Bartomeu officially resigned as FC Barcelona’s president on October 27th, 2020. Getting there was a nightmare of bad decisions, bad press, and most importantly 20,000 Socios. The now former club president was one of the most hated men in world football this summer, drawing protest crowds outside of the Camp Nou offices. Bartomeu finally resigned after the an embarrassing El Clasico loss and row with the Catalan government regarding the vote against him. The drama has now passed, and the club is the hands of caretaker until elections can be called.
Bartomeu may be gone, but his legacy is as raw as ever. Under his presidency the club adopted a transfer policy of buying expensive “big-name” players. These players have rarely lived up to the price tag and hype. This policy has left Barcelona with an unstable team and a massive wage bill. On the pitch, it has left Barcelona vulnerable and increased the load on an aging Lionel Messi.
The recent performances in La Liga are a clear indicator of the current situation. The team is struggling. While there is something to be said for individual players taking responsibility for their own performances, the root of the problem is higher up the chain. Every player on the team is playing under a contract negotiated by Bartomeu’s board. Extremely high release clauses, high wages, massive transfer fees, and long contract lengths, have forced the club into keeping players that should have left years ago.
Additionally, Bartomeu’s neglect of La Masia has seen fewer players graduate to the first team. La Masia players are being trained in Barcelona’s methodology from a young age and therefore should be able to seamlessly move into the first team from Barca B. However, under Bartomeu that has not happened. Without the youth, Barcelona has lost a part of what made them great, with players like Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi coming from La Masia. Under Koeman there has been some drama already involving La Masia kids, though the continued rise of Ansu Fati has been a bright spot.
Building a competitive sporting project will take time and energy. It will be a project that will require patience with the new president and board. Finding the right manager and the right group of young players to build around will not be easy. Some of the presidential candidates have plans and ideas, but for now there is a mess that needs cleaned up. The most important thing to remember is that it will not happen over night, no matter who is elected.
The largest issue, however is the club’s financial state. The truth is no one knows what shape the finances are in, other than not good. Reports range from the club is close to bankruptcy to a few hundred million euro of debt. Bartomeu’s refusal to let Leo Messi leave this summer, has added more strain to club, as they now have his massive salary. Coronavirus lockdown and playing behind closed doors, as resulted in massive loss of revenue.
The new board will have to figure out what money is available before any investments can be made. The true extent of the situation could drastically alter any plans the candidates currently have. Contract renewals and transfer targets could look vastly different to what is expected.
Depending on the situation the next president inherits financially, most of the term could be spent cleaning up the financials left by Bartomeu. The question becomes, can the debt be managed with the club still spending on the squad and stadium renovations? How much rebuilding can be done with what money is left? The answers could drastically alter the future of the club. And since no one knows for sure what situation the new president will inherit, it is impossible to say right now.
The reality of the situation is not pretty. Bartomeu is gone and can no longer damage the club, but the damage that has already been done, will not disappear overnight. When the next president is elected a long process of clean-up will begin. Results will not suddenly come on the pitch. The club’s debt will not disappear. There is a lot of work to do. Time and patience will be key moving forward.
Things will get better, but there is a lot of work that will come first. Step one, removing Bartomeu, is complete. Now, on to step two, electing the next president. Once that is complete, rebuilding will truly begin.