Barcelona has offloaded players from all corners – including Lionel Messi. However, they are still saddled with more than PS1bn in debt. They don’t know where to go.
Eight senior players left the Nou Camp in a fire sale that brought the club’s wages closer to La Liga’s new financial prudence rules. None of these departures will be as significant as Messi’s, who didn’t expect to leave until the day it was announced.
It speaks volumes about the club’s decline that the club’s greatest player should leave in this manner, crying at a press conference to justify its decision.
Once a institution that defined modern footballing philosophy under Pep guardiola, it is now a club that was accused even by its new president of “disastrous management” under his predecessor and which still struggles to keep within its financial limits.
Joan Laporta, the returning chief, was the one who first hired Guardiola. He oversaw Barcelona’s return to the top of European football, with Messi leading. He was tasked with picking up the pieces from Josep Maria Bartomeu’s six-year disastrous reign.
He immediately set about mounting an expectations-levelling exercise, once which has proven painful for the club and its fans, and shows little sign of abating for now with the club well over PS1bn in debt.
“The foundation of everything is the previous administration’s disastrous management which was inherited”, he stated during Messi’s awkward press conference in August.
Barca had a front trio of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez four years ago. Now, the majority of their forward options are made up of Luuk de Jong (Sevilla loanee), an ex-Middlesbrough striker Martin Braithwaite, and Memphis Depay.
Many who have remained at the Nou Camp on their current roles have done so with reduced terms in order to keep the club financially sustainable. La Liga allowed Aguero to register after the transfer window had closed. Sergio Busquets had already signed smaller contracts to reduce the wage bill.
New rules for La Liga stipulate that clubs can spend 70% of their income on wages. Barca would have spent 110 percent if Messi had been there, but the figure was still 95 per cent as of August 1. Junior Firpo Griezmann and Emerson Royal, Jean-Clair Todibo and Miralem Panic, as well as Francisco Trincao and Griezmann have all followed Messi’s lead and generated sales of around EUR130m (PS111.5m).
It is not the transfer fees that are the problem, but the quality of the players who have signed or their fit. The three most expensive signings by Barcelona, Coutinho, Dembele, and Griezmann for a total of about PS350m have all failed to perform. Gerard Pique, a long-standing centre-back, said last year that “Every year we were worse.” They were quite right – finishing third in La Liga last season was their lowest finish since 2008.
Prudence is a time to be prudent
2018 saw Barcelona become the first professional club to earn more than $1bn per year (PS723m). Barca has suffered a EUR80m (PS68.6m), loss on Griezmann after just three years. While the pandemic is evident, the club that was not prepared for the rainy day was at the top.
Sky Sports journalist Carles Ruiperez said that the days of Barca spending as they did in recent years are gone. Ruiperez has previously written about Barca’s struggles for La Vanguardia, a Catalonian newspaper. “The club summarizes the situation with a simple phrase: Sports policy is subordinated to economic policy until it is sustainable again. They know the team is weaker than last year.
Barcelona’s summer business might have angered fans in years past, but there’s patience in this new era. Laporta’s board can rebuild the club’s foundations.
Things could get worse before they improve. Last month, Laporta revealed that Barcelona’s debts totalled EUR1.35bn (PS1.16bn). This was partly due to years of extravagant spending under Bartomeu and partly because of the cost of keeping Lionel Messi in the Nou Camp for most of his career.
Terry Gibson, a Spanish football expert, stated that he believes there will be more cost-cutting. “I believe Barcelona wanted a better deal with Atletico Madrid for Griezmann, which is why it went so late. Sevilla are also paying some De Jong’s wages to allow him to play for Barcelona. This just shows how far things have advanced.”
Pedri de Jong and Frenkie De Jong are the brightest prospects left. They strongly support moves away from Nou Camp in the immediate future. Although no one can predict how long this period of austerity might last, Laporta believes it will continue for some time.
“I believe that the club’s economy can be strong in a few years.” He said that although it is a difficult task, we are capable of conquering it.”
Rebuilding from the inside
What is the best way for Barcelona to rebuild? Laporta and Ronald Koeman have a club to manage, so seven points from the first three games is a good return considering the emotional and financial turmoil.
The traditional Barca method of restoration, even in difficult circumstances, is being used by La Masia, their famed academy. Ansu Fati, an 18-year-old student, inherited Messi’s iconic number 10 shirt after just 41 appearances in Barcelona and 10 months. Last November’s knee injury kept the forward from action.
Pedri, an 18-year old midfielder, has become a regular for Spain. It has been suggested that Koeman’s contract would only be renewed if Riqui Puig gets more playing time in the midfield.
Terry Gibson, a Spanish football expert, told Sky Sports that if they continue down the same path that they are on and Koeman embraces that, then I believe that their supporters will be patient.” “Barcelona has a long tradition of producing their own players. La Masia also produces a certain type.
“The fans won’t place the blame on Ronald Koeman. They won’t blame Joan Laporta. The blame has been firmly pinned on the previous regime and everyone can see their problems.
We saw two substitutes for Sergio Busquets last week. Nico Gonzalez is a copy of Sergio Busquets. Gavi, 17 years old, made his debut. Ansu Fati, Pedri, and Ronald Araujo are all in their early 20s, and make excellent central defenders.
It makes you realize that they are far from Lionel Messi. It was wishful thinking. Joan Laporta had a dream to imagine that they could keep him.
The Nou Camp has seen the end of wishful thinking. Can Barcelona regain their glory days? Yes, it is possible. But not by spending money on the problem. One official from a club told the Financial Times that they don’t need to try to win La Liga or the Champions League every year.
Barca was the favourite to win the continental competition three years ago. But, they are now 20/1 outsiders for this year’s tournament. They appear likely to live up to their expectations, but not necessarily because of their choice.