On 7th October last year, Barcelona faced Sevilla at the Camp Nou in what was a 4-0 victory for the Catalans. A match that would be in the headlines for days to come, Barcelona scored thrice in ten minutes, after which Lionel Messi added to the scoreline with a freekick dripping with finesse to rub salt in the wound. Despite this, the match would not be in the headlines for the right reasons. A sweet victory, but one with a bitter aftertaste; the result of a red card each to Ousmane Dembele and Ronald Araujo in the last five minutes of the match.
A few days later, amidst a generally unoptimistic feeling surrounding the club, news broke out regarding Barcelona’s latest financial misadventure. A huge debt that could take years to repay was followed by an incredible amount of money borrowed from Goldman Sachs. One couldn’t help but empathize with the potential plight of the next Barcelona president. Manoeuvring these dangerous waters was seemingly an unforgiving yet essential duty.
Since then, Joan Laporta has been elected as president and has already started planning and executing with a view to have a successful stint at the helm of the club. It’s no surprise to see that his three main priorities are reportedly all surrounding this herculean task. The victory has already been seen. However, this challenge is one that could leave a bitter aftertaste as well at the end of the four years, if not handled delicately.
Let’s take a look at each aspect, why it is necessary and how to go about executing it.
Reducing wage bill
Barcelona reportedly have the highest wage bill in Europe with an average salary of €10.36 million.
According to various sources, player wages take up around 61% of the club’s €1104m income before the coronavirus pandemic took hold. But since income has dropped to €876m, salaries have become over 80% of total income if changes are not made.
For a club facing financial issues, this is the immediate way to reduce the expenses. To actually understand the incredible amount of capital invested in players, let’s take a look at Junior Firpo. Six matches played in La Liga, averaging 40 minutes per game, the Spanish left-back was signed from Real Betis in 2019. His salary of around €5m per year amounts to €1,000 earned per hour. For a player with little to no impact on the first-team, this is astronomical.
Alongside him, Miralem Pjanic with €8.4m, Samuel Umtiti with €12m, Philippe Coutinho with €8.5m, Neto Murara with €3.7 are all players who earn a lot of money with first-team involvement that doesn’t justify the wages.
Not only this, but players staying at the club have to be willinig to take wage cuts as well. Only then will Barcelona be able to handle the bill effectively.
The aforementioned players, Pjanic, Umtiti, Coutinho, Neto, and Firpo, are all among those who can and should be sold this summer. At this point, the expense-performance ratio is simply inexcusable.
Some players will have to be sold, not only because of their lack of involvement but because of their lack of potential. Matheus Fernandes is among these. A signing that made little sense, to begin with, he has been given a first-team spot but is not at all at that level.
Right-back Moussa Wague is currently on loan at Greek club PAOK. Still just 22 years of age, he is unlike Fernandes in that he shows potential to play for a top European side. However, with Sergino Dest and Seri Roberto contesting for the spot, and even Oscar Mingueza to an extent, he would get little to no opportunities at Barcelona for the next few years. Now is the time to sell him, and hope to secure a fair transfer fee for the Senegalese.
Carles Alena is a different case. The Spanish midfielder, a La Masia product, has impressed under the right conditions. His Dynamo Kyiv performance, among others, showed just how useful of a player he is. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that he could reach the heights that Pedri Gonzalez, Riqui Puig, or even Alex Collado can reach.
However, he has time and time again shown the quality to perform at a club like Barcelona. With plenty of clubs across Europe interested in him before his contract renewal, the best solution would be to give him opportunities in the first-team, and if he does not perform, sell him in a season or two. Still young, he would demand a significant sum from the buying club.
Promoting players from La Masia
La Masia is one of Barcelona’s core features. The youth academy was built in 1702. Initially, a farmhouse made to house the club’s youth players has since then developed into one of the world’s best youth academies. For Joan Laporta, La Masia is naturally of immense value. Not only because of its significance but because of the quality it produces.
The President must show a level of confidence in the coach that conveys the fact that playing youth players is the priority, even if it comes at a price. The balance between playing young, inexperienced players and winning the necessary accolades is essential. These players are all raised with the Barcelona philosophy imbibed in them. That’s why players like Oscar Mingueza or Ansu Fati surprise everyone. Even those who followed them in the youth squads were taken aback by how well they adapted to the first team.
Suppose they don’t perform well or don’t show the potential necessary to succeed at a club like Barcelona, selling them remains a choice for the board. These sales would also be with definite profits as the wage is initially not as much as the players brought in from other clubs, and there are naturally no transfer costs involved.
Barcelona have many youngsters who warrant first-team chances. Jandro Orellana, Alex Collado, Nico Gonzalez, Inaki Pena, Arnau Tenas are among those who could soon be first-team players. Left-back Alejandro Balde, midfielder Pablo ‘Gavi’ Paez, winger Ilias Ahkomach are all players who, despite being very young, could play significant roles for Barcelona B. In fact, these players might even make it to the first team within the next year.
Joan Laporta’s victory has been a victory for the club as well. A president who loves the club and knows what the players and fans want. A massive victory, yet one with challenges. Laporta is someone who can handle these challenges. If these three are indeed his priorities, he’s taken a step in the right direction. A reason for Cules to be highly optimistic about the future.
Using Machine Learning to predict Barcelona’s 2021/22 league season
Johan Cruyff famously said, “I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.” It is indisputable that money is not the only deciding factor behind a football club’s success. Time and time again, we have seen that football is chaotic and absurd. Anything can happen.
That being said, it is evident that statistically, the clubs with more money are usually the more successful ones. While one cannot predict the unpredictability that is engraved within football, an outcome that is statistically probable can be predicted. This article will explore the relationship between the points a club accumulates in a league season and the total value of the club’s squad. Then, Python will be used to build a linear regression model in order to predict the number of points Barcelona will obtain in the 21/22 season based on the club’s hypothetical squad.
Let us begin with visualizing the relationship between the total league points obtained by a club and the club’s total squad value. Since the amount of money spent on transfers has increased tremendously over the course of the last decade, in this article, only seasons 2014/15 – 2019/20 will be considered. Upon plotting the total points against the total squad value, it is evident that there is a positive correlation between the two. Granted, the correlation is not extremely strong, but it exists nonetheless.
A line of regression has been generated. The line’s gradient is approximately 0.05138986, and its y-intercept is approximately 44.5470726. There is only one dependant variable in question, club value/total value of squad, and so our line of regression can be modelled by the equation:
P = (0.05138986 )V + 44.5470726 where P is the points and V is the total squad value.
club_values = np.array(df['Values']).reshape(89,1) club_points = np.array(df['Point']).reshape(89,1) from sklearn.linear_model import LinearRegression linear_model = LinearRegression() linear_model.fit(club_values,club_points)
In order to predict the points accumulated based on Barcelona’s squad value next season, the squad value won’t directly be inputted into our equation above. The coefficient and the y-intercept have been rounded up after a certain number of decimal places, and so, to preserve the precision of the prediction, Python’s LinearRegression predict method will be utilized.
Now comes another challenging part of coming up with Barcelona’s hypothetical squad next season. Based on reports, it can be assumed that Samuel Umtiti, Miralem Pjanic, Martin Braithwaite and Phillipe Coutinho will be some of the notable players to leave. To compensate for the outgoing players, it can be assumed that Barcelona will sign Eric Garcia, David Alaba, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay. Here is a table that contains all the players in Barcelona’s hypothetical 21/22 squad and their corresponding market values:
|PLAYER NAME||MARKET VALUE (MILLION POUNDS)|
|MARC ANDRE TER STEGEN||79.34|
|FRENKIE DE JONG||84.63|
|KONRAD DE LA FUENTE||2.64|
The club’s total value comes up to be £786.60 million. It is important to note that a player’s value is volatile. Transfermarkt updates player values every few months, and so it is extremely probable that this squad’s market value will be drastically different next season.
It is also important to understand that Transfermarkt’s market values are not official and so they are not always an accurate representation of a player’s true market value. Moreover, a player’s value is not always an accurate representation of their quality. Age is a key factor in determining market value, and so while a young player might have a high market value indicating that they are a bright prospect for the future, they might not necessarily be an excellent player at the time when the value is assigned.
Now that all of this has been established, the only thing left is making the prediction.
The machine learning model predicts that Barcelona will obtain 85 points in the 21/22 La Liga season. In the 19/20 season, Real Madrid won the league with 87 points, and in the 18/19 season, Barcelona won the league with 87 points as well. The difference between the points accumulated by the last two winning La Liga squads and the predicted points that Barcelona’s 21/22 squad will obtain is a mere 2 points. This shows that it is possible for Barcelona to win the league next season.
Since the correlation between the two variables, as observed from the data from the last 6 seasons, is not even close to being extremely strong, Barcelona’s 21/22 league points tally may be drastically different from what was predicted by the machine learning model. However, at the end of the day, the model can only work with the data it is exposed to.
Erling Haaland can change the course of Barcelona’s season. It would take forever to make predictions based on Barcelona’s hypothetical squads that include all of the club’s potential transfer targets, however, due to Haaland’s influence, an exception can be made for him. Laporta’s interest in signing Haaland has been widely reported.
However, he will cost a fortune this summer, and with Barcelona’s debt situation, it is unlikely that the Catalan club will pursue him in the upcoming transfer window. That being said like mentioned previously in the article, football is chaotic, and anything can happen.
Assuming that Barcelona does end up signing Haaland in the summer, Antoine Griezmann will most definitely have to leave (due to wages and the money that can be generated from his sale). Haaland’s current value is £99 million, and so Barcelona’s total squad value for next season, after being corrected for Griezmann’s exit and Haaland’s arrival is £831.60 million.
Haaland’s addition can put 21/22 Barcelona on level with the previous two Spanish champions in terms of total points won. The difference in points between a squad containing Haaland and one not containing him is only two. However, an argument about whether signing Haaland is worth it, is not in the scope of this article.
“Transition seasons do not exist at Barcelona.”Joan Laporta | Presidential campaign
A club of Barcelona’s stature will always compete for titles. The machine learning model shows that Barcelona is in contention for the 2021/22 La Liga title. Ronald Koeman has done a splendid job at the Blaugrana club this season, and there is no logical reason for him to not do an even better job next season after getting fresh players in the summer.
While football at its core is unpredictable, statistically, it would not hurt to trust Barcelona to win the 2021/22 La Liga title.