The final whistle has finally been blown for Barcelona’s most unpopular president in the history of the Blaugrana giants as Josep Maria Bartomeu and his cohorts in the board have all resigned. This latest development will no doubt bring a huge sigh of relief, and even inebriation, to the loyal supporters at Camp Nou to know that finally the unpopular tenure of Bartomeu has ended.
It’s perhaps ironical and most likely sheer coincidence that Barca won the treble in Bartomeu’s first full season in charge in 2014-15, spearheaded by the dynamic MSN front three formation of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. However, it is highly unlikely that Bartomeu’s tenure served as the president at Camp Nou will be remembered for that success which would purely be by mere association, if nothing else.
If anything, it was Bartomeu’s shambolic shenanigans at Board level and failings in the transfer market that led to the corrosion setting in to weaken the ramparts of the proud tradition and foundational strength of the Catalan giants. After Neymar’s seduction by PSG, his subsequent departure left a huge, gaping hole in the frontline that Bartomeu and his board tried desperately, and unsuccessfully, to fill with highly questionable signings that, at best, emptied the coffers.
Barca subsequently suffered humiliation after humiliation, culminating in their final 8-2 quarter-final annihilation and humiliation in the Champions League at the hands of eventual champions Bayern Munich, triggering a chain reaction of events that ultimately led to club talisman Messi submitting his now apocalyptic burofax to the board bidding them an emphatic ‘Adieu’ and good riddance, in effect lambasting the ineffectual president for his horrendous reign and lack of integrity.
Reduced to playing musical chairs with different managers under Bartomeu’s reign, from Valverde to Setien, and now Koeman, the club went through an entire slew of signings – orchestrated by Bartomeu and then Director of Sports, Eric Abidal – that were on the whole below par and nowhere near the high level of expectations that are expected of the Catalonian juggernauts.
However, not all of Bartomeu’s signings were poor, and we now take a look at the 10 permanent deals that defined, or more appropriately marred, his reign.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen – €12m from Borussia Monchengladbach
That first season of stunning on-pitch triumphs came after an excellent summer transfer window, with new signing Ter Stegen restricted to Champions League action initially as fellow newbie Claudio Bravo manned the sticks in LaLiga. Ter Stegen was quick to prove his worth in the 2014-15 European campaign, keeping a joint-high six clean sheets courtesy of 31 saves, while trailing only Manuel Neuer for successful passes (245) and passing accuracy (80 per cent) among goalkeepers.
Ivan Rakitic – €18m from Sevilla
Joining in the €165m spending spree of 2014, midfielder Rakitic was a consistent performer throughout his time at Camp Nou and only departed this year to return to Sevilla. His best season was reserved for his first 12 months at Barca, scoring five times in LaLiga and laying on seven assists – the most in his Barca career – from 35 chances created.
Luis Suarez – €81m from Liverpool
Controversial both on and off the pitch, Uruguyuan Luis Suarez was undoubtedly the most important and best signing during Bartomeu’s tenure, following in that same transfer window as the striker was prised from Liverpool after their failed Premier League title bid in which he netted 31 times. That pristine scoring form continued in the Spanish league and UEFA Champions League, where Suarez struck up a great partnership and friendship with Messi, forming the third vital component of the glorious Messi-Neymar-Suarez triumvirate.
After the recent Champions League debacle and troucing under the hands of a magnificent Bayern Munich team, the Uruguay international was teated shabbily in the midst of a desperate squad reshuffle by new boss Ronald Koeman and left ignominously for Atletico Madrid prior to the 2020-21 campaign – after having scored 198 goals for the club, trailing only Messi and Cesar Rodriguez as the 3rd highest scorer in the history of the club, with a sensational 40 LaLiga goals in 2015-16, along with 16 assists and 23 tackles, typifying his work rate. All three were high marks for his Barca career.
Thomas Vermaelen – €18m from Arsenal
The boat that ferried in Ter Stegen, Rakitic and Suarez brought along with it a signing that would prove soon enough to be more in keeping with much of the rest of the nondescript work done under Bartomeu. Vermaelen cost a pretty decent fee, was barely fit and rarely looked like a comfortable fit in the starting XI. In all, he made just 26 LaLiga starts in five years at Barca.
Andre Gomes – €35m from Valencia
The 2015-16 transfer window saw Barca commit to only two signings, but were busy in the market again the following campaign. Few, if at all any, of the 2016-17 signings could be considered successes, with Andre Gomes being perhaps the worst of the lot. Signed for a fee that could have risen to €55m, he scored three goals and provided one assist in the league across two seasons before packing off to Everton.
Ousmane Dembele – €105m from Borussia Dortmund
Barca’s dealings had been under heavy scrutiny even before they were force to sell Neymar to the Parisiennes, but the money brought in for the Brazilian was squandered by Bartomeu and his boardroom bozos in diverse ways, burning a huge hole in the club’s pockets. Although Dembele seemed a reasonable enough replacement for Neymar at that time, his incessant injuries disrupted his progress at Camp Nou. With only 12 goals and 11 assists in the league since his signing, he has cut a dismal figure at the Blaugrana and is still trying to justify his presence there today.
Philippe Coutinho – €120m from Liverpool
Barca made a big play for Coutinho when Neymar first left and knocked again on the door of the Liverpool star in January, finally succeeding in their quest to recruit him. Yet the Blaugrana did not appear to have a role made for the playmaker, sticking to a 4-3-3 formation that forced him out wide or deep in the midfield. An initial return of eight goals and five assists from 29 chances created in the remainder of his first season did not provide a platform for success.
Finally deployed to Bayern Munich on loan last season where he miraculously contributed two goals in the destruction of his parent club Barca in the quarter-finals in August in the Champions League, the Brazilian has since been recalled to Camp Nou by Koeman and seems to be discovering a new lease of life there in the new season.
Malcom – €41m from Bordeaux
As Barca went big again in 2018-19, there appeared to be a third attempt at replacing Neymar. Malcom was just 21 and should have been one for the future but did not last long. A single season brought one goal and two assists before he left for Zenit.
Antoine Griezmann – €120m from Atletico Madrid
The fourth instalment in the desperate project to seek a suitable replacement for Neymar, after repeated attempts to bring the PSG number 10 himself back to Barca failing, a long-awaited Plan B move for Griezmann was instead completed. A World Cup winner who led the line for one of Barca’s biggest domestic rivals, Athletico Madrid, Griezmann certainly had the pedigree but has unfortunately struggled to forge a dynamic working relationship with Messi in attack. The pair are yet to create a single chance for one another in LaLiga this season and have combined on just 23 passes. If you can’t geld with, or play alongside, the great Lionel Messi, then it’s obvious you would have major problems to contend with at Barca.
Martin Braithwaite – €18m from Leganes
Braithwaite was evidently super thrilled to be at Barca, like a kid at his first circus. Devoid of the nous and the top-level skills required to be a part of the galvanising Barca strike team, he was, and still is, at best a wannabe although not for lack of trying. It is a stunning indictment of Bartomeu’s tenure that Ronald Koeman had to turn to the Denmark international in a bid to rescue last week’s Clasico defeat. He now wears the number nine shirt that belonged to Suarez.
Mighty big shoes to fill and a scary disposition, nonetheless.