BARCELONA, Spain (AP)Barcelona won’t be able to reduce its salary burden to sustainable levels until several veteran players finish their contracts, the club’s financial vice president said Thursday.

While presenting the budget for this season, Eduard Romeu warned it will likely take another two seasons before Barcelona is able to get its player salary load within manageable limits.

Barcelona’s salaries ballooned to the most expensive in soccer under former club president Josep Bartomeu, and, combined with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, they put the club in massive debt that it is still clawing its way out of under current president Joan Laporta. Romeu said Barcelona had a net debt of 608 million euros ($597 million) as of June.

”What throws us off is the amount we spend on our player salaries,” Romeu said. ”There are a group of (contracts) that have a very important cost and between this season and the next they will disappear.”

When asked if he was referring to the contacts of veterans Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, Romeu said yes. Busquets, who is linked to a move to Major League Soccer, finishes his deal at the end of the season. Pique’s and Alba’s contracts expire in July 2024. All three have multiple Champions League titles, while Pique and Busquets helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup.

In recent seasons, the club has shed the huge salaries of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho.

But instead of lowering its salary burden, Barcelona increased it this season after acquiring several new players, including Robert Lewandowksi, Jules Kounde and Raphinha. That has increased the total salary burden to 656 million euros ($644 million) for this season, up from 518 million euros ($508 million).

According to Romeu, the club wants to lower its salary burden to 500 million euros ($491 million), with 420 million euros ($412 million) dedicated to its first team and 80 million euros ($78 million) to pay for its reserve and youth teams.

Barcelona finished the 2021-22 season with profits after taxes of 98 million euros ($96 million), the first time it has been in the black in three years, Romeu said.

But that was only possible after the Catalan club sold 25% of its Spanish league television rights for 25 years and other assets for 866 million euros ($850 million).

Romeu said that for 2022-23, Barcelona has budgeted 1.4 billion euros ($1.38 billion) in revenues and a profit after tax of 275 million euros ($270 million).

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