As young midfielder Arthur Melo heads to Juventus against his initial dream and will, he becomes the latest victim to suffer from the poor financial planning from the Barça board.
Chaos at Barcelona reached its crescendo when six of the club board members resigned collectively back in early 2020. These resignation came from only one intention: they didn’t want to be associated with all the shady business going behind the scenes run by the president of FC Barcelona Josep Maria Bartomeu. They didn’t stop there, though. Following such resignations, everyone talked it out in front of media.
After resigning, former vice president of Barça Emili Rousaud released a statement, via Mundo Deportivo, that read as follows:
“For the sole purpose of responding to the announcement made by the FC Barcelona spokesperson about filing a criminal complaint against me for the statements made regarding the so-called ‘Barça Gate’ case, I want to state the following:
“1. The existence of corruption within the club is evident in the fact that it has already been shown that contracts between related companies.
“2. The statements I made regarding this matter are absolutely true and demonstrable; the opinions that I have expressed are absolutely well-founded, which allows me to state that the announced complaint has no basis whatsoever.
“3. Unfortunately, when I made the club aware of these irregularities it became the cause of my resignation. However, it cannot be underestimated that there is a moral – and legal – obligation to publicly report irregular actions that may constitute crime”
This all started with the social media scandal known as the Barça Gate. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Barcelona board had hired consultancy firm I3 Ventures to use social media to cleanse the image of Bartomeu and damage the reputation of several personalities related to the club. Lionel Messi and his wife, Gerard Piqué, Barça icons Xavi Hernández, Carles Puyol and Pep Guardiola, or presidential rivals such as Víctor Font and Joan Laporta were among the victims.
Furthermore, the payment of 1 million euros to I3 Ventures was broken up in order to avoid control over the commission. For an institution of Barcelona’s magnitude, it is absolutely embracing when the club owes the money to its own players and still continues to indulge into such troubles.
To make matters worse, on 13 April Josep Maria Bartomeu issued an official statement on such controversy saying they he would file a lawsuit against Emili Rousaud. How did they plan to pay for it? With the crisis the football world is currently in, this lawsuit is the last thing the club should have been concerned about. From the day Bartomeu was elected, he has dragged this club over so many lawsuits, and he is still continuing to do so in spite of all the financial issues.
One of the main talking points when it comes to the financial structure of clubs is the payout to the players. Barcelona acts as a sporting club with several sections, but mainly it deals with football, taking into account their official annual reports from last year. In these we can see that 80% of their revenue was generated from football alone, showing how largely their business depends upon it. Adding to it, it is the only source of centre with profits.
Consolidated income statement by sports for FC Barcelona last season, ending on June 30 2019
Football comes out to be the only entity providing profits in books for the club. Given the pandemic, the losses will definitely increase, thus impacting the long-term plans of the club strategically and financially.
A club with a taste of champagne and budget of a beer
Barcelona, from the 2018/19 season, have the highest wage bill in Europe, amounting to €439m, which is crippling its financial structure. There is no stopping in the last few years within the club as such absurd amount of demands from the player agents continue to be accepted.
Also, there have been certain incidents that prove how these contracts make the players who are rumoured to leave want to stay for the sake of money. Let’s have a look at some of the weekly wages from the first team squad.
The club’s wage bill is really questionable and needs to be addressed. Back in 2018, many players asked for a better contract. For instance, Gerard Piqué got one, further increasing the wage bill. But he was not the only one. These continue to add up, making us ask ourselves how or why does the board keep accepting such demands. Only a look needs to be taken at Antoine Griezmann’s currently wage contract.
The footballers are surely not getting paid according to what they bring on the pitch, except for a few. Arturo Vidal, Iván Rakitić, Ousmane Dembélé and Samuel Umtiti all earn more or equal to the double of Marc-André ter Stegen’s salary. Completely absurd considering the titanic importance of Ter Stegen, who is still waiting for a renewal.
These things show there is a total lack of planning inside the Barcelona structure. And, given the post-pandemic situation, the club will have to let go many of the players to balance the books. Arthur Melo, the Brazilian midfielder heading to Juventus, is the first victim of this downfall.
A line needs to be drawn
We all are aware of the fall of mighty AC Milan. How they went from among one of the top three wealthiest club in the world to not even being close to that podium again.
Barcelona seems to be heading in the same direction sooner rather than later if they don’t organise themselves and stay away from the public relations war. Someone needs to take responsibility of the actions regarding the things going behind the scenes. For the short-term, a re-election of new board members is required, while, looking at the long term, a big financial restructuring is required.
The sporting project is sacrificed for the financial gains | Photo by AFP7 via Imago
What has happened with Arthur, being pushed out of the club against his own desire in order to balance the accounts, should be the last time that this occurs if the board does not want to destroy the legacy of club.
Who are FC Barcelona’s hardest workers?
Work rate is a crucial element in a successful football side, but which Barcelona players have put in the most effort this season?
While FC Barcelona has always been renowned for their technical ability and tactical intelligence of its players, their work rate on the pitch has also played a key role in the club’s greatest triumphs.
The concept is simple, but that does not detract from its importance. Players who track back to win the ball, make bursting runs to create space and passing angles, and constantly apply pressure out of possession are incredibly valuable.
While it may be impossible to quantify a player’s effort with full accuracy truly, the available data can still reveal some prominent trends. With that in mind, which Barcelona players put in the highest amount of work rate statistically?
First things first, time to establish a methodology. Using data from FBRef, the dataset will be filtered down to outfield players who have played five or more 90’s in one of the big five European leagues in the 2020/21 season. That means each player has at least a decent sample size under their belt, so there will not be anyone with only a few ten-minute appearances off the bench.
Then, which metrics can be used to quantify effort best? With the data available, it seems like the most viable option is to try and identify box-to-box players. For that, we can use the different areas of the pitch in which players take their touches.
Each player’s percentile rank for touches per 90 minutes in the defensive penalty area, defensive third, middle third, attacking third, and attacking penalty area was found. The average of those five percentiles became each player’s “attacking average.”
These averages were then scaled between 0 and 100 for the final “Offensive Coverage Rating.” This is how the top five came out for all clubs:
- Raphaël Guerreiro (Dortmund) – 100
- Jordi Alba (Barcelona) – 97.5
- Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 94.3
- Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich) – 92.7
- Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid) – 92.4
Elsewhere in the top 20 are names like Andrew Robertson, Reece James, Luke Ayling of the intense Leeds United system, Ander Herrera, and Frenkie de Jong. There seems to a solid set of players who work their way up and down the pitch, either down the flank as full-backs or as energetic centre-midfielders.
How does the Barça squad stack up in particular?
As previously mentioned, the full-backs are the main standouts. The never-ending stamina of Jordi Alba is especially on display. Frenkie de Jong sits as the top non-full-back by a solid distance, reflecting his ability to drop deep in the buildup and provide dangerous runs forward.
A bit lower down the list, though, things start to look a bit weirder. It should be noted that this methodology can be a bit biased towards centre-backs. They rack up many touches in the defensive penalty area, defensive third, and middle third in a possession-based system, and the additional touches they get in the attacking penalty area off of corners and free-kicks can drive their scores pretty high.
Looking at Antoine Griezmann and Martin Braithwaite all the way at the bottom brings up another limitation. While we can track players who are active in many different areas of the pitch, we can not do the same for players who move and work a lot in the same area.
Watching Braithwaite and Griezmann definitely shows how active they are making runs in behind or across the attacking third, but because they do not drop off very often to pick up the ball, they rank low in the team.
However, those top names prove this offensive coverage metric is able to quantify box-to-box play in possession. Additionally, incorporating defensive metrics will clean things up even more.
On the other side of the ball, the process is very similar. The same players and methodology will be applied, only this time with pressures instead of touches.
StatsBomb, who collect the data displayed on FBRef, define pressure as, “…applying pressure to an opposing player who is receiving, carrying, or releasing the ball.” These pressures are just broken down based on the thirds of the pitch, not the penalty areas too, so only three metrics go into each player’s “defensive average.”
Once again, those averages are then scaled between 0 and 100, creating the “Defensive Coverage Ratings.” The top five performers in these ratings were:
- Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro (Lazio) – 100
- Mikkel Damsgaard (Sampdoria) – 98.1
- Leonardo Bittencourt (Werder Bremen) – 98.1
- Morgan Sanson (Marseille) – 98.0
- Maxence Caqueret (Lyon) – 97.2
Midfield workhorses like Fred and Adrien Silva, along with high-pressing forwards such as Diogo Jota are common throughout the rest of the top 25.
Given that Barcelona are a possession-heavy side, and one that often presses at a lower intensity, one would expect these defensive work-rate ratings to be a bit lower. Still, though, which players stand out?
Pedri comes out as the clear leader. Impressively, the teenager’s score is one that would be respectable in any side. Let it serve as just another testament to his work rate and ability to perform a variety of different tasks on the pitch.
With Sergio Busquets in second, even as he ages, he is still one of Barça’s most active players in terms of closing down the opposition. In third is another newcomer, as Sergiño Dest’s tendency to press aggressively puts him much higher than most of the other defenders in the squad.
The tallies for the other members of the backline are quite low because they defend in a more reserved nature. This can also be attributed to the fact that Barcelona give up fewer opportunities than many teams.
With both of these two ratings in place and some solid results for top-ranking players, it is time to combine them.
Here in the endgame, we will be combining all eight metrics to create one “Overall Coverage Rating.” That means touches in each third, touches in both penalty areas, and pressures in each third are all included. This way, we can see the players who cover most of the pitch overall.
The top five is comprised of:
- Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund) – 100
- Ander Herrera (Paris Saint-Germain) – 99.3
- Bruno Guimarães (Lyon) – 97.6
- Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid) – 96.7
- Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) – 96.2
Idrissa Gana Gueye, Dani Carvajal, Joshua Kimmich, Renan Lodi, Arturo Vidal, Maxence Caqueret, Ezgjan Alioski, Pedri, Reece James, Mason Mount, and Mateusz Klich are among the top names as well.
Now, for the final Barcelona squad rankings:
The numbers still involve the same intricacies as those discussed for the separate offensive and defensive ratings, but at least the top five names seem to match an eye test evaluation of the squad.
Pedri has joined the team and impressed everyone with his work rate and movement. He will track an opposition runner back to the defensive third, win the ball, combine in midfield, and then get forward to be an outlet for Messi.
While not as youthful and agile, Busquets still serves as a metronome in the possession and an active defender. He will move and reposition to rack up touches in the deeper thirds and engages in defensive duels very often.
The right flank has been slightly ignored at times this season, leaving Dest isolated, but the American always brings energy. He has all the skills and the mentality to be a great modern full-back.
Dest’s counterpart on the left, Jordi Alba, performs a much greater portion of his work offensively. His countless runs down the left wing have made him a key target for through balls and switches of play over the last few seasons.
Lastly, Frenkie de Jong backs up his reputation as an all-round midfielder. This season, the Dutchman is settling in more at the Camp Nou, and his surging runs forward to the penalty area have been awe-inspiring as of late.
Rivaldo (on De Jong): "It is being shown that near the area it seems that he is capable of playing better as an offensive midfielder and that he can even play a role similar to what Messi does when the Argentine is away. This is great news for Koeman." pic.twitter.com/r8aIrdMWSg— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 15, 2021
Griezmann and Braithwaite are probably the hardest done by these metrics. However, their energy, work rate and volume of runs they can provide off the ball is noticeable when watching them play, and invaluable for Barcelona.
There is no perfect way to quantify how hard a player works in-game, especially with these limited statistics. What this attempted to do, though, is focus on effort in terms moving to a variety of areas, being as involved in the match as possible, and doing so in different ways.
While not perfect, this methodology was successful in identifying some of the busiest players in the side. It should serve as a reminder of the value these players, like Pedri or de Jong, can offer beyond even their brilliant technical ability.
Given that 32-year-old Sergio Busquets and 31-year-old Jordi Alba were also near the top, it is a reminder of the potential replacements the club will be forced to make eventually. How long can these two continue to exert energy at this level? Could younger players be doing even more in those roles? How will Barça fill those holes when they move on? These are questions that need answering.