Five years ago, Barcelona had just won the Champions League under the stewardship of Manager Luis Enrique to complete another treble that included the Spanish league title and the Copa Del Rey. Fast-forward five years later and Barcelona has gone from comfortably sitting on the throne of European football, to facing a huge financial and sporting crisis and being the laughingstock of Europe. Though the downfall started with president Sandro Rosell, the man most at fault for the current crisis is none other than the club’s most recent former president, Josep Bartomeu who was arrested recently for his alleged role in the Barcagate scandal of last February.
Bartomeu was elected president of Barcelona a few days after they lifted the Champions League trophy but since then, the team has not managed to reach such highs. It started with Bartomeu failing to extend or secure their partnership agreement with Qatar Airways. Despite promises and assurances made in the public he would get the job done, nothing materialised. It took the intervention of Gerard Pique for the club to secure Rakuten as the new shirt sponsor.
Meanwhile, at a sporting level, the club wasted millions of euros to sign players such as Arda Turan, Aleix Vidal, Lucas Digne, Paco Alcacer, Andre Gomes, Paulinho, Arturo Vidal (who was past his prime), Jeison Murillo, Martin Brathwaite and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Bartomeu also offered new big-money long term deals to veteran players such as Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez with no clear plans to renew and refresh the squad.
As a result, Barcelona became the club with the highest wage bill in European football. The high wage bill could not be justified when you observe that Real Madrid at the time were winning 3 back-to-back UCL titles, had a lower wage bill and a much more rounded squad.
One year after becoming Barcelona’s president, Bartomeu saw the club pleading guilty to two crimes against the tax agency derived from the signing of Neymar. Both former Barcelona presidents Sandro Rosell and Bartomeu were ruled not guilty but the club’s image was seriously damaged. Under Bartomeu, the club ruined their relationship with several clubs due to their poor and haphazard style of management.
A critical blow came in the summer of 2017 when PSG, snatched Neymar after triggering the Brazilian forward’s buyout clause. The transfer stunned club management and fans while the club tried everything to stall the progress of the move to no avail. Barcelona received a large sum for Neymar’s transfer but, once again, failed to invest properly, overpaying massively for Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho. Dembele has spent large parts of his career on the treatment table, while Coutinho has shown flashes of brilliance but nothing more.
Josep Bartomeu has most recently been involved in the scandal that is Barcagate, where the former president is accused of hiring a PR company to damage the reputation of players in the first team as well as rivals and critics of his leadership.
Under Bartomeu, Barca’s famed La Masia academy became nothing more than a toll to raise funds as talented players were sold for cheap to balance the books, players such as Grimaldo & Cucurella. The club’s financial situation became so bad that the club had to resort to swapping players Jasper Cilessen and Arthur Melo to Valencia and Juventus respectively while taking Neto and Pjanic in return. Neto has proven to be a big decline in quality whenever called upon and Pjanic, who is 7 years older than Arthur, has looked way past his best every time he steps on the field.
Before departing Barcelona, he also managed to sour the club’s relationship with several first team players, including Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi. The Argentine criticised Bartomeu through an interview for Goal.com, complaining that the former Barcelona president had lied to him on numerous occasions. Last summer, Messi asked to be released by the club and he has yet to reach an agreement, with his current deal running until June. This was effectively the downfall of Bartomeu.
Cause for Hope
Arguably the best president in the history of the club, Joan Laporta, is once again at the helm after the recently concluded elections. His election win sparked a massive flurry of joy and optimism among Barca fans who have grown frustrated, disappointed, and pessimistic under Bartomeu’s reign at the club. He won the elections by amassing over 54 percent of the votes, some way ahead of Victor Font and former board member Toni Freixa.
After another UCL disappointment at the hands of PSG, Barcelona needs reformation. Laporta must assess and rectify the club’s serious financial crisis, settle Lionel Messi’s contract, as well as oversee the renovation of the Camp Nou which is long overdue. The new board will also need to investigate renewing the contracts of Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele while cutting losses on Phillipe Coutinho, Umtiti, Firpo and Clement Lenglet should be priorities. It remains to be seen if current coach Ronald Koeman will still be in charge at the end of the season, which is likely to depend on how the La Liga season and Copa Del Rey final pan out.
Despite all the poor recruitment and upheaval, the club boasts several young players like Riqui Puig, Ansu Fati, Trincao, Illaix Moriba, Sergino Dest and Pedri who have all shown their talents at different points this season. Expensive signings like Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Greizman and Frenkie De Jong have finally seemed to settle and are contributing to the team on a weekly basis. Messi, who for much of the last 2 years has looked dejected and tired of life in Barcelona, seems to have also regained his smile and passion for the club. One can only hope that things improve and that the club does not continue down their path of destruction and dysfunction. Although, their rivals probably won’t complain.