Josep Maria Bartomeu has finally resigned. It only took the club’s best player ever denouncing him, massive financial losses, several humiliating exits from the UEFA Champions League, strange scandals, and an unprecedented revolt from the members. But it finally happened.
The latest defeat, against Real Madrid, was a nail in the coffin. But really, it’s not as if a bad start to the new season was not survivable, by a different president in a different situation. With Bartomeu, he was already on borrowed time. This start simply sealed his fate.
He only ascended because he was Sandro Rosell’s second, and the latter resigned. Bartomeu then won an election which extended his reign, right after Barcelona won the treble under Luis Enrique.
But after voters rewarded European success with electoral success, it’s all been downhill. In the transfer market, Bartomeu overspent badly on star players. He picked Ernesto Valverde as manager to replace Luis Enrique, which netted some success early on, but he was extremely gun shy in dismissing him. Bartomeu bewilderingly kept Valverde even after two successive European humiliations, and sacked him in a panic to replace him with Quique Setién in the middle of last season.
There were clear problems in terms of who was in charge of building the squad as well, with power struggles common, and seemingly no clear direction. Secretaries and sporting directors came and went, with no clear overarching plan. Older players were given massive long-term contracts, meanwhile, no good replacements were identified.
The team leaned heavily on Lionel Messi to deliver trophies, and to his great credit he did. The team did win La Liga and Copa del Rey titles, and they came very close to winning the Champions League again. Messi’s 2019 campaign was particularly great, and he won the Ballon d’Or for it, but it was simply too much to ask with a defense that melted down against Liverpool in the semifinals.
And yet Messi was targeted in an extremely odd, secret campaign, paid for through club funds. In a controversy that came to be known as “Barçagate,” a firm was paid one million euros to run social media campaigns that attacked Bartomeu’s enemies (including sometimes legends such as Messi) and promoted the president as a cool or knowledgeable figure.
Messi himself tried to quit the club in the last transfer window, only to be compelled by, essentially, legal threat to remain in place.
The financials are in bad shape, in part because of huge spending on salaries and transfer fees. With the pandemic cutting football profits, Barcelona simply ran out of money despite having extremely high revenues for years. That a team that spent 100+ million in fees for three different players in the past few years could no longer afford Memphis Depay from Lyon speaks volumes.
The club’s members finally had enough and organized a signature-collecting campaign which triggered a vote of no confidence that was set to take place in the coming weeks. Rather than face the indignity of a recall election, which looked likelier and likelier to boot him out, Bartomeu has chosen to quit.
He should have left a long time ago, but at the very least, he quit. You can breathe a sigh of relief.
Of course, the fact that he is out does not mean everything is suddenly okay. There are still financial issues to deal with. The squad still has high earners who don’t contribute to the extent they should, and big holes elsewhere as well. It’s unclear whether Ronald Koeman is the answer long-term, as well, when it comes to managers. Who knows if Messi still has faith in this club at all.
A rebuilding should, realistically, take years. Although the sense of malaise and mismanagement that permeates the institution could break much quicker. For that, you can breathe a sigh of relief.