Barcelona was on fire, perhaps still is, but maybe they will rise from the ashes once again. For years, this club has lived off one of its worst eras under the presidency of Josep Maria Bartomeu. The Catalan is a winner on the entrepreneurship scenery, but a huge loser in terms of football.
On the 27th of October 2020, however, Bartomeu announced his resignation, succumbed to the fans’ demands. This resignation has been celebrated by everyone associated with the club, and Culés see it as the only way the club can move forward.
However, were the Catalan fans wrong to want Bartomeu out? Was he really that bad?
Let’s go into some facts. Bartomeu is one of the most decorated Barcelona president alongside Joan Laporta. He won 12 titles since he won the Presidential elections in 2014. Also, under his tenure, Barcelona have gone just trophyless once, which could be excused. That is less than what can be said for Florentino Perez’s Madrid, who have gone twice without winning a single trophy, in 2015 and 2019. But what else?
Bartomeu appointed club legend Luis Enrique, the best manager to have coached under Bartomeu’s tenure. With Lucho in the bag, Bartomeu bet on Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Claudio Bravo and Marc-André Ter Stegen to get his squad back to the best after a trophyless season. These four signings changed the look of the team in 2014-15. Barcelona won the treble in Bartomeu’s first year as president of the club. La vie en Rose.
Luis Enrique covered a lot of gaping holes in Bartomeu’s administration with the treble. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
After that historical season, Bartomeu’s Barça won a domestic double but went out in the Champions League quarter-finals against Diego Simeone’s robust Atlético Madrid. The 2015-16 season was MSN’s most prolific season, and Barcelona were unfortunate to go out this early in Europe. Also, this season saw Barcelona thrash Real Madrid 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu with some of the most magnificent football in club history.
This season also saw La Masia gift yet another talent to the first team with Sergi Roberto stealing the spotlight. The defender was the most versatile player in the squad, replacing an injured Lionel Messi in the El Clasico, and putting on an absolute show. Everyone thought Bartomeu made La Masia bloom and rise from its ashes. Especially when Roberto netted the winner against Paris Saint-Germain in that 6-1 win in 2017.
Oh yes, La Remontada, the game where Barcelona showed their dominance in world football by thrashing PSG 6-1 after a 4-0 drubbing in Paris. Barcelona rose from their ashes and qualified for the next round, even if the odds were against them. Neymar said it: “1% chance, 99% faith.” and fans drank it up like bhang on Holi.
In 2017, Luis Enrique lost the league and received a lot of hate from his fans after the 3-0 dismantling in Turin against Juventus. Enrique’s side came at the end of a stupendous cycle, and the Spain manager admitted it as he left the club due to the pressure.
The same summer, the first vote of no confidence of Bartomeu’s tenure took place as some people spit some ludicrous criticism towards the president. The vote of no confidence failed. Agusti Benedito lost the fight. In fairness, he was always going to lose it because neutrals still recognised Barcelona as a force. This dire season was only a blip, but then things went more south for Barcelona and Bartomeu.
The first breach. The treason. Neymar’s departure to Paris Saint Germain. Neymar’s transfer to France was one of the most mediatised transfer dealings in the history of the game. It is also, to date, the most expensive transfer in the history of the game.
Neymar was fed up. He hated this board but loved his teammates. It can be speculated that he left solely because of the administration of the club, even though during the time a lot of rumours continued to float around. He left a treble-winning side for the team he had just smashed 6-1 four months ago, and his transfer was the first sucker punch the fans received in Bartomeu’s disastrous presidency. Still, the Catalans were in for a ride.
After Enrique came Ernesto Valverde. The Basque manager was a respected figure in Spain. He coached Athletic Club to glory, beating the former Lucho’s side in the 2015 Spanish Super Cup 4-0.
At Camp Nou, though, he had to weather the storm. He still suffered a humbling defeat in the Spanish Super Cup in 2017 against Real Madrid. Even Gerard Piqué, who hates Madrid with all his heart, said that he felt inferior to them for the first time. The fans had to endure that painful loss, and it wasn’t Valverde’s fault.
“In the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid.”Gerard Piqué following the heavy defeat in the 2017 Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid
Bartomeu lost one of the best players in the world and had to deal with a lot of deadwood. Nevertheless, he had money to splash on flashy new players. In all fairness, the former president did splash it, but perhaps he splashed too much on the wrong players. While Arda Turan left the club on loan, no one of note left for any significant fee.
A lot of Bartomeu’s signings failed – and Philippe Coutinho stands as proof. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Other than Neymar, of course. Bartomeu paid over the odds for Ousmane Dembélé, who got a bad injury in 2017 and didn’t justify his fee. Similarly, Liverpool robbed Barcelona for Philippe Coutinho as the Brazilian looked like a shadow of his Merseyside self. He spent a year on loan in 2019 at Bayern Munich, winning a treble in the process.
Dani Alves, inarguably the greatest right-back of the modern era, also left the club under Bartomeu. His departure stemmed from disrespect from the board, and he promised the club that they will miss him. Eventually, they replaced him with Nelson Semedo, who wasn’t fit to fill in the Brazilian’s boots.
“Was I disrespected by the board of directors before I left the club last summer? Absolutely.”Dani Alves on his relationship with Bartomeu’s board | Eurosport
Moreover, straying away from the signings, Bartomeu’s board has also destroyed La Masia. What was once Barça’s immense source of youngsters became a laughing stock in Europe. Barcelona received a transfer ban from FIFA for his excessive transfers of minors from outside of Europe.
Additionally, Bartomeu’s board kept giving fake hopes to the youngsters. Many left Camp Nou for the sake of their career, flourishing elsewhere. For example, Adama Traoré left a season after his debut and is now in everyone’s books.
Similarly, Alex Grimaldo, one of the most sought-after full-backs in world football, left Spain on the look-out for better opportunities.
Barcelona’s horrific board also were aces in flustering their most cherished legends. Whether it is Dani Alves, Carles Puyol or more recently, Gerard Piqué, Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez, these players did not deserve the treatment they got from the board.
Dani Alves led Juventus to a Champions League final after leaving Camp Nou and dumping Barcelona in the quarter-finals. For Messi and Suarez, they got disrespectful treatments for different reasons, but they both held interviews to denounce the board’s doings. Pique called them out as well, not missing a beat in the process.
The Lionel Messi – Josep Bartomeu saga will go down in history. (Photos by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Nonetheless, let’s never forget the recent dealing to endanger Barcelona’s eligibility as a clean club: The Arthur- MIralem Pjanic swap. This deal is one of the most disgraceful in the history of the game. The fact a board member confirmed the deal was made to balance the books is astonishing and baffling. These deals make Barcelona look evil but, in all fairness, the true evil has a name, in the form of a devil: Josep Maria Bartomeu.
But does the devil even need an advocate? Well, definitely not, no lawyer in the world will be able to defend Bartomeu. The club kept moving in the wrong direction since winning the treble, which was, in the first place what got the Spaniard the job. While it was the highest of highs, the lows were baffling, and for the most part – a lot less than what the club deserved. However, the devil is now gone and football is better for it.
Glass half empty: Is the season already over for Barcelona?
If the objective for Barcelona for the present season was to make up for what was lost in its predecessor, then they have gotten off to the possible start. In nine matchdays in the current campaign, the Catalans have garnered up a measly eleven points from a possible 24, and even with 30 matchdays yet to play, doubts have been cast over their title credentials.
Leagues are lost in the first eight games
In his book Pep Confidential, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said that leagues are lost in the first eight and won in the last eight games of any given campaign. One need only look at the Barcelona and tumultuous end to the 2019/20 season for evidence of the same.
Despite heading into the lockdown holding a two-point advantage over nearest challengers Real Madrid, Barcelona proved to be the perfect test subject for what Pep Guardiola’s experiment. In the final eight games of the season, Los Blancos won 22 points while the men in Garnet and Blue garnered up just seventeen. Why so?
Well, a panoply of systemic issues ranging from the incompetent management of Quique Setién to the atrocious defending from the back four as well as unexpected injuries were enough for the Blaugrana to concede the title.
A pattern all too similar — if not worse — is repeating itself in the current campaign. As mentioned before, the former champions have won just eleven points from a possible 24 and are on their worst start to a season since 1991-92 under Johan Cruyff. Some conspiracy theorists would argue that because it happened then, history might repeat itself, however, the context today is significantly different from that of the 90s.
With 23 points and sitting atop of the pile is Real Sociedad and they show no intention of slowing down. Not right now, anyway. Ten games into the season, the Txuri-Urdin have emerged victorious seven times, drawn twice and conceded defeat just once. They have hit the back of the net 21 times (best in the league), and have picked the ball from theirs on just four occasions.
📊 — Barcelona are currently placed 13th on the La Liga table. They are 12 points away from the league leaders (Real Sociedad), and are 4 points away from relegation zone. pic.twitter.com/DuECLJT0jt— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 23, 2020
Barcelona meanwhile are on one of their worst scoring seasons in recent history, averaging just below two a game while conceding just over one in each. To put into perspective just how disastrous a campaign this is turning out to be, the Catalans would need to taste defeat just once more to equal their record from the 2014-15 treble-winning season.
Much from this point on will depend on La Erreala’s form in the future. Based on expected goals and points, a dip might be on the cards, however, how drastic it will be, or if it will even come around in the first place, is uncertain.
A lack of tactical ingenuity
Koeman’s stubbornness has left the season in the dust for Barcelona. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
A handful of the matches played during the Ronald Koeman era that have shown glimpses of how his ideal Barça side should play, however, these sorts of performances have often been sandwiched between games that were, to say it lightly, deplorable to watch.
The Dutch manager does not seem to have a set plan of action for whenever the team finds itself a goal down. In moments where his critical thinking ability is put to the test, he seldom passes. Rather than insist on maintaining control of the ball by adding a midfielder or two, he completely drains the team of them, perhaps believing in the logical fallacy that more attacking players equal to a higher chance of winning.
Not only is he inept at making proper changes to the side when in a losing position, but his willful ignorance at the failures of his favoured 4-2-3-1 also massively contribute to the team’s inability to win.
Riqui Puig should be the symbol of everything Barcelona should strive to be, however, due to his preference of one formation and one only, arguably the Catalans’ best midfielder finds himself cast into the shadows.
Everyone loves Riqui Puig…everyone but Koeman apparently. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
If a system in which the midfielder that embodies the Barça way of playing is not playing, and the arrangement itself is barely living up to its expectations, then a continuation of the same will serve not only to widen the gap between the Blaugrana and the rest of Europe’s elites but also stray further and further away from what made them great, to begin with.
A crisis in the clinic
As if it were an epidemic within the dressing room, injuries have once again proven to be the incurable seasonal plague that Barcelona simply can not find a way around.
It would by no means be logical to place blame on the manager for these unforeseen and uncontrollable happenings, however in light of their title challenge, the more injuries come, the slimmer Barça’s chances are of surmounting a challenge worthy of being crowned the best in Spain, let alone Europe.
In attack, the Blaugrana are just one injury away from being forced into playing with three attackers upfront. It might force Barcelona to go back to using the 4-3-3, but it will stem from a position of compulsion rather than by design.
On the contrary, given the fact that Ansu Fati will be out for another three months, any lesion on either one of Ousmane Dembélé or Lionel Messi, the two most productive members of the current attack, could signal the end of any title challenge the Catalans, if there is one to begin with.
The absence of Fati and Pique will hurt Barcelona massively this season. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
In defence, following the long term injuries sustained by Gerard Piqué and Sergi Roberto, the same horrid storyline repeats itself. The two-time treble winners find themselves just two injuries away from having just neither a centre-back nor a left-back. The shallowness the defence faces today, in comparison to the depth it nearly boasted just two months ago shows to what extent football’s hand can be as unpredictable as it is cruel.
Given the trend, Barcelona have found themselves victim to over the past two seasons, another wound might be somewhere around the corner. Of course, no one in the Barça camp wishes this upon their players, however, the odds seem firmly stacked against their favour.
Any scope left for Barcelona in this season?
Barcelona is by no means a club known to surrender, in any season — in the La Liga at least —, but finding themselves a whopping twelve points behind this early on makes the task seem almost unsurmountable. As unlikely as it sounds, the Blaugrana still do have a chance to clinch the title for the 27th time.
For this to happen, however, Barcelona will not only have to weed out some of its core systemic problems but also pray that fate’s cruel hand will not strike them another blow. The problems Barcelona face are not set in stone, fortunately. They will need plenty of mental strength, tactical ingenuity and luck to go the extra mile and do the impossible.