These are strange times for everyone living on the surface on the earth but even more so at FC Barcelona – a club which was once revered as an epitome of a well-run football club and organization. The Catalan club has been in one form of controversy or the other under the leadership of the last two presidents – Sandro Rosell and now Josep Bartomeu. The former resigned after a judge (Pablo Ruz) ordered a hearing to investigate Rosell for alleged misappropriation of funds over the signing of Brazilian forward Neymar. The latter reign as Chief Supremo has not gone without its own fair share of financial misappropriation or allegations if we want to call it that.
The problem with the club is both on and off the field but the off-field issues are under the microscope now with no football on the pitch to help deflect attention away. Barcelona have had arguably their best dominant era in Spanish football – winning six of the last nine league titles and are currently on top of the log before suspension of the competition. One will then wonder what the on-field issues are? Since Pep Guardiola left in 2012, every manager has struggled to replicate the tiki-taka success of the Manchester City coach – from late Tito Vilanova to Gerard Martino, Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde and now Quique Setien (it is too early to conclude on him). Many of these coaches brought success to the Camp Nou but without panache or flair which the fans seem accustomed to in Guardiola era. Beyond the playing style, several high-profile players have existed the club and not adequately replaced but one that comes to mind easily is Neymar’s departure in the summer of 2017. PSG activated the Brazilian forward release clause to buy him out of Barca and the windfall from his sale were not put use properly judging by the performances of Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho to date. The club hasn’t conducted their transfer business in a respectful manner with several European clubs – ask Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool who were forced to sell Dembele and Coutinho after the players mutinied. Antoine Griezmann arrived from Atletico Madrid in similar circumstance despite paying his buyout clause. All of these big money arrivals have also impacted the wage structure.
In January, Barcelona failed to sign to a back-up striker for Luis Suarez but offloaded two youngsters and had to scrap the market – applying for an emergency striker when Dembele and Luis Suarez got injured. They picked up Martin Braithwaite from Leganes leaving the struggling LaLiga outfit with less attacking firepower to battle for survival in top flight – that is another club added to their foes list. In other to cover the chaos going on that the club, Ernesto Valverde was dismissed in January despite the fact that Barcelona were on top of the table then. The first three options to replace Valverde all turned the club down leaving them with no option than to helplessly appoint Quique Setien. This is where we move into the off-field part.
The first was when Sporting director Eric Abidal blamed the players for Valverde’s removal, after which Messi’s retorted, offering his first criticism at the board. With no sporting action (that means no matchday revenue or tour of the Camp Nou income) Barcelona’s finances have been hit hard, of course with their high wages. The club decided to apply the legislation in Spain that allows it reduce wages by 70% – this was done without consulting with the players – another gaffe. Players were furious but, in the end, they agreed not only to a 70% cut, but also an additional 2% to fund the salaries of all non-playing staff who may otherwise have been laid off. Again, the club lost the PR war, looking petty, venal and disorganized.
Then there is the scandal of I3 Ventures. I3 Ventures is an independent social media company (I3 contracted by Barcelona to boost the public profile of the current board of directors and at the same time, aim to undermine individuals with a close relationship with the institution and even current playing staff. It has been reported that Barcelona overpaid I3 Ventures. Payments were made in a series of tranches, each of just under the €200,000 threshold that would have triggered an immediate internal audit. This scandal as well as other led six directors to resign recently. Even worse for the president, one of those who resigned was Emili Rousaud – a man Bartomeu promoted to vice president role only a month ago. Their exit from the board brought the underlying tensions at the club to the surface at a time there is no football on the pitch to help deflect.
The mess at a club with the famous motto Més que un club (More than a club) is a pointer to the bigger crisis at hand that even the great Lionel Messi might not be able to fix with his magic on the field. Change is needed at the club but right now, things look to be falling apart.