Barcelona in trouble. Those three words do not go together. The Catalans can cause trouble – a lot of it. But a team with Messi at its core and Suarez in its attack cannot be in trouble. It does not make sense. But, yet it seems that the La Liga powerhouse is in a bit of turmoil.
In the past, they have occasionally been stumped. Juventus, Inter and Chelsea’s defence has stopped them in their Champions League tracks. Real Madrid’s resurgence over the last two seasons and Atletico Madrid’s occasional brilliance has ensured that the La Liga trophy is not Barcelona’s long-term possession anymore. But in the past, Barcelona has always known how to move forward from such reverses on the field.
However, this time it seems that the trouble has begun off-field and is gradually becoming a threat to what happens on the field. Here, we take a look at three most important reasons why Barcelona and their fans should be worried about the future.
Barcelona Risk Losing Key Players in a Year
Both Messi and Iniesta are in the last year of their contracts. Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has claimed that both the players have extended their contracts. But when reporters asked Iniesta whether he had signed a contract expansion, he told them “no”. The Spanish midfielder was returning from international duty when the reporters asked him this at the El Prat airport.
Similarly, Bartomeu reiterated his July claim that Lionel Messi has signed his contract extension with Barcelona. But, in his own words, the “signature protocol” with Messi is still pending. Most news outlets are interpreting that as – Messi is yet to sign the deal. Iniesta’s denial and Messi’s stalling say a lot about how these players are watching the Barcelona board’s next action before committing their future to the club. To think of these La Masia graduates leaving Barcelona would have been a heresy at one point in time. Now it is a possibility.
Both the players might eventually sign an extension, but Bartomeu’s bungled contract announcements have opened the can of worms, and more key players might resist a contract extension in future. This will be very expensive – both financially and reputationally.
A Failed Transfer Window
Some teams can have a quiet transfer window. But few European majors go after so many targets publicly and then miss out on most of them. First, Barcelona lost a star in Neymar due to an ill-fated €222 million release clause that was activated by Paris Saint Germaine. Then, using that money, Barcelona decided to publicly chase three players – Philippe Coutinho, Seri, and Ousmane Dembele. Of these, only Dembele joined the Catalans. Liverpool and Nice did not play ball, and both Seri and Coutinho remain at their current clubs. Thus, Barcelona’s official incomings this window were – Dembele, Paulinho, Nelson Semedo, and Gerard Deulofeu. These players do not seem adequate either for Barcelona’s ambition or their actual needs.
Board in Turmoil
Agusti Benedito, who has twice run for Barcelona’s presidency in the past, has passed a no-confidence motion against Bartomeu. His accusations are not merely about the mishandling of contract extensions and a failed transfer window. Rather, he is accusing Bartomeu and former president Sandro Rosell of grave corruption charges. Vice President Jordi Cardoner admitted last week that such charges and investigations could cause disruption both on the field and in the board room. When Real Madrid are running away with trophy after trophy, a distracted and weakened squad can cause a disaster for Barcelona.
Apparently, Messi is waiting for the board to improve their handling of the club and also show him that he is going to play with more stars. But, without Messi (and Iniesta) Barcelona will lose their identity. It is a vicious circle, and it will need immense loyalty from the Argentine to break out of it. If he does not sign that contract extension soon, the future looks even murkier for Barcelona.