‘Humillacion Historica’ – no one needs to understand Spanish to decipher what the Catalan daily Sport meant by their headline on Saturday morning following Barcelona’s 8-2 defeat against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals on Friday night.
Very few Barcelona fans would have thought that their abject defeats at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and at Anfield in Liverpool in the last two seasons would seem to be rosy in August 2020.
Queue Setien looked helpless on the touchline as his side were getting roundly humiliated and by the time you would be reading this, he has likely been sacked.
It is very clear that Barcelona need a sustained period of rebuilding before they can talk about competing for the big honours again.
Their best players are on the wrong side of 30 and Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s mishandling of the academy means that the famous stream of young talented players has run dry in recent years.
But rebuilding a squad needs two things – a manager who would need patience from the fans, the board and the media and most importantly, MONEY.
And Barcelona could be struggling on both fronts.
The mounting financial problems are hindrance in Barcelona’s plans of a rebuild
The Catalan giants are struggling with their finances and the rot set in long before the COVID crisis. Barcelona sold Arthur on a swap deal with Miralem Pjanic to Juventus and it was a transfer decision solely based on financial reasons.
It was accountancy more creative than some of the football they have played this season. Driven, above all, by the board’s determination to escape liability for the budgetary shortfall, their short-term survival secured at the cost of deepening and postponing problems until another day.
The elections are next year, so it would be a problem for the next president.
Barcelona could have still overcome the problems but for the COVID crisis. It has hit them hard and by some accounts, they have lost over €200m already this season.
The club museum earns them €58m per year but it has been shut since the Spanish government announced a lockdown in March. The club’s superstores in the city—including one they opened last year along La Rambla, the city’s famous boulevard—have also been shut.
With international tourism likely to be non-existent this year, the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon.
All over Barcelona’s business, several income streams have either slowed to a trickle or dried up for the rest of the year. The lack of a lucrative pre-season tour has further affected their bottom line. Their football schools still have a €15 million payment pending for the final third of their season.
The 99,000-seater Camp Nou is unlikely to open the doors for a capacity crowd for the rest of the year. It will further eat into Barcelona’s revenue for this year.
They could have faced the crisis on a stronger footing had Barcelona not been reckless in their spending in the last few years. They have spent more than €100m on three players – Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann.
Dembele and Griezmann were on the bench on Friday night and while Coutinho scored twice and assisted a goal, it was in Bayern Munich colours (need to know who worked out the terms of the loan agreement that allowed the Brazilian to play against his parent club).
Barcelona also have the biggest wage bill in world football with an average salary of €11m per season. 69 per cent of the club’s revenue goes into paying their players, which is dangerously high. In comparison, Real Madrid’s is 52 per cent.
If transfer fees are taking into account, 80 percent of Barcelona’s revenue goes into buying and paying footballers. With revenue streams drying up this year, this is a massive problem for the Catalan giants.
Barcelona also have an alarming amount of debt, given their ambitious plans of revamping the Camp Nou in what’s called the Espai Barca project.
Due to the political nature of the club’s board, it is difficult to know the actual figures. The club are insistent that the figure is €460m but it has been reported elsewhere that the actual number is as high as €888m.
Victor Font, who will stand for elections to become Barcelona president next year, said:
“The club’s debt is very high. It’s much higher than what the club explains. It’s something we don’t understand: why the club is not being fully transparent, especially given the ownership structure of the club. It’s not a publicly listed company, but at the same time, it’s not owned by the board. There’s no single owner. There should be more transparency.
“It’s really hard to distil the actual debt [from the annual accounts]. It’s also not taking into account any debt or investment that is being made for the Espai Barca project. What also increases the real debt amount are cash advances that some entities have made, for example, if a sponsor signs a sponsorship deal for, say, €10 million a year, and Barca has asked them to advance the cash.
“When you add everything up, our estimate is that the debt is probably around €700 million, which puts the finances of the club in a perilous position, especially because of its limited profitability. The club generates a lot of revenue, but it spends a lot of money, so it does not generate enough cash to pay the debt back. Obviously, when you have this type of financial situation at the time you need to build a new team and pay for the Espai Barca project, that’s a concern.”
How will Barcelona sell some of their top earners and refresh an ageing squad to free up space in the wage bill?
The wage bill is a massive issue and there are some high earners in it that the club are desperate to sell. They unsuccessfully tried to sell Ivan Rakitic last year and the midfielder later said about the way the club treated him and he felt like a sack of potatoes.
They managed to loan out Philippe Coutinho to Bayern Munich but the German champions will not be signing him on a permanent deal this summer. The Catalan giants will lose a lot of money on him even if they find a buyer.
The Brazilian was supposed to be Andreas Iniesta’s long term replacement and Arthur was also signed for the same role. Coutinho is not in their plans and Arthur has been sold to Juventus to balance their books in another example of shambolic recruitment policy.
Ousmane Dembele has been another expensive mistake and his injury record suggests that the club will lose even more money on him. Griezmann is also yet to fit in and looks like another who was bought for a huge fee without actually having a plan on how he will fit into the team.
Finding buyers for the ageing and some underperforming stars will be a massive task and convincing those clubs to take on their wages is an even more difficult job.
In a transfer window where clubs will be reluctant to spend big or be more judicious with their budgets, Barcelona are in an unenviable position of trying to sell and move out players.
Their haphazard recruitment plans are coming back to haunt them at possibly the worst moment.
Who will consider taking charge of a Barcelona side in decline and with little money to refresh an ageing squad?
Queue Setien is toast after the humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich. This day was coming from the moment he decided to take up the job from Ernesto Valverde in the middle of the season.
Setien is not flawless but he never had a chance to steer a Barcelona side who have been dependent on the brilliance of Lionel Messi to mask the flaws in their squad for too long now. He was not even the third choice for Barcelona when the appointment was made.
Barcelona need a new head coach but who will consider taking charge of the club at his juncture? Xavi has made it clear that he won’t be the one, at least until Bartomeu is club president.
The former midfielder is likely to be open to the offer if Victor Font wins the elections in 2021. Ronald Koeman declined their offer to replace Valverde and there is no reason why the Dutchman would change his mind now.
Mauricio Pochettino is one of the names being bandied about. The Argentine is a brilliant coach and an ideal man if you can have patience in a long term project. But why would Pochettino come now?
His Espanyol history makes him an awkward candidate for the Barcelona job and he will need money and patience to carry out a long term vision. The Catalan giants do not have the money at the moment and patience is not a virtue associated with Barcelona.
With a presidential election every six years, the figure at the top would come under pressure soon if trophies are not delivered soon and big-name players are not signed quickly. It is a model of governance that demands short-term success. Can Pochettino thrive in that environment?
What is Lionel Messi thinking?
Lionel Messi has masked Barcelona’s problems over the last few years with his sheer brilliance but he has run out of rabbits to pull out of his hat.
He looked the same desolate figure in Lisbon last night that was visible in Rome in 2018 and in Liverpool in 2019. The shambles around him weighed heavy on his shoulders.
The Argentine maestro has not won the Champions League since turning 28 and now he is 33. During his peak, Messi has not won the biggest trophy in club football for five years and the Barcelona team do not like winning one for a few more years.
Does Messi have the stomach for a period of rebuild at Barcelona? I am sure he wants to win the Champions League at least one more time and can he hope to do it staying at the Nou Camp?
The 33-year-old has been more vocal about his reservations about the club and their board. He has had a tense relationship with the club hierarchy and lambasted technical secretary Eric Abidal for suggesting that Ernesto Valverde was sacked because of the squad.
Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain will write a cheque book if Messi becomes available. You can legitimately think that Ed Woodward will salivate at the prospect of taking him to Old Trafford. He will have takers despite his massive wage demands, even in the current market.
Will Lionel Messi do the unthinkable and leave Barcelona? It will be the ultimate blow for a deeply unpopular president Bartomeu. That would be his legacy – the man who drove Messi out of Barcelona.