Ever since Neymar Jr. left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain, in a deal that completely changed the financial landscape of football as we know it, the club have been trying to make amends, but to no avail.
Led by president Josep Maria Bartomeu and his board, Barca went from a financially stable treble-winner to a trophyless club in massive debt within just a few seasons, very much changing the culture at the club.
Every harmful decision Bartomeu has made leads back to the transfer market, and trying to spend their way to success. Over €400m was lavished on Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho alone, none of whom have justified their price tags.
Dembele has just been injury after injury, with one or two promising performances in between, while Coutinho is unlikely to play for Barca again. Griezmann had a decent first season, but it’s clear he does not fit in with the club’s identity and style of play.
The amount of money spent on those three players alone is more than fourth-place Sevilla have spent in the past five years, which is worrying, especially since Barca have also spent plenty of money on other players too.
But the worst part isn’t how much they spent, it’s who they spent it on. Dembele could have been justified if not for his injuries, but Coutinho was signed as a CAM, a position which does not exist at Barcelona.
That’s not even the worst one, though. Griezmann has absolutely no place at Barca, regardless of how good he may be, because he is simply not a winger and his hold-up play isn’t good enough to be a lone striker.
In fact it’s not entirely clear why Barcelona spent north of €100m on Griezmann, who even turned the Catalans down the previous summer, but that is what Bartomeu has brought to this club.
Forget about these three, though. Mistakes can happen, right? Except there is a long line of similar anti-Barca signings that have no place at the club. Looking back, the first of these clueless transfers has to be Arda Turan replacing departing legend Pedro.
He lacked any semblance of Barca DNA, and he clearly did not fit in at the club. But Bartomeu didn’t stop there. Andre Gomes and Paco Alcacer were signed the following season, as they let go of potential gems in Alen Halilovic and Marc Bartra.
Again, neither player had the desired impact, and both were moved on within two years. The following season brought one of the most curious signings Barcelona have ever made: Paulinho.
The midfielder arrived from the Chinese Super League with plenty of doubters, and as soon as he was beginning to win them over, he was sold back to Guangzhou Evergrande the following season. He brought an aggression and energy to the team that helped them win matches.
The same can be said of Arturo Vidal, who signed the following year. In the short-term, they do help, but in the long run they are destructive to what the club is trying to build. Bartomeu decided these types of midfielders were required to win titles.
But as we all know, the midfield three of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets did win some titles, right? And none were Vidal-type midfielders. Vidal, Paulinho, Gomes, Turan, and more, are not typical Barca midfielders, and we can’t forget that.
While those players constantly received substantial minutes, midfielders like Oriol Busquets, Carles Alena, Adama Traore, and recently Riqui Puig were left to sit on the bench or with the youth teams, which definitely delayed their development.
Out of all the recent signings, one of the players who actually had some Barca DNA in him was Arthur, and he was just moved on to Juventus in exchange for Miralem Pjanic. Pjanic is a world-class player, but he is eight years older and has maybe three years left at the top.
Arthur could’ve been a future star at the Camp Nou, which he will be at Juventus, and over time it will be another opportunity wasted by Bartomeu, just because he needs to balance the books.
It has been widely reported this move was necessary for the financials of Barca, but what about the financials when that €400m was spent? Or to sign all of those below-par midfielders who were sold a season later, not even at a profit? The epitome of incompetence as a club president.
The club are now chasing Lautaro Martinez, who is similar to Luis Suarez in terms of play, and could actually be worth a hefty price tag this time. But now the move is unlikely, because of the hole Bartomeu has already put the club in.
Bringing Neymar back was always a pipe dream, and it won’t materialize anytime soon, so now Barca has to do what Bartomeu has been trying to get away from: trust La Masia. There are many top players there who can fill holes in the team, and they’ve been ignored for far too long.
It is time to begin trusting the youth again, and if transfers are made, which they should be at times, make them sensible transfers, not brainless ones.
As soon as Barcelona can be smart again in the transfer market, they can slowly work out their debt, and over time get back to the strong financial position they have been in, before Bartomeu came along and ruined it.
The first step is getting him out, which will happen next year, and the next president will have quite a job on his hands. He must put faith in La Masia, and not sign players based on ego. The club’s future is at stake.