Bartomeu’s bad exit and the debris left behind

JOSEP Maria Bartomeu left some scorched earth behind at Barcelona, a strategic move by the former president that does him little credit. Indeed, as the celebrations among Barca fans circled the globe, Bartomeu’s departing salvo, confirming Barca had agreed to join a European Super League, was a little like a sulking child taking his ball away. In doing so, Bartomeu positioned his club as part of the scheming gang of elitists who have little regard for the overall health of the great game. This was not a graceful exit by any means.

Bartomeu was due to step down in March 2021, but the tide had turned against him to such an extent that he was expected to be voted out of office – a humiliating experience in itself. 

The consensus says he should have gone earlier. He stubbornly held on with the walls closing in on him, perhaps influenced by his counterpart at Real Madrid. Ironically, it all happened in the days following the Clásico, a 3-1 defeat for Barca at their Camp Nou home – a meek surrender if ever there was one.

Javier Tebas, the head of LaLiga, was understandably angry about Bartomeu’s declaration of mutiny, saying it was a “regrettable mistake” and a sad end for a club president who showed “serious ignorance of the football industry”.

Under Bartomeu’s presidency, Barca won four league titles, four Copa Del Reys and the Champions League. At the same time, the Barca team lost influential figures like Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol, key players who have never really been replaced. 

After Pep Guardiola departed in 2012, Barca have also laboured through a series of coaches that have delivered trophies but have lacked the charisma of their ground-breaking old boy. AS newspaper said that with the loss of Xavi and Iniesta, the basic functionality of the team was diminished. 

Barca, meanwhile, went close to their target of generating € 1 billion in revenues, but the club finds itself in a precarious financial position during the pandemic. “Financially, the club is a disaster,” said Spanish football expert Guillem Balague in his BBC column.

Certainly, the club’s record in the transfer market over the past couple of years doesn’t look good, even though the wage bill has become rather swollen. Huge outlays on players like Coutinho, Griezmann and Dembele have yet to live up to expectation and there are others that do not appear to be good investments. When Lionel Messi said he was thinking of leaving, it must have shaken the club to the core. The little Argentinian has repeatedly said there has been “no clear project” during Bartomeu’s reign. 

Barcelona’s problem is living up to the extraordinary high standards that have been established in the Messi era. As Gabriele Marcotti said for ESPN, the club won 10 titles in 61 years but lifted 16 in the past 30 – expectations are stratospheric. In the back of the Barca board’s mind – interim or otherwise – must be the fear that the club’s financial condition could spark a sharp decline and seriously compromise their position as one of Europe’s premier clubs. Barca would not be the first club to fall from the pedestal – AC Milan provide a very good comparison. 

Football Espana reported that a number of Barcelona’s players feel liberated by Bartomeu’s resignation. They have started their UEFA Champions League very well, a 5-1 win against Ferencvaros and a comfortable 2-0 victory in Turin against a Ronaldo-less Juve. In LaLiga, they have already lost twice, against Real and Getafe. Messi has yet to score a goal in open play, his three goals this season have all been penalties. 

Where, then, does the European Super League idea fit in? Tebas suggested that Bartomeu is merely echoing the heartfelt ambition of Real Madrid’s Florentino Pérez, who has always cherished the idea of a continental league led by his club. “Barcelona had its own voice when dealing with the league, but for the past three years, it only repeats what Real Madrid says,” remarked Tebas. 

It could also be simply self-interest on the part of Barcelona, who may see the concept of a US$ 6 billion-backed league as a solution to their own current economic situation. If that is the case, then Barca’s accounts may be more worrying than we are led to believe. 

Others are as concerned as Tebas. Fernando Gomes, the president of the Portuguese League, said: “The world is currently experiencing its greatest challenge, at least for the last century, and the last thing it needs is the exacerbation of selfishness and greed.”

Bartomeu’s statement could have been the start of a civil war among European football. Not only has he angered officials from various leagues, but he has also let the cat out of the bag and nailed his [former] club’s colours to the mast. Most of the football world had its suspicions about the motives of the “big picture” and the European Super League, Bartomeu effectively confirmed what we already knew. 


Photos: PA

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