Catalonia has witnessed inumerable trophy parades over the years. It’s beautiful city of Barcelona inside which stands erect the mighty Camp Nou stadium has witnessed alot of world stars make their mark and etch their names in its books. But the start of the third decade of the 21st Century has been chaotic with crisis usurping problems, their recent Champions League group stage exit debacle has now made the ‘Les Cules’ faithfuls resign to their new fate.
Eyebrows have been raised to the sudden decline of FC Barcelona a team known to many as one of the biggest in World football. Several fingers have been pointed to the exit of 7-time Balon d’or winner Lionel Messi as the reason for their downfall, another set of individuals around the world have also raised the issue of bad administration, for some it’s because of failure to replace their stars while an unsung belief is that Barcelona’s time as the greatest is over. This article considers Barca’s story of decline and what major problems occurred with the Catalan outfit.
Champions league Group Stage exit; How did they get there?
5-time Champions Barcelona started the previous decade as great as the completion of the decade before it. Having won the UCL in 2009, they went on to lift the 2011 edition having crashed out of 2010’s in the Semis. The team then led by Pep Guardiola disbanded a bit after the exit of the manager and some important players like Carles Puyol, Pedro, David Villa and the likes. They went through some rough patches such as the death of former manager Tito Vilanova, abysmal display of Tata Martino before they announced Luis Enrique as the new man to lead them to glory. The current ‘La Roja’ head coach restored the glory days back for the side as he won the Sextuple for the second time in the Club’s history, a feat their archrivals Real Madrid have never done all thanks to the much dreaded attacking trident of MSN (Messi Suarez Neymar) who tore apart opponent defenses on their road to lifting trophies.
Sadly, 2015 would be the last year they tasted success in Europe. Although the side went on to taste league success under manager Ernesto Valverde but inability to deliver a Champions League medal led to his sacking at a strange time when he was even on top of the league standings.
Having been the heroes of one of Champions league’s greatest comebacks (overturned a 4-0 loss against PSG), Barcelona themselves fell victim of two astonishing comeback stories. One was 2018’s quarter-final exit in the hands of AS Roma having won 4-1 at Nou Camp, Barca fell 3-0 in Rome. The other was 2019’s Semi-final headline exit when Barca had won 3-0 at home and fell 4-0 to Liverpool at Anfield. Both stories are still fresh in the hearts of the two benefitting clubs and it’s still talked about till this day. Valverde was told to walk after these incidents. It will be recalled that Barcelona had been knocked out by Atletico Madrid in 2017 at the Quarter-finals with Ernesto Valverde leading the dugout. The league titles won by the spaniard could not save him from being fired by Barcelona.
Barca eventually went on to appoint Quique Setien who was managing Betis at the time. Barca would string 900 passes scoring just one goal. Their shit-show led them to being victims of a 8-2 demolition in the hands of Bavarian giants Bayern Munich during the pandemic. Setien was sacked following that mishap and Dutchman Ronald Koeman came on board. The former defender would only spend a year before being axed from his duties and was replaced a month ago by current manager Xavi Hernandes.
So what went wrong for Barcelona?
Evident were the facts about Messi’s exit and loss of revenues for the club.
But one major problem encountered by Barcelona was bad administration largely owed to the Josep Bartomeu-led administration.
Maria Bartomeu was elected president few days after the 2015 champions league triumph and guided them to almost reaching bankruptcy in 2020 when he resigned. A bad administration in football precedes failure for such club.
Before the elections, the previous board, with Bartomeu himself at the helm because he came in initially to replace Sandro Rosell without elections had closed a sponsorship agreement with Qatar Airways. However their ship hit an iceberg in negotiations as no agreement was reached hence partnership was severed. It was only the beginning of woes for the Blaugrana who went on to spend several millions of euros to sign players such as Arda Turan, Aleix Vidal, Lucas Digne, Paco Alcacer, Andre Gomes and Samuel Umtiti, all who resulted into failed projects for the club.
Simultaneously going inwards was Bartomeu offering new big-money deals to players such as Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez, also the signing of Antoine Griezman who isn’t at the club currently, this led them to become the club with the highest wage bill in European football, they were spared no blows when the COVID-19 pandemic economical warfare hit them. They would still be counting their losses when Lionel Messi left and they had fresh problems to worry about.
The summer of 2017 was a sad moment for Barca fans when PSG, a french outfit owned by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), sfter triggered Neymar’s buyout clause paying £222m to land the Brazilian forward.
The profit generated from Neymar’s exit was expended largely towards the signing of Ousmane Dembele and Phillipe Coutinho both of whom have failed to fill the shoes of the former Santos man.
In the article ‘Bartomeu: How to destroy a football club in five years’ written by Marca, it was stated that under Bartomeu’s reign, the club ‘pleaded guilty to two crimes against the tax agency’ revolving around Neymar’s transfer to Barca.
“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 proven not guilty but the club’s image was seriously damaged.Bartomeu: How to destroy a football club in five years [Marca]
The last scandal he has been involved is that of the Barcagate, where he is accused of hiring a PR company to damage the reputation of certain people and entities with club funds.
The last straw that broke Barca’s back was the devastating blow of the exit of superstar Lionel Messi as the Argentine was unable to be registered as Barca’s wage bill structure was unable to register Messi in the League even if the Argentine wants to play for free. The 4-time Champions League winner ended up joining PSG the same side that took Neymar from them.
Messi’s exit was a controversial one as the Argentine had initially wanted to leave the club the two seasons ago after openly falling out with then president Bartomeu.
“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 dealing running until June.”[Marca]
Another headline in the administrative chaos was the club director Eric Abidal.
The Frenchman added salt to Barca’s wounds after falling out publicly with Lionel Messi. Abidal had criticized the club players for ‘not doing much work’ which sparked controversies and led to Messi calling him out to ‘name names’.
Quoting Andy Edwards of NBC Sports’ piece;
“It is quite clear that the thinking behind Abidal’s removal was twofold: on the performance-related side, Barca’s signings over the last two years have been massively expensive and hugely disappointing; on the Messi-related side of things, Barca’s chances of retaining the undisputed greatest player of all time could be boosted, even just 2 percent, by his departure.”Andy Edwards
It is obvious that these administrative issues largely led to Barcelona’s fall from grace to grass. Further adding salt to Barca’s wounds, rival Real Madrid in that time frame won the UEFA Champions League three times in a row, lost star forward Cristiano Ronaldo and have now embarked into the journey of life after the Portuguese. Even though life was tough for the ‘los blancos’ two seasons ago, the whites have much healed from the pains caused by Ronaldo’s exit. As they have even played in the Semi-finals of the UCL after his exit.
However, with the return of former president Joan Laporta, even though Barcelona have started on a wrong foot, its fans can hope for a better future in the coming years. A time when the ever sounding words ‘Mes que un club’ [More than just a club] will really come back to life.