It’s no secret that Barcelona have struggled with numbers in recent years.
Whether that’s the club’s dire accounts, the sizeable figure inexplicably handed to the vice-president of Spanish football’s refereeing committee or the digit which their Masia graduate Gavi will wear.
The teenage midfield tyro burst into the club’s first-team setup last season draped in the number 30, reflecting his status as an academy player. After a stellar debut campaign, Gavi was rewarded with a new contract that brought a hefty pay hike and new squad number.
Gavi has donned the number six shirt which his current manager Xavi wore with such distinction since February. Yet, just as suddenly as he had inherited the digit, Gavi lost it and was back in his old 30 for Barcelona’s 4-0 thumping of Elche on Saturday. But why?
Here’s the murky background behind the quintupling of Gavi’s squad number.
Gavi’s shirt number is merely the pawn in an ill-tempered game of chess between Barcelona and La Liga.
Gavi was given a new contract by Barcelona all the way back in September but was not allowed to wear the squad number – in Spain, first-team registered players only wear 1-25 – which came with the agreement until the new year as La Liga refused to accept his new registration.
La Liga’s budget regulations are among the strictest in Europe and the powers that be in charge of Spain’s top flight – chiefly president Javier Tebas – did not take too kindly to Barcelona’s conduct in the summer window as the Catalan giants made use of various financial ‘levers’ as a loophole to fund numerous transfers and contract renewals.
La Liga had previously informed Barcelona that Gavi could not be registered as a senior player but the club considered ‘that all necessary requirements had been met’ and claimed that the rejection was part of ‘a harassment campaign’. And so, Barcelona appealed to a Catalan court to adopt ‘the unusual, provisional measure’ – as the club itself described it – to register Gavi as a first-team player. The court agreed. But only temporarily.
The injunction gave Barcelona 20 working days to file a separate case to cement their argument but – with a piece of characteristic mismanagement – the club failed to meet the deadline. Barcelona turned in their documents on 2 March and La Liga pounced upon the lack of punctuality.
Barcelona claim they filed the paperwork in time but on Tuesday, 28 March, the courst accepted La Liga’s challenge and revoked the injunction, thereby disregarding Gavi’s new contract and relegating the midfielder to the status of an academy player, pointing the way back to his snug number 30.
All of this fuss is not just over a shirt number. Rather, Barcelona are more concerned with the figure staring back at them if they fail to get Gavi to pen a new contract; zero.
Before signing in September, the teenager’s initial deal expired in June 2023. Now that La Liga have successfully argued that Gavi’s improved contract – which included a €1bn release clause – is invalid, Barcelona’s number 30 will be a free agent this summer.
Barcelona’s financial ruin cannot be understated, but few clubs could afford to give away one of their best players for free. 90min understands that Gavi is keen to stay at Barcelona but the Catalans will have to dig back into their bag of financial jiggery-pokery to ensure that they can even afford to offer him a new deal.
After being forced to watch Lionel Messi leave for free in the summer of 2021, Barcelona fans may have to look on as another diminutive talent skulks out of the back door without a euro in compensation.