Lionel Messi has finally left the Camp Nou and that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the crisis in Catalonia
Things haven't looked this bad for one of football's most storied clubs in a very long time. Barcelona president Joan Laporta recently revealed that the club's debt stands at £1.15bn. Financial rules put in place by La Liga meant that Barca were unable to resign Lionel Messi despite both parties reaching an agreement to do so. Gerard Pique took a huge pay cut to enable them to finally register new signings Eric Garcia and Memphis Depay to compete in the league. They are as yet unable to do the same for Sergio Aguero. The club are desperate to offload some of their highest earners to make space for new blood but there appear to be no takers in a market depleted somewhat by the Covid-19 pandemic. Unless players are willing to take significant pay cuts, they are unlikely to find new clubs, meaning Barcelona will be unable to cut down their wage bill and register Aguero.
As Messi joins up with Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma and the rest of The Avengers at PSG, Barcelona will try to trim down the squad as much as possible and get the best out of the players they have left. Manager Ronald Koeman was only able to guide the club to third in the table last season, after Messi was convinced to stay and help with the rebuild. Fans would have been hoping for more progress this season but with the situation they are in off the pitch, it's difficult to see how they could beat Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid to the title. The two Madrid clubs have financial woes of their own but nothing of this magnitude. It's sure to be an interesting season for the neutral but perhaps a depressing one for Barca fans.
We wanted to know if there was any optimism in the camp despite all this. We caught up with Leo from barcacentre to find out what fans are saying about the current financial situation at the club, find out who is to blame for the mess they are in, the end of Messi, Ronaldo Koeman's performance as coach, and the future of FC Barcelona. Here's what he had to say:
Q. Many believed Lionel Messi would end his illustrious career at Barcelona, what has been the reaction among fans to his departure?
Leo: The general reaction has been a bit shocking, but honestly unsurprising. Barça fans are hurt and deeply angry. They feel betrayed by the board and management of the club, especially by the election promises of Laporta in ensuring Messi would stay to renew his contract. Nobody saw the potential possibility coming of Messi leaving. Fans want a scapegoat and have picked Laporta who they personally hold accountable for destroying the collective dream of everybody involved with the club to see Messi stay here his entire career and retire from European club football here. They wanted it to happen like a fairy tale; a completion of the “dream career” Messi has lived all these years here. Since this can’t happen anymore, they have decided to wreak vengeance on Laporta and there has been a serious backlash on social media, abroad world wide, and in the local base of the club in Spain. Barça fans are too emotional and love Lionel Messi far too much to think straight about who should be held accountable for his departure, and it’s even worse considering all the unfortunate failures and frustrations that have happened in recent years. They feel as if this is the ‘last straw’ and that this is the only and last thing they could hold on to. They’re extremely upset, but in time they will come to understand this situation was unavoidable, but necessary for the better of both Barça and Messi.
Q. The club is in a perilous state financially. Who is to blame for this situation?
Leo: The main people to blame are the last two Barça presidents: Josep Bartomeu and Sandro Rossell. They ruined the financial and competitive livelihood of the club with reckless overspending for expensive players, unprofessional scouting, bad auditing, shady transfer deals, and a lack of a real sporting project to allow the club to compete. The club socios involved who voted for them and elect the club’s Presidents are equally responsible as well for being neglectful and careless when things were being ruined at the board level.
Q. How can the club repair the damage that has been done? What sacrifices will have to be made to secure the club's future?
Leo: The club can repair the damage done by trusting in Laporta as President, and for being patient with Laporta to buckle down in finding short term and long term solutions which are feasible, smart, safe, and lucrative. The club will have to consider sacrificing big things like the naming rights for the Camp Nou as an example, if necessary. Long term loan deals from credit agencies, sponsorships from multinational companies (Apple, Amazon, Sony etc) are good ideas to start with for growth in 5-10 years. In the short term, maybe the club will have to miss out on some big name players to target and sign in the transfer market as well as reducing the player’s salary by a marginal degree until things get better.
Q. How do you rate the job done by Ronald Koeman so far, considering the environment in which he is operating?
Leo: Koeman has done a very good job given the context of what state and just where the club is right now. As a manager, he’s done more to promote youth players from La Masia and integrate them into the first team with other super star signings than most Barça managers in modern times besides Cruyff and Guardiola. He’s managed a less than ideal situation for the club as a competitor in Spain and Europe with very little to work with and no unlimited funds or freedom to control the sporting make up of the team. As a coach, however, he leaves a few things to be desired in terms of tactics and different plans for mid-game adjustments, but given time and proper backing he will improve.
Q. What do you see happening in the remainder of the transfer market? The club clearly needs to ease the wage bill. Which players could leave the club? Do you see Barca making any more signings?
Leo: There may be one more signing, if any, but that will most likely be it. It could be for a possible new centre-back or a forward if Braithwaite leaves the club. The players most likely to leave are currently Umtiti and Pjanić. They’ve both been considered as strong selling points by the club because of their unfavourable contracts.
Q. What are the expectations ahead of the new season among fans, given everything that is going on
Leo: The truth is that, within the fanbase, there is actually quite some optimism. Messi’s departure will take pressure of off Griezmann and the signings of Memphis and García will help a lot too. We have already seen them shine in the win over La Real. There are also lots of promising youngsters coming up so the future should be bright.
Barcelona's campaign got off to a promising start at the weekend with a 4-2 victory over Real Sociedad, who are by no means slouches, and there is genuine cause for optimism. Martin Braithwaite scored two goals, and new boy Memphis Depay looked sharp and got himself an assist. Even if they sell a few, they still have one of the most formidable squads in Europe on paper. Barca are next in action this coming Saturday 21 August at 21.00 GMT against Athletic Club. They will hope to keep this positive momentum going with another good performance and another win. As the transfer window closing date of August 31 draws nearer, off the pitch officials will be hoping that they can get rid of a few players to bring down their wage budget. There's still plenty more left in this story yet. Barcelona fans will be watching every second with bated breath.
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