Is money Barcelona’s biggest trouble?
Background image: Mutari
As a consequence of significant mismanagement, Barcelona suffers from a deplorable financial situation. This truth was corroborated in January when the club could not find the funds to sign Valencia and La Furia forward Rodrigo Moreno then acted out a ridiculous comedy by beating about the bush with Cédric Bakambu. Both stories are indicative of what is going on at the Nou Camp. The club simply cannot afford to sign players whose quality meets their needs.
Furthermore, the traditional Cule resource used to compensate for any financial shortcomings in the past, home-ground players developed at La Masia, is now being tapped in a fund-raising capacity. Players who arguably could make an impact in the first team, Carles Pérez, Abel Ruiz, Alejandro Marqués and Carles Aleñá, are loaned out with options to buy.
In the late winter market, players like Trincao, a 20-year-old forward from Sporting de Braga, and Matheus Fernandes from Palmeiras were signed to next year’s squad for €31 and €7 million respectively [Sport]. There is no doubt we are talking about interesting players for the club's future but Quique Setien had pressing needs in the moment, most notably a centre-forward to cover for the injured Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele. Even so, Barca did not move to hire any first-level player. For a club business journals such as Forbes regularly rank in the top three worldwide, alongside Real Madrid and Manchester United, the Blaugrana's inactivity is out of character, especially when you consider Setien was brought in to secure the Champions League title that Ernesto Valverde could not.
Since Josep Maria Bartomeu assumed the Barcelona presidency in July 2015, he sanctioned more than €1 billion in expenditures for 27 players, of which only ten remain in the current squad. Of those, only the two most recent acquisitions are regular starters: Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong. Meanwhile, so many others either came and went or settled into supporting roles. Spanish journo Xavi Torres provided a list that seemingly has no end: Paco Alcacer, Aleix Vidal, Arda Turan, Arthur Melo, Arturo Vidal, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Jasper Cillessen, Philippe Coutinho, Denis Suarez, Gerard Deulofeu, Lucas Digne, Andre Gomes, Junior Firpo, Clement Lenglet, Malcom, Marlon, Yerry Mina, Jeisson Murillo, Neto, Paulinho, Nelson Semedo, Jean-Clair Todibo, Samuel Umtiti, and Moussa Wague.
Because of this critical situation, the club was forced to issue bonds on four occasions over the past year and a half. The first two issues took place in August 2018, thanks to a North American insurance undertaking, for a total amount of €140 million. Less than a year later, the operation recurred, this time through a French insurer who decided to invest in two bond issues for €30 million each [El País]. How does a club like Barcelona, which recently generated €222 million from the sale of one player, suddenly need to stand on the corner, hat in hand?
In part, it is a political manoeuvre. The club's charter dictates its debt cannot exceed operating expenses by more than 250%. If it does, the board must resign. As a result of this terrifying mismanagement, Barcelona resources are strictly limited to replace Suarez and Dembele while continuing to challenge for the Champions League in the next five years but Josep Bartomeu and his lackeys retain their job security.
Taking into account the Premier League economic boom and 'petrodollars’ landing in European football with PSG and Manchester City, other big clubs must decide between trusting young players or overextending themselves financially to remain on equal footing. Barcelona evidently elected the latter option to their regret.
Not only are they cash-strapped, but the choice to divert La Masia graduates away from the first-team and directly into the market also affects those who remain behind. Uncertain regarding their future, their confidence wains and their development suffers. That reduces their ability to impact the first-team should Barcelona change strategies and weakens the Spanish national team which relies heavily on talents coming through Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The trend, coupled with Barcelona's financial overhead, triggers the reality we saw in January: talent drained away and considerable limitation when bidding for top players.