barça looked at other options to replace him. Edinson Cavani was offered but the club didn't take the offer up, while there was a quick conversation with Leipzig about Dani Olmo, taking advantage of talks over Ilaix. Barça could not pay the 75 million euro asking price. Luuk de Jong was chosen.
Barça had been offered him weeks ago and activated their interest following Koeman's blessing. He knows the striker from the Dutch national team and feels he can be useful at certain moments, a profile of player the squad does not have. Barça called Sevilla sporting director Monchi at around 6pm.
Sevilla wanted to move him on because coach Julen Lopetegui did not count on him. A loan was agreed while Sevilla tried to sign Seferovic. They didn't manage to pull it off but they respected the agreement with Barça, which was conditioned by Griezmann's move to Atletico and, at the same time, Saul's move from Atletico to Chelsea. Barça had agreed an initial loan for Griezmann with a 40 million euro buy option. All three deals came through. The documentation reached LaLiga in time. Before the midnight deadline.
Hours passed while LaLiga revised the paperwork. With the OK of the Spanish league, at around 3am in the morning, Barça's recruitment team left the training ground. At 1.22am, Griezmann's move was announced. De Jong came later, at 3.30am. Mission accomplished. There's still no time for rest, though. Barça have to find a home for Alex Collado after his move to Sheffield United fell through. They are also insisting on moving on Pjanic, who could join a league where the transfer window is still open. There's still work to be done.