10 years ago, I never thought I would have to write on a topic like this. While that is partially because 10 years ago I had no intention of writing, Messi’s imminent transfer to Paris Saint-Germain has left me, and the rest of the football world, deeply shocked. Not just because he left the club, but because of the state of the club he left behind: the former giants are now a husk of their former selves on the field, and their financial status means more hard decisions like this still need to be taken. The club has taken many steps in the wrong direction for many years now under the Bartomeu board, and the COVID-19 pandemic left them, and the future board under Laporta, scrambling to save whatever they can in attempt to rebuild.
In this article, I don’t plan on talking about what led to this. I simply wish to discuss if it’s even possible that Barcelona can reach the heights they are expected to be at, and what they need to do to get there.
The fact that Barcelona still cannot register new players without taking into account Messi’s annual €71 million contract, tells us enough about the club’s financial state. For those who don’t know, La Liga imposes a wage cap for all teams based on the club’s revenue from previous seasons. Barcelona actually failed to meet the wage cap in the 20/21 season, and La Liga President Javier Tebas has no intention of allowing them get away with it twice. This means that Barcelona need to cut down their wage bill, or they will not be allowed to register any new signings for the new season. This includes new star man Memphis Depay, talented young centre back Eric Garcia, as well as Emerson Royal, Sergio Aguero (who already wants to leave the club as he primarily joined to play with Messi) and even Lionel Messi himself (his contract expired this summer, so he counts as a new Barcelona signing). Currently, Barcelona are still operating over the wage limit, and it is imperative that these players get registered as they can all play key roles in Barcelona’s upcoming season.
They also made a €100 million loss in the 19/20 season, and after losing Messi their revenue will drop even further. Financially, Barcelona are currently teetering on the brink. I will say that in all of this, I have not forgotten that we are talking about Barcelona, so I do expect them to eventually recover from this. The point, however, is that they should never have been in this situation in the first place.
For all the money they have spent, you would think that Barcelona have at least been dominant on the field. However, this can’t be further from the truth. Barcelona had a poor 19/20 season, only winning a solitary cup while coming 3rd in their league and leaving the UCL in the round of 16. And this was with Messi. Now they have to improve on the previous season, but it remains to be seen if they have a side and manager capable of doing so.
The list of problems is clearly very long, and for all I know this may just be the tip of the iceberg. If it was any other club, I may have said that operating at anywhere near the same capacity that they already do would be impossible. However, this is Barcelona under the management of one of their most successful boards ever. That is why I took the time to debate how they would fix the problem. This is what I came up with.
So far, the Barcelona board have managed to temporarily reduce the club’s wage budget by convincing their players to take wage cuts. I’m sure that they will continue to employ this tactic until they get to register their new signings. However, this solution is only short-term, and Laporta knows that Barcelona’s wage structure needs revising. They are also looking to offload the deadwood in the team, with Umtiti and Pjanic rumours everpresent. Laporta has already been working to this end, but it remains to be seen whether he will actually succeed. I also believe that Barcelona will need to make harder decisions next season, with the futures of players like Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho particularly fragile.
They will also need to replace the income they lost with Messi’s departure. This is a heavier blow than people realize, as Messi really was Barcelona’s cash cow and the only player with a reach remotely similar to his will never play for Barcelona. Frankly, I don’t actually believe that what Messi brought to Barcelona financially can be replaced by one single person, or even multiple people. However, exciting football and trophy wins can mitigate the effects of losing Messi, and that is what Barca have to try to do. Which leads me to my next point.
Koeman also has to deal with a new Barca squad without Messi, and this time he cannot afford to repeat what happened last season. Signing a more established defender than Eric Garcia may have been a better decision, however the Cules are currently not in the position to be picky. Following the same logic, Barcelona may have preferred a goalscorer that wasn’t approaching the end of his career, but they have to make do with Sergio Aguero and a returning Ansu Fati. On the bright side, Depay was one of Europe’s best dribblers and creators last season and he will do his best to fill the gap Messi left as regards to creativity.
Everything I’ve said before this is more or less common knowledge. I want to use this section to discuss where I believe Barcelona will go from here.
I believe that Barcelona is too big a club to suffer everlasting effects from this blip in revenue. As long as a president who isn’t actively ruining their finances remains at the helm, you can expect Barca to remain as one of the biggest clubs in world football. Barcelona will find a way to register their newly signed players, and between this season and the next a number of old and fringe squad members will take their last bow at the Nou Camp. It will need to happen for Barca to progress in the future.
As for their on-the-field issues, I’m actually going to fully back Koeman to deliver the La Liga title in the 21/22 season. I do realize the gravity of this prediction, but I just can’t seem to shake it off. Maybe it’s the fact that Barcelona had the highest expected points total of the 20/21 season, or the fact that Koeman has gotten the club’s best players to play an exciting brand of football reminiscent of when Messi first broke out into the first team. Maybe it’s just the fact that Barcelona have won La Liga so often in recent times that I just can’t imagine them going so long without it anymore. Even without Messi, Barcelona have a talented squad full of people who can win the league. Sure their squad has weaknesses, but so does every other La Liga team. Real Madrid have a serious fitness issue and too many misfiring attackers to count on one hand. Atletico Madrid are usually only outsider picks in the title race, and can’t be relied on to mount a title defense. The building blocks are already in place, and it’s now for the club to step up and show the world that they are more than the Messi team.