With €222m having long been spenton player acquisitions that hardly saw any concrete returns in terms of shoring up the team’s strengths, Barca’s finances were being heavily drained. One director had even insisted that such irresponsible spending would result in some members of the board being forced to resign, even tough none did, not at least for that reason anhyway.
However this spring, six directors walked out meaning 11 of the 21 board members who began their tenure with Josep Maria Bartomeu’s mandate have gone. Recriminations and insinuations were hurled acrimoniously by those who left against Bartomeu, hinting at improper practices perpetrated by him. There have also been no less than four sporting directors and about as many directors of communication moving in and out of the club’s main doors.
The whole fiasco dates back further where the players are concerned. In 2014, Luis Suárez, Ivan Rakitic and Marc-André ter Stegen signed and Barcelona have brought in 28 players since then for close to a staggering €1bn. Those are the ones who did come, not to mention the unsuccessful pursuit of a celebrated striker the process of which was farcical. Of those who had signed on, not even one among them is considered an unqualified success.
Understandably, it wasn’t all that easy to rid themselves of the chaff either, resulting in the club selling whoever they could as a desperate resort and not whom they should dispose. Arda Turan immediatly comes to mind as a Barcelona player who has not played for the club in three years. France national Antoine Griezmann arrived only a year later.
When questioned why he introduced the Frenchman only in the 90th minute on Tuesday night against Athletico, Setién said the alternative was either that or not to put him on at all. He had in fact conferred with the other players, and finally concluded it was difficult to introduce Griezmann without “destabilising” the team as the main decision was to keep Messi and Luis Suárez on.
The sand in the hourglass is fast running out for the older icons in the club, which is beginning to show on the pitch at least. These in their 30s include Suárez, Messi, and Vidal, Rakitic, Busquets and Alba. A very telling sign indeed. As for the young challengers who may well be Barcelona’s future, talented young Ansu Fati is only 17 and Riqui Puig is 20. And still responsibility lies with them.
Inadvertently and inevitably, any discussion of things of concern in Barcelona would ultimately bring up the name of their talisman. There is a certain deference to Messi that seems invariably to take precedence over everything. And now it the cover has been taken off the hot pot that Messi had finally lost his patience with the perpetual fumblings of the board, not to mention the vicissitudes arising from the alleged rumors of hanky-panky wheeling and dealing supposedly linked to the club president himself.
The situation has descended to such lows that the finger-pointing has now somehow implicated Messi as the puppeteer behind the scenes manipulating proceedings such as the hiring and firing of coaches, appointment of players and etcetera. All of which have only served to push the GOAT to his limits and resulting in his latest reported refusal to renew his contract that will soon run out in 2021.
Everything is claimed to be weighing heavily on the shoulders of strongman Messi most of all, a weight he certianly does not relish but also one that he should not rid himself of. Naturally a player at his lofty levels would, and should, be consulted on crucial club matters like the appointment of coaches and the recruitment of players. Something that happens not only at Barcelona but also at all other clubs.
Incessant problems seem to have been taking precedence over everything at Barca for a long period of time now. So badly that Messi’s exasperation has been recently made public. Cincendiary confrontations between players and board over pay cuts, the Barçagate scandal, Messi’s calling out sporting director Eric Abidal who had insinuated publicly that Messi was the culprit in the dressing room instigating his players to disregard Valverde’s instructions – the list goes on and on.
Then el Maestro Setién suddenly came into the picture. Having heard of what his predecessor Valverde did, soon he, too, began to understand why Valverde did what he did.
Fault lines not unlike those at quakes occur all too easily at the Blaugrana, widened by the pressure that surrounds all and sundry there. As an example, at Celta, footage showed Messi, Suárez and Rakitic apparently ignoring Setién’s vocal assistant, Eder Sarabia, the one with the infamy of having raved and ranted like a madman in a pre-pandemic Barcelona game where he was caught on live TV vociferously spouting vile expletives deleted in a running commentary on his players. Even the great Messi wasn’t spared his venomous verbal spewings. Post-Athletico match, reports allegedly surfaced that heated discussions involving Setien were held in the dressing room. On Monday night, the president, the sporting director and a few other board notables visited Setién’s house, supposedly with the purpose of smoothening things out and to tell him that his services were still being honored.
Subsequent to that, during an unexpectedly revealing and startlingly introspective press conference, Barcelona’s beleaguered manager blurted out: “I wasn’t an easy player to handle either,” and then added: “I have to free my conscience.”
“I have no problem admitting this is a new situation for me and I’m in one of those moments when you’re finding out many things. Bit by bit you do what you want to do. We all have to give a bit of ourselves, players included, for the good of the team. This is a team and it has to act as one.”
However one chooses to view those comments – facile, opportunistic or otherwise – a photo from Tuesday night brought those comments to mind once more, one that perhaps offers a glimpse of where they are currently in the whole messy scheme of things at Barca. The picture was taken during a drinks break with Atlético’s players shown to be gathered around Diego Simeone as one happily united family. In contrast, Barcelona’s players and other team members had dispersed.
While some substitutes lingered, others sat in the stands. Among them was Arthur Melo, recently sold in haste to Juventus to save the board from a crisis of their own making right on the eve of their clash with Atlético. Noticeably the president himself did not attend the game. One that kicked off with the league title perilously at stake and ended not only with hopes virtually dissipated but with each player incongruously going their own way at the final whistle. How sadly odd.
Messi was the first to depart and, with the humiliation probably still burning, Griezmann was the last to make an exit. Apparently he had friends to spend his time with on the other team.
The gloom had finally set in and taken hold of everyone at Camp Nou.