Josep Bartomeu dropped multiple bombshells during his last press conference as the president of FC Barcelona. From announcing an approval to the prospective European Super League to the resignation of his board, the football world had a lot to take in. We take a brief look at what’s to happen now.
Last month, Josep Maria Bartomeu finally acquiesced and announced his resignation as Barça’s president, along with his entire board of directors. Carlos Tusquets has been put in interim charge to hold the fort, ensure the club stays afloat and hold the much-awaited elections by January 31st, 2021.
WHY DID BARTOMEU RESIGN?
Bartomeu’s relationship with the players, club members and fans had gone sour a while back. Terrible player acquisitions, subsequent financial ruin, disastrous football; it all came to head in the summer with Barça’s 8-2 demolition at the hands of Bayern, followed by Messi’s transfer request. While Bartomeu was already set to step down after next year’s elections which were to be held in March, the Barça socios had already had enough of him and wanted him and his board gone. Hence, in order to avoid facing a ‘vote of no confidence’ referendum from all club members, Bartomeu and his entire board of directors stepped down voluntarily, to save some last semblance of grace.
Some rumours suggest that the board waited thus far to resign in order to cover their tracks to avoid their name coming up in any future criminal investigations that the arriving new board would have to undertake. We’ll not fully know the reality until after the elections.
THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
Five candidates have already announced their campaign for presidency – Toni Freixa, a former ally of Bartomeu who has previously resigned from his roles at the club on two different occasions; Agusti Benedito, a long-time critic of the recent Barça boards; Jordi Farre, who has recently gained popularity after being the prime instigator of the motion of censure which finally forced Bartomeu to resign; Lluis Fernandez, a local business championing the idea of unifying Barça’s divided fanbase, and Victor Font, who has been for long tipped to be the front runner in the upcoming elections.
However, multiple reports suggest that Joan Laporta, former Barça president, could also announce his surprise eleventh-hour candidacy anytime soon. Serving as president between 2003 and 2010, Laporta’s time is fondly remembered as the club’s golden era that culminated in Pep Guardiola’s legacy XI that raked in every club trophy there was out there. In a time so divisive, nostalgia might just be the winning factor in determining the next president.
THE CHALLENGES FOR THE NEW BOARD
When recently asked if the club could go into administration, Carlos Tusquets responed ‘not yet’, but the very idea that a club of Barcelona’s stature could even be considered to be going into administration shows not only the impact COVID has had on everyone around the world, but also the despairing state the club’s finances were in the first place.
Barcelona has the biggest players’ wage bill for any football club on the planet. As per their last year’s financial number, the wages amounted to around 61% of the club’s total budget. With Barça recording a €203m loss on their projected revenue for this year pre-COVID, that percentage could have gone up to as much as 80% had the players not taken a significant 70% wage cut to ensure the club’s non-playing staff got paid. As per the recent reports, the club is set to negotiate further wage cuts with the players who have already decided to act against it.
Setting the finances straight is the biggest challenge for the new board come 2021. The club is still reeling from the acquisitions of Ousmane Dembélé, Antoine Griezmann, and Philippe Coutinho (bought for a collective €400m) who have been anything but success on the pitch and have accentuated the financial collapse at the club. There still are many players considered to be ‘over the hill’ who are raking in big wages. The likes of Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitić, Rafinha, and Luis Suárez were let go for mere peanuts just to lighten the wage bill.
Then there’s the idea of Xavi arriving as the new coach. Many candidates, including Victor Font, have expressed their ardent desire to bring back the Barça legend as the new manager to spearhead the renaissance of the club. While considered an inevitability, this might not happen straight away. While Ronald Koeman would be anticipating his marching orders by the end of the season, Xavi reportedly intends to remain in Qatar until the 2022 FIFA World Cup. All that, though, could change by next year, given how the elections play out and whether Barça’s performances on the pitch improve, with the club lingering in the bottom half of the league at the time writing.
Player acquisitions are another topic – with American right-back Sergiño Dest being the only big-name signing of the summer. The club is also targeting Lyon’s Memphis Depay and Man City’s Eric Garcia, who have their contracts up next summer, but Barça need to sell more players to generate funds for bringing new players in, and the targets could also change depending on who’ll be managing the club at the start of next season.
The comes the matter of a certain Argentine..
WHAT HAPPENS TO MESSI?
It is invariably true that Lionel Messi is one of the greatest football players to have ever graced the pitch. It is also true that his star is waning as he’s nearing the end of his career. While still capable of performing at the top level for a few more years despite his age, Messi is increasingly becoming part of the problem at Barcelona.
Messi’s summer announcement to want to leave the club divided the fanbase – half of them called for Bartomeu’s head for leading Messi into this situation, while the other half called for Bartomeu’s head for not respecting Messi and his legacy to deny him his request and forcing him to stay.
While he would have gone down as the guy who let Messi go, Bartomeu had a real opportunity to get ahead of the situation with Messi’s transfer request. He could have a agreed a lesser (and yet substantial) transfer fee for Messi from the prospective suitors (PSG and Manchester City) who were reportedly ready to do so and relinquish his annual €70m wage bill, which would have significantly helped with the financial issues. Messi’s departure would have also ended a unilateral dependency of the team on the 33-year-old to bail them out during matches and build a new squad from the ground up. So far, Messi has been a shadow of the player he was even last season. While he’ll most likely come good towards the second half of the season, he still stands eligible to talk to other clubs over a free summer transfer come January 1st, and for better or worse, Bartomeu will indeed go down as the guy who stained Messi’s legacy.
So far, every presidential candidate has claimed they intend to sit with Messi and convince him to stay. Little financial sense as that makes, the emotional aspect of the issue can not be counted out. It is still borderline heretic to talk about Messi in terms of being a ‘goner’, but like all good things, this story must also come to an end. ‘A Barça without Messi’ is a reality the fans needed to come to terms with sooner or later anyway, but by denying him the summer departure, it feels like the club has squandered the opportunity to make the best out of this situation. Even recent reports suggest that Messi’s early-season performances and the ever-increasing age have made Man City very reluctant to make any move, but with Guardiola confirmed to stay at the club until 2023, you just never know.
One big talking point apart from Bartomeu’s resignation was the announcement that he had agreed to the proposal of the European Super League in light of the financial issues at the club. This, however, is not as immediate an issue as it may seem.
To begin with, the idea for a European Super League is in a very nascent stage. While European football is inevitably moving in that direction, there’s a long way to go before anything concrete comes up. Even then, Barça’s stance on the situation will be re-evaluated by the new board next year.
One reason for Bartomeu to have given the nod to the European Super League can be credited to the political scene within Catalonia. The Catalonian struggle for independence from Spain has been carrying traction over the past few years, and the idea of a secession happening within the next couple of decades cannot be discarded. In that scenario, the Catalan clubs (most notably Barcelona and Espanyol) would either have to negotiate a new deal with LaLiga or form a new breakaway league, in which case siding with the idea of a continental league, irrespective of the current state of the idea, could prove fruitful somewhere down the line.
As Messi pointed out during his interview with Goal España earlier in the summer, there hasn’t been much of a plan at the club for a long time now. All the issues at the club that had been brewing under the surface exploded out, all at once, for everyone to see. Right now, hope is the only thing binding the club together; hope, that this will all soon be over.
It will take quite a while for Barcelona to financially recover. All, though, could be put aside, if the team manages to perform a remontada (by themselves, for once) and turn this season into a successful one.