Barcelona's financial woes have created one of the strangest contract demands in recent memory.
The Spanish football club asked midfielder Frenkie de Jong to annul the lucrative contract extension he signed in 2020 and threatened legal action against him, according to The Athletic's David Ornstein. Barcelona reportedly sent a letter to de Jong on July 15 explaining the team "found evidence of criminal actions on behalf of the parties who signed his renewal on October 20, 2020."
"The letter sent to De Jong last month is thought to inform the Dutchman that Barcelona think they are in a position to initiate criminal proceedings to establish what happened in relation to the signing of his contract and ascertain where responsibility resides for the supposed wrongdoing," Ornstein wrote. "It is believed to then express Barcelona’s wish to rescind the deal and proceed with De Jong’s career at the Camp Nou under the conditions agreed when he arrived from Ajax in January 2019."
It should be noted that former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu and the entire executive board resigned on Oct. 27, 2020. Joan Laporta was elected as the club's new president on March 7, 2021.
This appears to be Barcelona's last resort to save money after de Jong refused take a pay cut earlier this year. Barcelona eventually agreed to send de Jong to Manchester United, though his transfer hasn't been finalized yet.
But Evgeniy Levchenko, the chairman of the Dutch players’ union, is worried Barcelona will try to "extort" de Jong by benching him if he doesn't want to leave the club.
"Barcelona have complete responsibility," Levchenko said in July. "The club’s long-term policy is dramatic. It is crazy when players have to pay for the financial mess."
Barcelona maintains they want to keep de Jong, but they may not have a choice anymore.
La Liga already won't register the club's newest transfers which include Raphinha, Robert Lewandowski, Jules Koundé, Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen because they might not meet the league's financial fair play requirements. The club is reportedly €1.3 billion in debt and €-144 million under the league's salary cap. Barcelona already sold up to 25 percent of their LaLiga TV money for up to 25 years but needs more money to make up the difference necessary to maintain solvency.
Jettisoning de Jong or agreeing to a pay cut would certainly help, too. Barcelona is also reportedly engaged in "similar conversations" with Gerard Pique and Marc-Andre ter Stegen for possible reduced salaries as well.
The entire situation is finicky and frustrating for the league, its fans and the club's players. And until the alleged "criminality" is revealed in de Jong's deal, the ordeal will remain mysterious.