SAN JOSE, Calif — Barcelona vice president Jordi Mestre sat down with ESPN FC to mull over the club’s tour of the United States, this summer’s activity in the transfer market and the idea that Real Madrid’s Champions League success overshadowed the Catalans’ domestic double last season.
What’s been the highlight of this year’s U.S trip?
We’ve had the ladies team here with us for the first time in history and we’re very glad to share the tour with them. We made the presentation for the first sponsor of the women’s team’s jersey with Stanley Black & Decker. So for us it’s been a very good experience. It’s also been good for the team as well, [joining the tour with the men] for the first time in history.
What do Barcelona learn while they’re in the U.S?
Sports in the United States are very developed, very well developed: TV rights, marketing, ticketing, everything. The back office here is very strong and very developed. I am sure we can learn a lot of things. In fact, our team, our marketing and commercial team came with us, to share experiences and to share knowledge.
The club have a number of academies in the country now, what are they for?
We have important [soccer] schools all around the world. Since [the current board] came into the club in 2010, I think we have doubled or trebled the number of schools around the world. Here in the U.S, it’s very important because soccer is very important for young players. We are trying to bring our playing model to the country, our Barca DNA, and we are very successful. Every year we try to open new schools with our partners.
With the aim of a kid from the U.S reaching Barca’s first team?
Why not? In fact, our schools are very careful about taking care of future promises. If they found a special player, for sure they would let us know. And why not? Maybe, in the near future, we have an American player in our first team.
Do you have an eye on the American market when it comes to signings?
Yes, but it will take time. Compared to Europe, soccer in the U.S is a young sport. But they are improving a lot. They have some very good players in the national team. The women’s team, they were world champions. You can see how much soccer is improving in the U.S.
How do a club like Barcelona go about signings?
Malcom, for example, was observed and studied by our scouting team since 2014. So it depends. It depends on the other club, [and] the player’s opinion is very important as well. It happens like that usually, a long process. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, sometimes it takes months. In this case, it took weeks [once we decided to make the move]. But we have been following Malcom for four years. Some transfers can be quick, others not so. It depends on the player and the club.
As vice president, what’s your involvement?
Every player we take, we contract, basically is based on technical aspects. So, first of all, we get the scouting reports, they go to the staff, to [general manager] Pep Segura and now [sporting director] Eric Abidal and so on. And, at the last stage, it’s a question of money. If it’s in the budget, no problem. If it’s not in the budget, it depends on how much the other club is asking for, the player’s salary. From the board and the CEO, we only take care of economical aspects at the very final stage. We don’t decide what players must come in and what players must go out.
There have been four signings this summer. Are there more to come?
We will see. Mainly, it’s done because we have signed four players, the most recent being Arturo Vidal. But we will see. Maybe there will be a huge opportunity before the end of August, but for the moment we are finished.
But there are sales to be made?
It’s difficult because people say we don’t sell well and we don’t buy well. So, it seems we don’t do anything well. But it’s not a question of doing or not doing well. It’s about the market opportunities, the other clubs, the player, the player’s age, if he’s playing for the club. It’s a lot of aspects. Not only if we like the player or want to sell the player. We have to think about a lot of aspects.
And competing with the Premier League can be tough with the money available in England.
La Liga is always looking at the Premier League [asking] what are they doing? In La Liga two teams are very important for TV rights: Real Madrid and Barcelona. But we will see because Real Madrid this year, Cristiano Ronaldo is not there. We need both aspects. We need the competition between Real Madrid and Barcelona. But, I think to compete against the Premier League, we need La Liga [to be] very strong. Otherwise, La Liga will decrease in income and in interest.
Should there be a more even split of TV rights, for example, in Spain?
They get much more money in the Premier League, I think triple of La Liga. So it’s easy to share or split the quantity so that lower teams get big amounts. In La Liga, it’s not the same. We did [improve the distribution] last year because we know we, I mean Barca, to be competitive as a La Liga, we need strong teams. Not only Barca and Real Madrid. That doesn’t create interest alone. We need other teams to increase interest around the world.
Barca signed Marcus McGuane from Arsenal this year. As English youngsters continue to do well at international level, could we see the club move for more of them?
I must say that English teams take some players from us. It works both ways. This is the business. Hector Bellerin, for instance. And not only English teams: Monaco as well, German teams, French teams. This is the business now. We have a very good youth academy, La Masia. We try to keep our players, but sometimes teams come in with a lot of money and it’s impossible to compete against them.
Sometimes it can be about progress as well, though?
It depends. For instance, some players look which player is in [Barca’s] first team in their position and they say it’s impossible. If they’re old players [in their position], they might say, ‘I will wait for two or three years.’ But if they’re young players, they might say, ‘I will never play in this team.’ So there’s a sporting aspect as well, and another one is money. Some families need money and that’s the question.
What’s a successful season for Barca?
Look, in our club, all teams must win everything. From the beginning. We think we have a team, first team, to win everything: to win [the] Champions League, La Liga and the Spanish Cup. At least, for the board, we would win two of them. And, if possible, at least arrive to the final of the Champions League. But the other teams are playing as well. It’s not easy because they want the same.
Did Madrid’s Champions League success cloud Barca’s domestic dominance last year?
Look, Real Madrid won the Champions League, OK, but we took from them I don’t remember how many points in La Liga: 14? 16? Leganes beat Real Madrid in the Copa. OK, if they want to win only the Champions League, but we must compete for all competitions. If you say, OK, I leave La Liga and I leave the Copa, so I play only for Champions League. It’s a different strategy. But we don’t want to do that.
How’s the squad looking this season?
[Andres] Iniesta has gone and we know it’s impossible to ever have a player like him. Some players are unique: Xavi, Iniesta, [Carles] Puyol. … So we didn’t bring [Philippe] Coutinho to replace Iniesta. We brought him because he’s a very good player. So we will see because Iniesta, Xavi, Puyol played in our club since they were kids. Coutinho and so on, when they came to Barcelona, our team, they must wait at least one season to get comfortable with our system, with our players. But I think this year we have a very balanced team. We have reinforced defence, midfield, Malcom further forward. We will see how things go.