MADRID (AP) — It was a mix of good news and bad news for Barcelona at the end of the winter transfer window on Monday.
The Catalan club was close to making official the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after reaching a deal with the Arsenal striker just before the deadline, but it couldn’t get disgruntled forward Ousmane Dembélé to leave and will likely have to stay with the France forward until his contract ends in June.
It was about half-past midnight in Barcelona (2300 GMT) when president Joan Laporta left the club’s offices giving a thumbs-up sign and raising his right fist into the air after reportedly closing the deal with Aubameyang. The striker left moments later, sporting a broad smile and also giving a thumbs-up sign.
The transfer window closed at midnight but Barcelona gained some extra time to make the deal official because Aubameyang reportedly became a free agent before the deadline. The official announcement was expected on Tuesday.
Aubameyang arrived in the Catalan city earlier in the day to finalize negotiations with Barcelona after being stripped of the captaincy at Arsenal for disciplinary reasons. He was reportedly late returning from a personal trip.
The Gabon striker went to the African Cup of Nations but didn’t play after being diagnosed with heart lesions during his recovery from the coronavirus.
The 32-year-old Aubameyang, Arsenal’s highest-paid player, reportedly had to accept a hefty pay cut to join Barcelona as the club doesn’t have a lot of salary cap space.
It has been slowly restructuring its finances after it couldn’t keep Lionel Messi at the end of last season. Barcelona recently signed Spain international Ferran Torres only after defender Samuel Umtiti agreed to a salary reduction similar to the cuts other squad players had to take last year.
Barcelona also brought back forward Adama Traoré on loan from Wolverhampton until the end of the season, and re-signed veteran Brazil defender Dani Alves after a stint in Brazilian soccer.
The arrival of Aubameyang will help Barcelona make up for the loss of Sergio Aguero, who had to retire last year because of a heart condition.
Barcelona told Dembélé he had to find a new team after his agents rejected several offers to renew his contract over the last six months. Soccer director Mateu Alemany said the club wanted only “players who are committed to the future of the team.”
Dembélé said he would not give in to blackmail and left open the possibility of staying at Barcelona, which reportedly set a 20-million-euro ($22.3-million-euro) fee for the 24-year-old forward, who can leave for free when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Spanish media said Paris Saint-Germain was negotiating a possible transfer for the player, and Laporta said there were talks of a negotiation with an English club. The club president hinted the deal depended on Dembélé accepting it.
Barcelona broke its own record to sign Dembélé from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 with a deal, including add-ons, worth 147 million euros (then $175 million). Many fans questioned the transfer as it used up a good chunk of the 220 million euros (then $262 million) that Barcelona received from PSG for Neymar just weeks before.
Dembélé was injured for long stretches of his first two seasons and established himself as a regular starter only last term. He has played sparingly this season because of injuries and the coronavirus.
Barcelona said Dembélé was a “no-show” in reporting for its last league match before the international break “because of an upset stomach.” Before that, coach Xavi Hernández had not included him for a Copa del Rey game.
In the previous transfer window, Barcelona was able to clear some salary cap space by sending France forward Antoine Griezmann on loan to Atlético Madrid.
ATLÉTICO SIGNS DEFENDER
Atlético, the defending Spanish league champion, acquired Mozambican left back Reinildo Mandava from French club Lille on a contract until 2025.
Atlético said the “very strong player ... is very difficult to overcome and very forceful in one on one” situations. The 28-year-old defender played in Portugal before joining Lille in 2019.
Financial details of the deal were not immediately available.
GIL TO VALENCIA
Valencia reached an agreement for the loan of young Spain international Bryan Gil from Tottenham until the end of the season. The 20-year-old forward hadn’t been getting many minutes at the English club.
Gil won a silver medal with Spain at the Tokyo Olympics last year and was a member of the Spain Under-19 squad that won the 2019 European Championship. He previously played for Sevilla, Eibar and Leganés in Spain.
Villarreal reached a deal for the loan of Argentina midfielder Giovani Lo Celso from Tottenham until the end of the season, while Mallorca brought in Kosovo striker Vedat Muriqi on a loan from Lazio, also until the end of the season.
As expected, league leaders Real Madrid did not make any major moves on the final day of the transfer window, with its focus still on signing France star Kylian Mbappé when his contract with PSG ends in June.