Barcelona have landed players left, right and center – including Lionel Messi – and are still hampered by more than £ 1billion in debt. Where are they going from here?
Some eight senior players have left Camp Nou amid a clearance sale to bring the club’s payroll back to something loosely akin to La Liga’s new rules on financial prudence. None of those departures will be felt as much as Messi, who even himself didn’t expect to move on until the morning of the announcement.
That the club’s greatest player leaves this way, in tears during a hastily called press briefing to justify the club’s decision, says a lot about his decline.
Where once stood an institution that redefined the philosophy of modern football under Pep Guardiola, who, even with his declining influence, was still content to throw £ 100million each at Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann in recent years years, now sits a club accused even by its new president of “disastrous mismanagement” under his predecessor, and still strives to stay on the right side of crippling financial borders.
Returning boss Joan Laporta was the man who first employed Guardiola, who oversaw Barcelona’s rise to the top of European football with Messi in the lead. When he took over the presidency last year, his job this time was to pick up the pieces of Josep Maria Bartomeu’s disastrous six-year reign, following his sudden resignation.
He immediately set out to mount an expectation-leveling exercise, once which proved painful for the club and its fans, and shows little sign of slowing down at the moment with the club in debt well over £ 1bn. sterling.
“The basis of everything is the disastrous handling of the previous administration which we inherited,” he said at Messi’s uncomfortable press conference in early August.
A little over four years ago, Barça could field a trio made up of Neymar, Messi and Luis Suarez. Now, the bulk of their advanced options consist of Sevilla player Luuk de Jong, aging Sergio Aguero, former Middlesbrough striker Martin Braithwaite and Memphis Depay.
Many of those who retained their Camp Nou roles did so with further reduced terms to keep the club financially viable, to the point where La Liga only allowed Aguero to sign up after the window was closed. transfer, once Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba entered into smaller contracts to further reduce the payroll.
New La Liga rules state that clubs can spend 70% of their income on salaries. With Messi, Barca would have spent 110%, even without him the figure rose to 95% in early August. Griezmann, Junior Firpo, Emerson Royal, Ilaix Moriba, Jean-Clair Todibo, Miralem Pjanic and Francisco Trincao followed Messi and generated around € 130m (£ 111.5m) in sales.
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The problem isn’t just the huge transfer fees paid – it’s the quality of the players who have arrived, or certainly their suitability. Coutinho, Dembele and Griezmann, Barcelona’s three most expensive signings for a combined total of around £ 350million, have all failed. “Every year we were a little worse,” longtime center-back Gerard Pique said last year. Absolutely – finishing La Liga last season in third was their lowest result since 2008.
Time for prudence
In 2018, Barcelona became the first professional sports club to post annual revenues in excess of $ 1 billion (£ 723 million). Three years later and forced to sell for what he can get, Barca suffered a loss of € 80million (£ 68.6million) to Griezmann in just two years. The pandemic obviously played its part, but if a club weren’t ready for a rainy day, they were at the top of the list.
“The days of spending like they’ve done in recent years are over,” journalist Carles Ruiperez, who wrote about Barca’s struggles for the Catalan newspaper. La Vanguardia, Recount Air sports. “There is a phrase the club sums up the situation with: Sports policy is subordinated to economic policy until it becomes sustainable again. Obviously, they know the team is less powerful than last year. “
Barcelona’s summer affairs have reportedly enraged fans in the past, but in this new era of austerity there is patience to allow Laporta and his board to rebuild the club’s badly damaged foundations.
Things can get even worse before they get better. Last month, Laporta announced that Barcelona’s debts stood at 1.35 billion euros (£ 1.16 billion), in part due to years of lavish spending under Bartomeu, in part due to pandemic and in part at the cost of keeping Lionel Messi at Camp Nou for most of his career.
“I think there are probably more cost cuts to come,” said Spain football expert Terry Gibson. Air sports. “I think Barcelona were looking for a better Atletico Madrid deal for Griezmann, which is why it happened so late, and Sevilla are paying part of De Jong’s salary to play for Barcelona. It shows to how much things have changed. “
The brightest prospects who remain, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong, are heavily tied to leaving Camp Nou in the near future. No one knows for sure how long the era of austerity will last, but Laporta’s public estimate is that it will continue for some time to come.
“I think in a few years the club’s economy will be healthy. It’s a big challenge but we are able to overcome it,” he said last month.
Rebuild from the inside
How does Barcelona go about rebuilding itself? As well as cutting costs, Laporta and manager Ronald Koeman still have one club to manage, and nine points from their first five games, given the financial and emotional turmoil surrounding everything, is a decent comeback early in the news. season.
What will be a long-term restoration is being undertaken in the traditional Barca way, albeit under less than ideal circumstances – through La Masia, their world-renowned academy. Earlier this month, 18-year-old graduate Ansu Fati inherited Messi’s famous number 10 shirt just 41 appearances in his Barcelona career and 10 months since his last, with a knee injury last November still keeping the attacker hors de combat.
Elsewhere, 18-year-old midfielder Pedri has already become a regular at Spain, as it has been suggested that manager Koeman’s contract will only be renewed if Riqui Puig has more playing time in the middle of ground.
“I think if they take this path that they are and Koeman embraces it, then I think the supporters will be patient,” Gibson said. “It’s a long tradition for Barcelona to produce their own players, as well as a certain type of player at La Masia.
“The fans won’t blame Ronald Koeman, they won’t blame Joan Laporta, the blame was firmly on the previous regime, and everyone can see their problems.
“We saw two teenage substitutes arrive the other week, Nico Gonzalez, who is a replica of Sergio Busquets, Gavi, who is 17, he came to make his debut. There is obviously Ansu Fati and Pedri, as well as Ronald Araujo, who is in his twenties and is an excellent central defender.
“But it makes you realize they were far from Lionel Messi. It was wishful thinking. It was Joan Laporta’s dream to try and imagine they could keep him.”
No more wishful thinking at Camp Nou, reality has indeed bitten. Can Barcelona regain its former glory? Of course, but not by throwing money at the problem this time. “We must not try to win La Liga and the Champions League every year,” a club official told Financial Time.
This time, three years ago, Barca were favorites to win the continental competition but enter this year’s tournament as a 20/1 underdog. They seem likely to be successful in lowering their expectations – but after a summer of chaos and more likely to follow along, not necessarily by choice.