Since taking charge in the 2014-15 season to the day of his departure, former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu led one of the best teams in the world to catastrophe. This decline has brought the clubs’ best player of all time to come on the brink of leaving. This situation, which has caused so many upsets, can be explained by the decisions made by the people in charge – Bartomeu and his board.
The club witnessed a golden period between 2005 to 2012 – winning three UEFA Champions Leagues, two FIFA Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Leagues, four La Liga titles, two Copa Del Reys, and five Spanish Super Cups.
This golden period saw Joan Laporta, who was the president of the club from 2003 to 2010, become the most successful president in the club’s history; this period also saw the emergence of coaches Frank Rijkaard and later, Pep Guardiola. It was a period defined by bold decisions, following the footballing ideology presented by Johan Cruyff. This ideology was based upon possession-based football on the field and manufacturing players according to the style the club needs for their gameplay; implementing this was seen as the most significant step taken by Joan Laporta in his time at the club.
In 2008, Laporta appointed Pep Guardiola as the head coach, which transformed Barcelona completely. Barcelona won 14 trophies under Pep and conquered Europe twice by winning the Champions league in 2008-09 season and 2010-11 season. And everyone remembers the famous ‘sextuple’ in the 2008-09 season, possibly the greatest era of footballing dominance and skill displayed by any club.
Laporta also displayed significant success his transfer policy, where he signed players such as Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o; and then, significantly, sold them when the time was right and trusted his coach to chose to promote players from the clubs famous La Masia academy.
However, in 2010, Laporta faced accusations from his former board member Sandro Rossel accusing the latter of financial mismanagement and lack of leadership. So, a vote of no confidence was held against Laporta, and in place of him, Sandro Rosell ruled over the club. Then, when Sandro Rosell was convicted for tax fraud and was jailed the club turned to Josep Maria Bartomeu. The treble-winning season under Luis Enrique went in favor of Bartomeu, and he was re-elected in 2015.
The current financial situation
Bartomeu has always been known for his unthinkable decisions, scandals and strained relationships with the playing staff. His decisions mainly have been for personal gain and importance. From his arrival to his resignation, a series of events and decisions have made the club that won the UEFA Champions League in the 2014-15 season to, this season, facing a historic humiliation in the same competition.
The club doesn’t only struggle on the pitch. It also has faired the same way financially because of the enormous debt the club is under. According to the recent records presented by the former vice-president Jordi Moix (recently resigned), the club is under a deficit of €488 million after the 2019-20 season, which is more than double the debt of last season (€217 million ). The financial situation is much worse, as the club said in the official statement that the club due to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in only generating €855 million and could not reach the financial target of €1,047 million, which tells how disastrous the club’s financial situation is.
Transfer Business under Bartomeu
After the sale of the wondrous Neymar Jr. due to the whopping €222 million release clause paid by PSG, Barcelona had ample money to spend and make improvements to multiple areas of the squad that needed refreshing. Instead, Barcelona spent all the money to replace Neymar and failed to do so. They bought Philipe Coutinho, a central player from Liverpool, for €145 million and French winger Ousmane Dembélé for €105 million from Borrusia Dortmund. Both the big signings failed for the club, and it was one of the many failures that the club has suffered since the arrival of the Bartomeu board.
The transfers failed due to the fact they were never needed. Philipe Coutinho, played a very central role in a very similar position to the irreplaceable Lionel Messi, so to was later signing Antoine Griezmann. The latter was signed from Atletico Madrid for €120 million, though due to the positional overlap with Messi, Griezmann played a lot of time on the left-wing, not his natural position, and this caused the Frenchman to struggle throughout the season.
Away from the ‘hyper-transfer’ failures, the attempts to strengthen the ageing squad also ended in failure – Arda Turan, bought for €41 million euros; Aleix Vidal bought from Sevilla for €22 million, later sold back to Sevilla for less than half that; Andre Gomes came in for €55 million and neve restablished himself before moving to Everton; and Malcolm, signed for €40 million before moving to Zenit the very next season.
Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Busquets and Puyol – among the greatest players to play for FC Barcelona, and they all graduated from the prestigious Barcelona youth academy – La Masia. However, due to mismanagement and fierce competition, the Barcelona Academy has struggled to produce the best of future talents.
Since the Pep era, the expectations of winning trophies are very high. This demand from the fans and the board to win and deliver results in a concise term of time has made the coaches trust the already established big money players rather than developing young academy talents. The coaching job at Barcelona is a difficult one. The job’s pressure is immense; thus, the easier and effective short-term solution for the manager is to choose to sign players to win the matches in the short-term.
However, this is not the only thing that resulted in the academy’s failure. A project created under the Bartomeu board was called “La Masia 360”. This project was to advance the academy students’ studies, increasing the academy’s budget, increasing the number of coaches and provide psychological support to the academy players via special programs. This project was handed over to Albert Soler, who was the secretary of state sport in Spain. The project’s idea was technically perfect, but its implementation and execution were a threat to La Masia.
Due to the excess of school work and training, the player’s psychological programs were impossible to complete. The academy facilities were the victims of a terrible implementation plan. The players complained of the gym and swimming facilities, also, their entertainment rooms were taken away. The facilities’ food situation even worsened; the nutritional value and the quality of the food becoming sub-par.
The current state of the club
After several years of destruction from Bartomeu, he was finally made to resign from the post due to the constant pressure from players, opposition and the fans. To take charge of the immediate position, a Managing Commission lead by Carles Tusquets has been appointed, which will take control of the significant decisions until the next board election happens. As for now, the date confirmed for the presidential election is 24th January.
Though the mood of the fans could now be considered ‘satisfied’, the financial situation at the club is the worst of the situations. It should be a big concern for everybody responsible for the club and the next set of people coming in charge of the club. Recently even the in-charge President of the Manager Commission Carles Tuesquets, said:
We are living in an exceptional period that requires exceptional decisions by everyone involved…In order to balance the budget we need to reduce spending by 300 million euros… And this Commission thinks it is reasonable to implement certain measures to limit the consequences of this pandemic.
The decision to appoint the new board and president of FC Barcelona is different from many other clubs. Barcelona has 144,756 members who are like stakeholders of the club who vote in the club’s decision to elect the club’s next board.
Under Bartomeu it was clear that no plan ensured the club’s stable running in the present. Neither was there any thought about the club’s future. Therefore a lot of damage has been inflicted on the club’s reputation, their financial situation, and also on the club’s overall structure.
This situation has made the elections for the next board a crucial decision for the club members to take. The future is very much dependent on what plans the next board of the club will implement to make the club great again. Though the next board will have to be at their best, and a lot more is expected from them already, the Barcelona fans need to understand that the club has gone through many disastrous years, and it is not a situation that is desirable. Therefore the cleaning up of this mess will take a considerable amount of time.
The Messi situation
Lionel Messi is widely considered to be Barcelona’s greatest player, no mean feat when you consider the players that have come before him. It is a blessing in disguise for Barcelona to have him in such a terrible situation.
Still, it was nearly not the case last summer as Messi, who played for the club for more than over 20 years and served the club as a loyal servant, announced hi s intention to leave Barcelona- he himself stated publicly that he wanted to give young players chances, however privately it seems his dissatisfaction with the running of the club had come to an unbearable point.
But since Bartomeu has resigned and new board is yet to be elected, the huge question arises – Will Messi leave FC Barcelona? This question has no answers, but many interpretations or predictions. Some reports stated that Messi would stay at the club but will need assurances from the next President there is a plan for the proper functioning of the club. However, these reports or rumors cannot be considered the truth as nothing is confirmed or official. So while this question is certainly intriguing, but it has no answers yet.
As for the question of the future of Barcelona football club, that also remains to be seen. We can see that the mess the club finds itself in right now is a direct result of the severe mismanagement by the previous board. However, with every problem is an opportunity – the club is going through a huge change as they attempt to sell off players who were a burden to both the wage bill and playing style. Ronald Koeman, the new coach of the team, has trusted new young talents like Pedri, Ansu Fati, and Ousmane Dembélé, which will be a reassuringly familiar feeling for any Barcelona fan. However the club’s financial situation cannot be overstated, and the project of rebuilding after the Bartomeu era is a project that will take time and patience to complete.