A long pass down the center from Gerard Pique, beating Nacho Fernandez, and a sleek layoff by Ferran Torres to a highflying Aubameyang was all that was needed to sink a highflying Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
0-4 the scoreboard read — so ecstatic was the Barcelona team under Xavi that the club vice-captain Gerard Pique “El Presidente” as he is called took to Twitter, informing the world “WE ARE BACK.”
It appeared the ghost of Lionel Messi’s departure and the financial crisis hovering over the Catalan-based club was about to be history.
A solid and promising end to the season it was for Barcelona that even rivals believed the “Xavi project” initiated by President Joan Laporta was going to work out as anticipated by the Catalans.
So promising the project appeared that President Joan Laporta alongside his Director of Professional Football Mateu Alemany did go all out to get Head Xavi Hernandez every player he requested.
Despite their financial situation what followed was a season of off-the-roof accounting — a transfer window that saw a cash-strapped Barcelona — a club in a debt in the region of €1.3 Billion beat clubs like Chelsea and Arsenal to the signing of some of Europe’s hottest footballing properties in jaw-dropping fashion.
Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Raphinha, Hector Bellerin, Marcos Alonso, Andreas Christensen, and Franck Kessie arrived at a Barcelona side that had their best player in the history of the club leave the previous summer window, due to the same financial issues — one blamed on the administrations of both Sandro Rosell and Jose Maria Bartomeu.
So stunning were the activities of Barcelona in the transfer market that the question “how are they able to complete these signings” was one question that did spread across the football world like a pandemic.
But why is this a question in the first place? For a club laced with a commercial department that generated over £700 million between 2019 and 2021, for a club that had its revenue in an excess of €1 billion in the 2018-2019 season, for a club that made a record sale of a footballer “Neymar” for €222 million in 2017, it was ridiculous to think, say less ask the question, how were they able to complete these signings.
Well, the sad reality of things is that the Catalan giant are in a deep pit, and its surely a pit they did dig up by themselves.
THE CRISIS UNRAVELED — The Very Beginning
Starting a really ridiculous and beautiful fashion, Barcelona appointed former captain Pep Guardiola as head coach in 2008, and what followed was a 4-year trophy-laden reign. Two champions league titles, three La Liga titles, and the reborn of the Johan Cruyff philosophy — tikitaka.
With youngsters like Lionel Messi, Pedro Rodgriguez, and a mix of players in the prime of their careers, Barcelona formed arguably the best side the world of football ever saw.
What followed these endless triumphs was a lot of cash inflow into the club, as the club had safely become one of the biggest sporting brands in the world — even rivals Real Madrid despite the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, appeared inferior to that Barcelona.
With the cash-inflow was the domino effect of tying these youngsters and the fulcrum of the team to relatively crazy and lengthy contracts.
It was only a matter of time before Barcelona boasted of the biggest wage bill in the world of football. At that time, it appeared to be a situation with little or no effect as they had enough cash inflow to cover for the wages and expenses they were incurring.
The wage bills kept on increasing as time passed, Pep Guardiola left, Tito Villanova had his time, Tata Martino was at the helm for a season, and it was the turn of former captain Luis-Enrique Martinez.
Prior to the arrival of Luis-Enrique, one thing had gradually become a trend in the Barcelona side, (the steady decline in trophies won).
All these mattered little as the club still did go far in major competitions hence, they generated enough to keep up with the relatively crazy style the club was being operated — nothing short of the Spanish word “La Vida Loca.”
Neymar Jr arrived at the club in what remains one of the most controversial transfers in the history of the beautiful game, alongside Luis Suarez from Liverpool. Both forwards teaming up with Lionel Messi did create one of the best-attacking trident football ever saw. And just like a flash, the glory days were back at the Nou Camp.
It didn’t take long though as the phrase “Oh darkness my old friend” became the reality of FC Barcelona, as they failed to keep up with the standards required by their financial books to keep spending like they always did.
Consecutive eliminations from the Champions League and in embarrassing fashion to say the least, became the reality of Barcelona. The youngsters of Pep Guardiola — still tied to huge long-term contracts gradually passed their prime and performance levels began to drop.
All appeared sustainable and even with the departure of Neymar Jr in 2017, Barcelona were still able to finance huge transfers.
THE GREAT FALL
You know that saying about the rain — “when it rains it pours” became the reality in Barcelona. From the issue with the then president Jose Maria Bartomeu, leading the Barca gate, to a host of players being scapegoated and their contracts being revealed.
Barcelona couldn’t have predicted what would hit them next as they were stunned by the global pandemic of 2020. So devastating was the effect of the pandemic on Barcelona that the club resorted to players deferring wages and taking pay cuts to help the football club stay solvent.
It would only get worse for the Spanish club, as their debt had risen to over €1.3 billion with a huge chunk of it repayable in short term.
How will Barcelona get out of this crisis, considering the fact they play in a league where the Financial Fairplay rule was not suspended — despite the pandemic suffered?
A few ideas had to come up including selling key players and talents but newly elected President Joan Laporta, was of a different opinion when asked about how the club will become solvent again he was of the opinion that it is a growing problem and there is a need for a different approach the need for reliance on something other than the transfer market.
The European Super League was already a thing of discussion even before the election of Laporta. Many expected the club will expressly push for this new football competition, given their financial situation, but Joan Laporta had other ideas.
LAS PALANCAS (THE LEVERS)
Though not totally discarded — in fact on a resurgence, the idea of the Super League appeared not a feasible quick fix for Barcelona, due to the stringent requirements involved.
President Joan Laporta opted for the economic levers. Upon the exit of Lionel Messi and a few other highly-paid players, the club went all out to play “the gamblers game” what we can safely call “rolling the dice and selling assets” — some sold forever.
The first economic lever was activated in June of 2022, so as to close their financial year positively, 10% of their TV right was sold.
Entering into the new season (2022-23), Barcelona activated the second economic lever, which involved the sale of another 15% of their TV right.
Still not enough funds were generated and the need to generate enough money so as to compete with their rivals became a necessity.
A long list of players were drafted and Laporta himself knew an economic miracle had to happen.
What happened next was the sale of two separate states of the Barca studios for over €700 million. So they could sign and register new players.
This “all or nothing approach” by Barcelona have made people wonder how the club will survive subsequent years, as it has already fallen short of its UEFA Champions League target this season a feat which translates to a huge shortage in revenue in a season that is still far from finishing.
PROJECT SUPER LEAGUE
The UEFA Super League, an idea of a competition formed by top clubs in Europe may be the only escape route for Barcelona. Top clubs in Europe will earn multiple times their annual revenue just by joining the competition. But there goes the unanswered question, a question worth a billion Euro, can Xavi’s Barcelona be dubbed a big club?
With a lot of history on their side, the 5-time UEFA Champions League Winners will be categorized by many as a powerhouse in football. But what happens when they face teams who are currently better than them? What happens when they finish below par in the super league table? Will they still get a huge chunk of the revenue cake offered by the super league?
This remains to be seen. But one thing for sure is Barcelona are in a self-dug pit and sadly an exit from this pit isn’t in sight.