On Tuesday evening, now former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu announced the decision from him and his board to step down, bringing optimism to the unhappy fans who longed for a new project, but also provoking some uncertainty for both the short and long-term future of the club.
The general belief among supporters is that any situation will be better than the one Bartomeu has led since succeeding predecessor Sandro Rosell in January 2014, following Rosell’s resignation after an investigation for Neymar’s signing a year earlier, and being re-elected in the summer of 2015. Bartomeu’s board faced a vote of no confidence that was going to take place this weekend, but they sought to find an excuse to avoid holding the referendum, arguing that COVID–19 made it irresponsible to allow voting now. But the Catalan government claimed that the vote could still be held, which caused Bartomeu and his entire board to resign in order to prevent the motion from happening and the club members from forcing them out.
So, what now for Barça? With the board that had been in charge of Barcelona since 2010 – when Sandro Rosell was first elected – now finally leaving, what are the next steps for the club? Many possibilities open up.
Who is ruling the club now?
Article 35.4 of FC Barcelona’s statues states that, once a board resigns, an “interim management committee” replaces it temporarily. Economic Strategy president Carlos Tusquets will lead the Management Committee, which must include at least seven more members. After a meeting with Members Trustee Joan Manuel Trayter, the seven members of the Managing Committee were appointed from the Economic and Disciplinary Committees.
69-year-old Carles Tusquets, Barcelona’s new caretaker president, is a renowned businessman and economist. In 1978, he was named treasurer of FC Barcelona, which by that time had Josep Lluís Núñez as president, and, aged 27, Tusquets thus became the youngest directive ever at the club. Tusquets is also the president of Spanish private bank Banco Mediolanum.
Two years ago, as the president of the Economic Strategy, Tusquets already expressed his concern with the path Barça had taken in dealing with its finances. In 2018’s General Assembly, analysing the closing of the 2017/18 financial year, he warned that the debt would only continue to increase and that some sales would be needed to guarantee stability. Barcelona had already sold Neymar Júnior to PSG for 222 million euros, but the big-money signings completed were only going to inflate the debt.
What is the temporary board’s job?
The main task of the new board is to choose a date for the presidential elections and prepare the club for them. The elections must take place in a minimum of 40 days and a maximum of 90 days. This means that Barça will have a new president before the end of January 2021. That said, it remains to be seen whether the elections will be in January, or in December to allow the new board to be in charge of the winter transfer window. In his first press conference on Thursday morning, Tusquets expressed: “We will not accept any pressure to hold elections. We will do them as soon as possible, but seeking maximum participation”.
The objective, still, must be that a new president can be elected as early as possible to guarantee that he and the new board make all the decisions required for Barcelona’s future. Apart from choosing the elections’ date, the temporary board must also confirm the census of members eligible to vote, select an independent election committee to oversee the voting, present the elections candidates, and scrutinise and count the votes before the declaration of the new president.
Pre-candidate Víctor Font wrote on Wednesday on Twitter: “Exceptional moments, exceptional measures. The pandemic will force us to implement measures that the statuses do not contemplate – such as decentralised voting and / or in two days. E-voting is the best tool to guarantee maximum security and maximise participation”. Nonetheless, the board would need to ask for permission to the government to amend the club’s statutes.
Following the 2015 treble, Josep Maria Bartomeu won the elections to become the new Barça president | Photo by Mikel Trigueros urbanandsport Cordon Press via Imago
With that considered, Carles Tusquets’ board will have several more emergency matters to solve. Article 35.4 details that they must exercise “the functions of governance, administration and representation that correspond to the board, but limited to those acts that are necessary and indispensable for the maintenance of the normal activities of the club and the protection of their interests”. The question is: which are these necessary and indispensable acts? And who chooses what’s to the club’s interest?
One of their first clear tasks is to negotiate with all the club’s staff over pay cuts. On Tuesday, Bartomeu said: “We hope that in the coming days a salary adjustment can be agreed with the squad and employees, or if not there could be serious consequences for the club”. On Monday, Barça announced an expenditure budget of 796 million euros and a revenue budget of 828 million. The immediate mission will be to reduce the costs of 955 million from the previous year to the 796 million budgeted. This means that 159 million euros must be reduced, though Què t’hi Jugues from SER Catalunya even leaked that this figure could rise to 190 million.
Therefore, apart from arranging the elections, the temporary board must also cut money from the budet to balance the books. This means that they will have to renegotatiate salaries with the club’s employees and agree salary cuts with the professional athletes. Bartomeu had only left this half done. For Carles Tusquets, it will be vital the collaboration of the club executives, with the club’s CEO being Òscar Grau. Grau will help facilitate the negotiations to lower the costs.
Another extra task for Tusquets that some pre-candidates are emphasising on is the delivery of the documentation that the local police requires for the ongoing investigations against Bartomeu and his board. Any evidence of criminal wrongdoings that could facilitate the independent forensic investigation of the club’s accounts should be handed to the authorities.
Will Bartomeu have to pay for the club’s debt?
Barça’s gross debt is of 820 million euros, a rise from the 740 million before the pandemic. Though the majority of it is short-term-based and related to the everyday costs of the club and the payment of salaries, the debt will not have to be paid by the outgoing board.
Instead, according to Barcelona’s statutes, such directives can be held responsible for the losses recorded during their terms of office, through the bank guarantee they signed up to when they first took office. Bartomeu’s board had been little transparent in sharing the behind-the-scenes struggles from the club, so there is great uncertainty and confusion. Still, judging by the last budgets presented, the accounts during Bartomeu’s reign still hold a surplus of 96 million euros.
One of Barcelona’s most immediate targets will be to balance the costs | Photo by Imago
Back in 2014, Rosell and Bartomeu denounced to court alleged losses of €47.6 million from Joan Laporta’s seven years in charge, between 2003 and 2010. In the end, though, Bartomeu had to give up on their appeal in 2017 after the long process through all the different levels of the Spanish court system. This time, Bartomeu may not have to assume any losses, even if there are claims of corruption, fraud and misuse of funds. Bartomeu denied these on Monday by saying that “all the insinuations about these guarantees are false, and motivated by political and electoral interests”.
Will the current caretaker body be able to make transfers?
Signings are always a very subjective topic, not to mention that they require months of scouting, analysis and negotiations. Going back to Article 35.4 of Barça’s statuses, we must remember that the committee that just replaced the outgoing board is “limited to those acts that are necessary and indispensable for the maintenance of the normal activities of the club and the protection of their interests”. Transfers, although they may seem necessary at times, are not emergency acts that generate full consensus, as each pre-candidate will have his own preferences.
So, in theory, this temporary board should not complete arrivals nor departures. Even so, there are two exceptional precedents from the committee of 2015, which was formed after Bartomeu’s resignation and before the elections in mid-July. First, the temporary board completed the sale of La Masía graduate Gerard Deulofeu to Everton for 6 million euros. Furthermore, they sealed the signature of Atlético de Madrid’s Arda Turan for 35 million euros. These were personal requests from first-team coach Luis Enrique and seemed to have the approval of Bartomeu, but they caused great dissatisfaction among the presidential candidates.
The candidates’ opinion had not been considered and the transfers completed before a president was elected. Such committee was even threatened with being denounced for overstepping their official duties. It is thus difficult to say something for sure regarding transfers, but the current board is likely to avoid getting into such troubles and would not be expected to complete any deals.
In any case, Tusquets has already confirmed that they will try to hold the elections as soon as possible, and these could even happen in December, before the transfer window opens. Notwithstanding, with little time left, the next president will have to act a bit on improvisation or agreements secured beforehand if they want to make any transactions in January.
So was it right from Bartomeu to resign once the summer transfer window had closed?
The main calls for Bartomeu to resign started after Barcelona’s humiliating 8–2 loss against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, on August 14. Given that between 40 and 90 days are needed for the elections to be held, most possibly the new president would not have been voted in until after the summer transfer window had closed on Monday 5 October.
Barça had many cases to solve during such window. The appointment of a new manager; the departures of veterans like Luis Suárez, Ivan Rakitić and Arturo Vidal; the exits of other players deemed surplus to requirements like Nélson Semedo, Jean-Clair Todibo or Rafinha Alcântara; the futures of various Barça B youngsters; the signings required to improve the squad; or, of course, the continuity of Lionel Messi. Messi requested to leave because of unhappiness with Bartomeu’s board, so his chances of renewing his contract – which expires in 2021 – increase with a new board. Yet his was a big unknown.
While the likes of Pedri, Francisco Trincão and Miralem Pjanić had been signed before the transfer window had opened, 19-year-old right-back Sergiño Dest was bought towards the end of the summer. Additionally, Manchester City’s Eric García and Olympique Lyonnais’ Memphis Depay were chased until deadline day. In principle, these are way too many hot topics to leave in hands of a caretaker body that could not take big and controversial decisions.
As it has often been said, the goal with the vote of no confidence was to avoid that Bartomeu could continue making decisions. In many cases, not having decisions made at all was better than Bartomeu making highly contentious decisions. But, despite many failed signings and sales, it would not be far-fetched to say that this was the best transfer window since the 2015 elections – the standards were not too high, though.
Looking at the bigger picture, Bartomeu resigning in October may have been better than not having made any transfers in the summer. But the wait has felt too long, and now culés can finally smile again towards what seems to be a much brighter future for the club.
Why the 3-5-2 can never be a long term option for Barcelona
Ronald Koeman’s greatest tactical revelation upon coming to Barcelona has without a shadow of a doubt been the 3-5-2 formation. Fully conscious of the frailties of the team in every department, the Dutch manager crafted out a setup with which the strengths of his players could be amplified, and their weaknesses quickly swept under the rug.
The full capacity of the setup was illustrated in the ties against Sevilla both in the league and the cup, against Paris in the UEFA Champions League, and in its full glory against Real Sociedad in Barcelona’s 1-6 annihilation of them. More than the results, the performances won back the hearts of fans. Barça were, as it seemed, back to their best, and not a single soul could deny this. Not a single soul, except perhaps Zinedine Zidane.
In the recently concluded Clasico, the Catalans endured one of their worst first halves of the season to date. Overrun defensively on every turnover, Barcelona’s seemingly airtight defence was reduced to rubble while their attack could neither get to nor could they make use of the ball. With that, their titles hopes, too, were damaged seriously.
In the second period, however, with the introduction of the 4-3-3, things changed for the better, and if not for some misfortune in the final seconds of the match, the comeback would have been completed. In this article, Barça Universal explores the identity crisis within the club, the setup’s unsustainability and the inevitable complacency that awaits the team should the formation overstay its welcome.
The lack of cohesion with club institutions
Formations are, after all, nothing more than telephone numbers; or at least that is how Pep Guardiola sees it. While this is true in principle, it is a train of logic that only applies to a certain extent.
It certainly makes a difference when one has four midfielders in comparison to when one has three, and the number of centre-backs, while a seemingly irrelevant figure, has a panoply of consequences on the shape of the team long term. The way the first team sets itself up is a reflection of what will trickle down to the academy level, but with a club that seeks a distinguishable identity from the ground up, should it not be the other way around?
Barcelona, as a football club, have the luxury of boasting one of the best academies in world football, La Masia. From the Pre-Benjamín to the Juvenil and all the way to Barça B, the academy players are inculcated with a strict set of values, intricately detailed roles with pertinent information for each position one can take up once they get to the end game, which is, for every academy player, to play for the first team.
The maintenance and furtherance of this school of thought and football ensure ease of integration into the first team, almost indifferent of age. Why so? This is due to the fact that a winger, for instance, at the tender age of 16 — while certainly inexperienced in the highest level — has all the necessary principles of what is expected of them in the big stage deeply rooted in his veins.
With coherence in the running of the club, from the academy level all the way to the first team, players have absolutely no need to be integrated into the first team. Everything that they need to do, they a priori already know, and will lead to them sailing ever so smoothly into a first-team spot. This is why players such as Ansu Fati and Oscar Mingueza have succeeded, where Nelson Semedo and Arda Turan have not.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that every single academy graduate will succeed, but merely that their presence will infinitely be of utmost utility to the club — as long as the happenings in the first team foster an environment for them to succeed in.
Most teams, as part of the La Masia, use the 4-3-3 to integrate players. This simply means that if ever a formation such as the 3-5-2 or the 3-4-3 is to be used at the club, it should not be for extensive periods of time. It renders an entire academy structure useless, and this then translates to club presidents having to spend ludicrous amounts of money to acquire players that will simply not be needed once the team eventually reverts to the core values it upholds.
Unsustainability in the face of change
If at all anyone desires to know to what extent the 3-5-2 — or any of its variants — is sustainable over the long term, one need only ask one question: Should Ronald Koeman be sacked right this instant, what formation is his successor — perhaps García Pimienta, or Xavi — going to implement once he arrives at the club?
A staunch believer in Barcelona’s core values both in style and in ethics, the Spaniard is most certainly going to revert to the 4-3-3. It is what he has known all his life, and also what the youth he trains have been instilled with over the course of their journey into first-team football. Why change what never once needed fixing?
The use of a 3-5-2 needs particular transfers to be made in order for it to be used to its highest level: a pair of strikers, a set of wingbacks, an attacking midfielder, perhaps a libero, an attacking midfielder and a double pivot. While not a complete representation of the needs of the setup — one whose use varies from manager to manager —, this is a general overview of what the 3-5-2 demands and the 4-3-3 does not.
Much like it would have a negative knock-on off on the academy for the fact it does not major in these specific positions, the sheer lack of durability of the setup will be put to show once the reverse is done and the team reverts to a back four. Suddenly the team will be in need of one positional pivot, a single central striker and interiors where the attacking midfielder would be of most use.
Knowing that Barcelona as an entity simply can not keep up with this particular setup for a year, let alone three, then it stands to reason that such a setup be used only for particular circumstances rather than be a regular occurrence at the club.
Ronald Koeman’s adoption of the back three was born out of one desire; to mask the flaws of previous systems. As Barcelona came to learn following Ernesto Valverde’s tenure, putting stop-gap solutions to long-standing problems is anything but desirable, as rather than put an end to a present-day problem, all it does is stall the defence’s eventual downfall by a couple of weeks or months.
The back three masks a panoply of positional issues within the players. As has been the case with both Oscar Mingueza and Frenkie de Jong, the back three system allows one centre-back to make runs into the attacking half of the pitch. This liberty stems from the fact that regardless of what one does upfront, they are going to be covered by the remaining two centre-halves.
Additionally, most modern teams prefer to set up with a single striker. It becomes almost too easy for a backline of three to deal with a single striker pressing them or making runs between the lines. And unless you have a midfield such as Marco Verratti, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Leandro Paredes, the forwards cannot afford to stay up and pin the CBs.
In La Liga, the go-to formation is the 4-4-2. More often than not, the two furthermost players tend to stay at a certain distance from one another, with one fixated on the centre-backs while the other rests deeper in the pitch. Given the relatively low need to stay in one’s own defensive half, one of the players in the defensive trio could easily abandon his post and embark on his own missions in the opposition half. This has happened on more than enough occasions with Mingueza, even with Sergino Dest acting as the wingback.
Thanks to heroics from Marc Andre Ter Stegen, problems pertaining to his centre-backs’ positional negligence has been mitigated, but not for much longer. Relying on the goalkeeper to cover up for their inadequacies is nothing more than a means to an end. It is their job to make saves, however, this should not now become an excuse for future complacency.
For young centre-backs like Ronald Araujo and Mingueza, this is far from ideal. Eventually, they will have to move away from a three-man system which is bound to cause trouble in paradise.
The sages once coined that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and there are several concrete examples to further this theory. One need only look at David Luiz’ career to get a glimpse at the long term negatives of the pursuit of a back three. Throughout his career, the Brazilian has been marred by defensive issues. His overall decision making, positional awareness and his ability to mark attackers have often been permeated with his dreadful inconsistency and woeful uncertainty.
Offensively, Luiz is a sight for sore eyes. His prowess in attack, owing to his pristine ball control, reliability under pressure and impressive passing range are rather impressive for a centre-back. Despite this, the fact that one would constantly need to have two near him for him in order for him to excel speaks volumes about his defensive ability. If anything, it was Arsenal’s 3-0 mauling of Chelsea in the Emirates back in the 2016/17 season that pushed Antonio Conte into making the switch to a back-three.
This example, and many others, illustrate the detrimental effects of a back three to the unit itself. It is a method in which a team can shoot itself in the foot. It fosters complacency in defence, and what for?
Koeman has spoken highly of Jordi Alba in the past, and this season, the Spaniard has been revitalised. This has been one of his individual best offensive seasons in a Barcelona shirt — he has five goals and 13 assists from 40 appearances this season to his name, averaging more or less a goal contribution every two or so games.
The same, however, cannot be said about his defensive abilities. It is his failings in this sector that have meant that rather than be considered the best left-back in all of Europe, he lags behind, and for obvious reasons.
Tasked with defending as well as attacking the left flank in conjunction with his wingers, the Spaniard has shown aptitude in only one of these things. He has, on far too many occasions in this and preceding campaigns, been caught out of position to the detriment of the team. The Blaugranas’ defeat to Athletic Club in the Supercopa final best illustrates his sheer defensive ineptitude. He recorded two assists, which on its own was phenomenal, but on the flip side, he gave away two goals as a result of his complete lack of positional and spatial awareness. He was just about as much a blessing in attack as he was a curse in defence. That is, up until the introduction of the 3-5-2.
Koeman sees Alba as indispensable for the team, and as such, he shaped up the team in such a way that it would accommodate him regardless of how he would perform. Thus far, this ambitious project has borne fruit. The 32-year-old has since scored two goals as well as provided two assists in La Liga, as his newfound offensive privileges have relieved him of all his backbreaking defensive duties.
Much as was the goal with the centre-backs, this new system has been put in place not to remedy previous issues but rather to paper over the cracks. For all the virtues the system has, it has done absolutely nothing to improve Alba’s — or Dest’s — defensive capabilities but rather conceal them by use of the back three.
It should stand to reason that if a manager has to change a system because he is incapable of placing any trust in his full-backs to defend, which is after all the bare minimum they have to offer, then there is a dire need to stir up things. The American has shown on several occasions that he is dextrous enough to alternate between his offensive and defensive responsibilities with relative ease. The Euro winner, however, has not.
More often than not, teams that take up a three/five-man backline use two strikers upfront. There are issues that have a detrimental impact on the 3-5-2 as a general formation and others that affect Barcelona in particular.
Much like the centre-backs and fullbacks have a toxic and symbiotic relationship with one another, the strikers do too. They tend to be excellent when partnered up with one another, but not so much so as sole strikers. Sebastian Haller and Luka Jovic formed a formidable partnership when deployed together in such a system at Eintracht Frankfurt, but once put asunder, they immediately regressed.
The opposition defence has to leak outwards to cope with the wingbacks, and in the process, stretches the centre beyond help. Consequently, with as many as three central midfielders, one of them can afford to rove into the final third, after which it essentially becomes a 3v2 scenario in the centre. The strikers can then exploit this space. Atalanta did this by using Alejandro Gomez as the focal point, while Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan does it by pushing one of Nicolo Barella or Stefan Sensei up.
Moving to a single striker system, then, becomes a lot more complicated because you are not given this kind of space in the attack.
At Barça, there is an entirely different set of issues at hand. To start, the team has no true striker but rather a false 9 and a winger in the form of Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele, respectively. The Frenchman has suffered greatly in the novel setup. While he has been on the receiving end of innumerable crosses from his teammates, his sheer inability to make hay while the golden sun shone brightly upon him has come back to haunt not only him but also his team.
Bar his inability to bury chances presented to him, he is simply incapable of forming partnerships with his teammates. As a result, he oftentimes finds himself isolated, much like an outsider looking in. his decision making is just as woeful as it was before, but this time, as the last man, they perhaps carry more weight.
This setup reduces wingers to ashes. The likes of Alex Collado, Francisco Trincao, could each lose a place in the team if at all this setup is to be used in the long term. No winger has a place in it, which is quite ironic given how much of Barcelona’s history has been shaped by players of that position exactly.
In and of itself, the 3-5-2 is not a horrible formation but simply one that will fail to stand the test of time. It is an excellent formation should one require a dangerous attack and a defence capable of covering up its flaws, but in the long term, it will collapse in on itself. Teams such as Inter Milan, good as they are, are ticking timebombs. A managerial change is always around the corner in this fast-paced footballing world, and should Antonio Conte depart from the Nerazzurri, then the current Italian leaders could see a majority of their squad turn to deadwood in the blink of an eye.
The onus is on Ronald Koeman and the current board to discuss the way forward. The 4-3-3 is, has been, and will continue to be the way that Barcelona will best play their football. The team needs reinforcements and pruning of unwanted players in equal measure wherever necessary.