Catalan club are embroiled in fight with Neymar after losing him to PSG, yet unable to sign world-class players, struggling to source talent from famed youth system and outplayed by arch-rivals Real Madrid.
Barcelona thrown into crisis mode even as football season has just started
Barcelona fans used to laugh at Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, for their internal arguments, lack of stability and constant changes of manager.
They boasted that they created players, while Madrid bought them. Boasted that they had the better teams and that they were not the club which had to pay inflated prices because they were in a constant state of emergency.
Former president Joan Laporta smiled as he saw Madrid break transfer records for Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka in 2009 – a year Pep Guardiola’s Barca won all six competitions they entered.
“These are not the market prices,” he said. “The reason they are doing this is that they have emergencies, so they have to take risks.
“Football Club Barcelona is their rival, and we won everything last season and that made them anxious. Looking to next season, you know that they need to motivate their supporters, and they need to be very competitive. They need to create a team very fast.”
Talking of the difference between the two clubs, Laporta said: “We have two different models. One model is you build a team with cheques and money. And another model is the one we have, where we have a trajectory, where we are mature, and identified with our culture.
“Of the players we have in our first team, more than 50 per cent come from our youth teams. We think that it makes our club sustainable.”
Also from Andy Mitten:
- Barca face new role as underdogs to Madrid in title fight
- Neymar's move blow to Barca's status atop food chain
Much has changed. Barca have morphed into the old Madrid this summer, and Madrid have done the opposite as they have become a winning machine needing little tinkering.
Madrid are the Spanish, European and world champions. Barca are not. Madrid, including their own homegrown young players, spent August winning two Super Cups, Barca spent it trying and failing to get over the departure of Neymar, a move that stunned the club not used to rejection.
When Madrid and Barca met in the domestic Super Cup, Madrid won easily home and away in a 5-1 aggregate victory.
The conveyor belt of talent from Barca’s youth system has slowed to a trickle, while injuries to Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta have only served to kick the club while they are down in a region still reeling from terrorist attacks which claimed 15 lives.
That hit Sunday’s opening league crowd, with the 56,480 attendance smaller than any last season, in the 99,354 capacity Camp Nou. At least Barca won, though the manner in which Lionel Messi hit the post three times sums up their fortunes.
Victory brought little respite. Laporta had said before the game: “If we want Messi to continue to be happy at Barca we have to get rid of Bartomeu immediately.”
Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s angst will not have improved when, on Monday, his club announced that they were going to sue Neymar €8.5 million (Dh36.84m) for breach of contract. Later in the day, Neymar was pictured having a good time with several former Barca teammates in Catalonia - and those players published the picture on their social media accounts.
Ahead of the second league game at Alaves on Saturday, Barca are desperate to spend some of their Neymar millions, but it is proving harder than they thought. Liverpool are refusing to sell Philippe Coutinho, even though he would become the second most expensive player ever – after Neymar.
Bartomeu, who was also criticised for expensive prices and excluding season ticket holders for the Super Cup, has come out fighting, claiming the club remains the envy of the world and that they want to sign midfielder Marco Verratti from Paris Saint-Germain. Although the Parisiennes appear in no hurry to facilitate Barca’s wishes while the Catalans are trying to sue their star player.
Barca’s summer signings of Paulinho and Semedo have underwhelmed and failed to reinvigorate their aging squad. Borussia Dortmund striker Ousmane Dembele is another target, as is Nice’s Ivorian midfielder Jean Seri but only a week remains of the transfer window, while Messi and Iniesta still have not signed new contracts, despite Messi agreeing terms in June.
Previous "crises" at Camp Nou have been overblown and forgotten in a whirl of passion and emotion, but the club appear to have lost the confidence of their best players and many of their fans. Their squad still boast world-class players including the world’s best, but it is far from the ideal way to start the season under respected new manager Ernesto Valverde.