The short answer is self-sabotage. This summer, Barça placed almost the entire squad on the transfer list, appointed Ronald Koeman—a man who has a mediocre managerial record of 74 wins, 37 draws (draw is the soccer term for tie) and 63 losses in Spain and England’s first divisions—as the club’s manager and even drove Lionel Messi to submit a transfer request. While all of the previously mentioned occurrences are extremely concerning, they don’t even come close to being as troublesome as the reality that the catalyst for Barça’s nightmare summer was Josep Bartomeu, the club’s president.
The story of Bartomeu’s reign of terror is lengthy and complex—to be honest, I don’t completely understand all of the details. For this reason, I will break down Bartomeu’s incompetence into two main points: his willingness to sell promising young players, and poor decision-making when it comes to transfers involving senior players.
First and foremost, he is destroying La Masia, Barça’s youth academy. La Masia has always been regarded as one of the best, if not the best, youth academies for soccer in the world. Several of the academy’s graduates went on to flourish in the first team, such as Messi, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta. In fact, Messi, Xavi and Iniesta led Barça’s golden generation, a group which, give or take a few players, were together from the 2004-05 season to the 2014-15 campaign. The trio won approximately 20 team trophies together, including a historic sextuple—the Copa del Rey, La Liga, Champions League, Spanish Super Cup, European Super Cup and Club World Cup—in 2009, and a plethora of personal accolades; the fact that they were teammates and the three finalists for the 2010 Ballon d’Or, the award given to the world’s best player over the course of a calendar year, still amazes me.
Despite the fact that Barça’s past success can be directly attributed to La Masia’s ability to produce talent, Bartomeu refuses to let the most promising graduates develop. The best talent who made it to the first team from La Masia under Bartomeu’s tenure is Sergi Roberto, a player whom I would describe as good, but not necessarily Barça good. André Onana, Álex Grimaldo and Adama Traore are just a few La Masia graduates who Bartomeu let go only for them to blossom into world-class players; I think Grimaldo could have replaced Jordi Alba as Barça’s starting left back. Furthermore, Bartomeu recently let another potential Jordi Alba replacement, Marc Cucurella, walk for a mere $11 million—pocket change in today’s transfer market. With more talent rising through their ranks, such as Ansu Fati, a player who some have deemed Messi’s heir, one can only hope that Bartomeu doesn’t make the same mistake again.
I don’t know what’s worse: Bartomeu’s judgement when it comes to transfers involving promising players or his judgement when it comes to transfers involving important first team players. This transfer window was a mass exodus for Barça, as several crucial squad members departed from Catalonia for greener pastures. Most notably, star striker Luis Suárez was shipped off to rival Atlético Madrid for literally no fee. He was released. This transfer looks like it probably will be added to the ever-growing list of Bartomeu’s mistakes; Suarez was excellent in his debut, coming off the bench to score two goals and assist one in less than 20 minutes. Another potential Bartomeu transfer screwup is Nelson Semedo’s sale to Wolves for $33 million. Although Bartomeu got a decent fee for the 26-year-old, he was debatably Barça’s best right back—I prefer him to Sergi Roberto—and his departure leaves the team with only one player in his position. In contrast to the Semedo deal, which Bartomeu can logically defend, Arthur Melo, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal’s departures don’t make sense to anyone who knows anything about soccer. Promising 24-year-old Arthur was swapped for 30-year-old maestro Miralem Pjanic. While Pjanic may be slightly better than Arthur at the moment, Arthur will develop more in the coming years, whereas Pjanic will decline. Additionally, Bartomeu’s ineptitude is highlighted by his decision to let Rakitic and Vidal, two classy center midfielders, leave for $1.65 million and free respectively. The funny thing about all those transfers is that none of the players, barring Rakitic, wanted to leave—for some reason, Bartomeu wanted them to go.
The cure for Barça’s woes is simple: don’t re-elect Bartomeu in 2021.