Barcelona:-“Good thing the Inter game is not close, so I can focus on chess and Barcelona on the Europa League.” For the unversed, that was world chess champion Magnus Carlsen’s hilarious dig at Barca on Twitter, after the club’s elimination in the group stage of the Champions League for the second consecutive season.
Even before a 3-0 loss at home against Bayern Munich, Barcelona were out of the tournament after Inter Milan defeated Viktoria Plzen 4-0 in the earlier game. Barcelona needed Inter to drop points. Barcelona will finish third in Group C and be consigned to the second-tier Europa League. They lost in the quarterfinals of the tournament last season to eventual champions Eintracht Frankfurt.
The failure to advance for the second season in a row has dealt yet another blow to the Catalan club that is already dealing with a financial crisis. The exit from the Champions League 2022-23 can be attributed to several reasons such as the team being in transition under club legend and current coach Xavi, a tough draw (Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, no less, for company!) and injuries to major players (Jules Kounde and Ronald Araujo, in particular) in crucial matches, to name a few. Questions are being raised whether Xavi was ready to take over as the coach of the elite club. The fact that he pointed fingers at his defenders after the Champions League exit, too, did not go down well with the fans. There were also concerns over the lack of back-up – for midfield general Sergio Busquets, for instance. He was their only defensive midfield option, and in the absence of defenders like Kounde and Araujo, was thoroughly exposed.
Ansu Fati’s (mis)management is another matter of concern. The teenage forward has had only three starts this year since returning from an injury. The lack of game time, reportedly, hasn’t gone down too well with the player.
This summer, Barcelona spent a total of €140million to sign Brazil winger Raphinha from Leeds United, Poland forward Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich and France centre-back Kounde from Sevilla. They also signed Andreas Christensen and Franck Kessie from Chelsea and AC Milan respectively on free transfers.
This when, earlier this year, club president Joan Laporta said the Blaugrana had been “clinically dead” when he was elected in March 2021, and that Barcelona “remained in the ICU”. In August 2021, Laporta, in a press conference, said Barcelona had a debt of €1.35 billion, and the club’s net worth was a negative €451 million.
Poor decision-making in the transfer market and extravagant player salaries over the years have been pointed out as reasons for the mounting debts. It started in 2017 after the departure of Neymar, when Barcelona signed Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho from Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool respectively. Not only were they signed for gold dust, but the club awarded huge contracts to regulars such as Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba. The following seasons, too, the bad recruitment and mismanagement continued. By the 2020-21 season, Barcelona had tried reducing salaries of players and also offloading players such as Luis Suarez, Nelson Semedo, Rafinha and Ivan Rakitic. President Josep Maria Bartomeu was forced to resign.
Bartomeu was replaced by Laporta in March 2021, but soon found himself in the eye of a storm, as one of three club presidents or owners who planned the European Super League (12 top European clubs announced they were forming a new tournament). It was Laporta’s idea of a lifeline for the struggling club, but it tarnished their reputation forever.
Then came the infamous departure of the club’s blued-eyed boy, Lionel Messi. But still, Barcelona were able to sign Ferran Torres and Emerson Royal the same summer. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Memphis Depay, Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia, too, joined the Catalan club on a free transfer.
To raise money, Barcelona approved the sale of up to 25 per cent of their LaLiga TV money for up to 25 years for €207.5 million. The second way was by selling up to 49.9 per cent of BLM – the company started for the club’s marketing and licensing.
Barcelona are now reportedly looking to terminate the contracts of Alba and Pique in January, though the club owes them a combined €145 million, to improve the squad in January.