2020/21 was never going to be a straightforward season for any team, but more so for Barcelona. Before they even kicked the ball, controversies started hitting the team like bullet trains into walls in a Marvel movie.
Club captain Lionel Messi no longer wanted to stay at the club, shade never left the sight of Josep Bartomeu, and the responsibilities of the team were handed to an experienced manager in the form of Ronald Koeman. All this while fans had not even managed to recover from the 8-2 withering at the hands of Bayern Munich.
For years, it has been easy to pass on the blame on managers, be it the short-term solutions from Luis Enrique, the bed-ridden side of Ernesto Valverde, or the bizarre wingless (literally) side of Quique Setien. Despite going through all those respective teams, each boasting of different problems, Barcelona fans were in for a surprise when Koeman arrived at the helm. Surely, things could not get worse…right?
Alas. Even a poll among the most pessimistic of fans would not have predicted that the team would be stuck three points above the relegation zone after ten gameweeks. That is exactly where the team is right now, though — in 7th place, three adrift of 18th placed Osasuna. For context, they are 12 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who have played as many games as them.
The current Barça, led by Koeman have lost more games (4) in their last seven Liga matches than Quique Setien did in his time in charge, of 20 games (3). Given how big a disaster the appointment of the Spaniard turned out to be, this stat tells the story in a handful of words.
Even when fans try to hide and run away from Spain, looking at the UEFA Champions League, they are hit with a brick wall, one that has Juventus, Roma, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich graffitied over it.
Antoine Griezmann seems to have rediscovered himself, Lionel Messi, slowly, but surely is getting back to his best, and new signings like Sergino Dest, Pedri, and Miralem Pjanic seem to be working out for the team. And for what it is worth, even Martin Braithwaite seems to be performing at a level nobody expected him to.
There are obviously some gaping cracks in the team, both in terms of personnel and tactics, all of which spirals down to one man, the one with the puffy jacket on the sidelines. Ronald Koeman’s stubbornness will end the season for Barcelona.
He returned to Catalonia with a polished plan, which caused some excitement at the club, but has also been the primary source of all his shortcomings. Barcelona’s team is not built for a 4-2-3-1, even though that is possibly the only formation where Koeman can fit in the team’s plethora of attack. It does, however, come at the cost of sacrificing the midfield, which is often left stranded, and easily run over.
Oh, to be sitting on the touchlines during a Barcelona game, worrying about your job. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Moreover, Koeman has little to no regard for several individuals in the team, even though they have constantly shown their ability on the pitch. Of course, this is in reference to Riqui Puig and Carles Aleña. Both of these players are absolute fan-favourites but have hardly seen game-time this season, even though the midfield is crying out for more energy, and for players like the Spanish duo. Not to mention, the only reason Dest is getting to start game after game is because Sergi Roberto is injured.
This seems to stem from a place to protect the starting position of some players in the XI, something Barcelona fans thought was definitely going to change with Ronald Koeman, who seemed like a bold manager.
The same causality can also be applied to his need to play players out of position, in an attempt to fit them into the lineup. Proof of the same was visible in the early parts of the season when Antoine Griezmann was deployed as a right-winger and Lionel Messi as a striker.
The trend never stopped repeating itself, as a matter of fact. Coutinho – a man who stayed at Barcelona on the special request of Koeman himself, finds him in a troublesome spot. He has already been deployed as a left-midfielder, left-winger, attacking midfielder, central midfielder, and for a brief period against Real Madrid, as a defensive midfielder.
Yet, he continues to start every game even though he has failed to go past a spell of two decent games for the club this season, only because Koeman is obliged to do so after forcing him to stay. For example, against Cadiz, the Brazilian was played on the left-wing but was barely visible.
In fact, this season has been so utterly disastrous, Barcelona have endured their worst start to the La Liga season since the three-point per-win format was introduced in 1988. You will not see a better stat than this, and a worse performance than the one the Blaugranas put up today.
A disastrous end to a repetitive, underwhelming performance. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)
Sure, the goals resulted from individual mistakes, but what happened on the other end of the pitch comes down to the decisions taken by Koeman. Decisions that involved playing Coutinho out of position, not starting Dembele, leaving Dest alone in the final third, among so much more.
However, he seemed unfazed as he appeared before the media, only to repeat what he has said in every press conference yet, with a twist this time: “We still want to compete for La Liga.” Not “we can compete for La Liga.”
The Dutchman seems to be coming to terms with what is happening, and that if push comes to shove, he might not last very long at the club — a popular which is already growing among the fanbase, as the election edge ever-so-close.
3 Players Barcelona can sell to ease their financial burden
A debt of €1.173 billion, more than €700 million of which is short term, has sent FC Barcelona down a rabbit hole. The club’s gross mismanagement on both sporting as well as financial levels is no longer a secret. The former board of directors, led by president Josep Maria Bartomeu has consistently spent inordinate amounts of money on ludicrous signings. Most of which have come to bite the club back.
Now, they find themselves in a stickier situation than ever, with an astronomically high wage bill and multiple liabilities to clubs across Europe for signings. In addition, Lionel Messi’s future at Barcelona hangs in the balance. If the club are to conduct any business whatsoever, it will have to begin by offloading a few players.
After Ronald Koeman arrived at the club following the disastrous end to the 2019-20 season, a few key names have already been sold. As the initiation of a rebuilding process, Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal, Nelson Semedo, and Ivan Rakitic were all sold. However, these departures have hardly put a dent in Barcelona’s debt.
That being said, Barça Universal takes a look at three potential sales that might help the club with their finances. Players who may not be key parts of the sporting project long term and whose departures will allow for some breathing room in the wage structure, and allow Barcelona to sign a huge talent such as Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland.
It would be a rather disappointing conclusion to what was potentially a wonderful signing. Samuel Umtiti, after signing for Barcelona, was rapidly rising up the ranks as one of the world’s best centre-backs. After his move from Lyon in 2016, he was flying high and quickly displayed why he staked a claim into the Blaugrana’s starting lineup.
But the Frenchman’s fairytale would come to an abrupt halt. After a fantastic second season with Barcelona, Umtiti suffered an injury to his left knee in 2018, just a month before the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The defender risked himself to represent his nation, and it ended up being a positive decision as France lifted the coveted prize with Umtiti as one of the key players. He decided not to have surgery as he felt it would worsen his issues.
Ever since then, despite his initial impressions, the injury woes have persisted and have led to many complications. Recurring issues with his meniscus, followed by foot injuries and many other issues, led to a massive decline in form and physicality. The centre-back was never really able to return to his brilliant best. While coach Ronald Koeman does favour the Frenchman, he is definitely not a consistently reliable presence at the back anymore.
Umtiti’s current deal with Barcelona expires in 2023, and given that he is 27 years old may work in favour of the club. He is not too old, and while he is injury-free, he could fetch Barcelona at least some money. The World Cup winner at his best is a fine player, but given the current circumstances, Barcelona can no longer afford to leave things up to chance.
Philippe Coutinho came to Spain with tremendous promise for the fans, backed up by a huge smile on his face. He was genuinely happy to be where he was. His dream of playing for Barcelona was finally a reality. But that optimism sadly did not last far too long.
The midfielder slowed down tremendously in his first full season with the Catalans. He looked out of sorts and lost in strange and unfamiliar systems. When he arrived in January of 2018 from Liverpool, he became Barcelona’s most expensive signing of all time for over €140 million. After two bad seasons and a loan spell at Bayern Munich, he was finally beginning to show small signs of promise under Ronald Koeman this term.
However, the Brazilian has also been sidelined due to a lengthy injury this season, which has extended into worse news. In addition to that, Liverpool are reportedly one of the clubs that Barcelona still owe money to in variables for Coutinho’s transfer. They will be keen on avoiding any more liabilities. And since Coutinho has obviously not come anywhere close to providing a return on Barcelona’s investment in him, his time at the club may be up.
He is also one of the highest earners in the squad, therefore selling him might be imperative.
The midfielder turned right-back has been a polarising figure in the Barcelona fans’ eyes for quite some time now. The 29-year-old’s current contract with Barcelona is set to run out next year and has a release clause of a massive €500 million. Roberto has made some amazing memories with the club, most prominently, his iconic goal against PSG in 2017’s famous ‘Remontada’.
However, since then he has been more or less showing that he is mostly just a utility player. The Spaniard has been unremarkable in a fair few games and has often made rather costly errors. Over time however, he had certainly become one of the heavyweights in the dressing room, which obviously reflects in his salary. This season, he has been struggling with a thigh injury, which he recovered from but then relapsed.
He was a valuable asset to have in the absence of a full fledged right-back who has the so-called ‘Barcelona DNA’. However, with the arrival of Sergino Dest, parting ways with Roberto makes sense from both sporting and financial perspectives.
While Roberto might not be among the players who have constantly underperformed but selling him might be a logical decision for Barcelona because as a player who can play in multiple positions across the pitch, and is in his theoretical prime, the Spaniard will be in demand. Football today requires for players to adapt in various positions and roles, and we have seen Roberto’s capability with the same.
Additionally, as one of the captains of the team, the La Masia graduate might be able to lease off a more than decent amount of cash. Several top teams in the market, including Juventus, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and PSG, among others, might be vouching for a right-back soon and could look towards Sergi Roberto.
However, there are also more players like Jordi Alba, Junior Firpo and Neto who could be smart sales. Alba has also been declining rapidly but his offensive output has not yet been replaced. Firpo is already linked to a move away to various clubs after failing to impress at Barcelona. In a nutshell, the Blaugrana certainly have options to sell, in order to continue the rebuild effectively. Easing the financial load by selling and eventually making way for more sensible transfers will be vital for this transitioning side.