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Barcelona and the Crippling Cost of Success

The careful plan hatched by Barcelona, the richest soccer club in the world, fell apart almost as soon as its negotiators entered the room.

On a sweltering late summer afternoon, Barcelona’s executives had come to one of Monte Carlo’s most exclusive hotels to strike a deal with the German club Borussia Dortmund for one of the most exciting young prospects in Europe: the French forward Ousmane Dembélé.

Barcelona had decided on its strategy, and its price: Dembélé, in Barcelona’s eyes, was worth $96 million, and not a cent more. No matter how hard Dortmund pressed for a higher fee, the men from Barcelona would hold firm. The two executives steeled themselves as they headed to the suite the Germans had booked. They embraced before knocking on the door. And then they stepped inside, only to find that Dortmund’s executives had decided on a strategy, too.

The Germans told their guests that they had a plane to catch. They had no time to exchange small talk, and they were not here to negotiate. If Barcelona wanted Dembélé, it would have to pay roughly double the Spaniards’ valuation: $193 million. The price would make the 20-year-old Frenchman the second-most expensive soccer player in history.

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