FC Barcelona are a complete mess right now, although you probably know that already, right?
Barça’s economic problems have been a fixture of news and sport headlines for 18 months now and there have been a ludicrous amount of twists in the tale.
If you have been struggling to keep up, we don’t blame you. Luckily, 90min is here to help. Below, we have compiled a timeline detailing all the major off-field events that have transpired at Camp Nou in recent times.
Barcelona’s financial problems are self inflicted. Over the past few years they have dropped some ludicrous transfer fees and handed out big contracts with little consideration for the consequences.
There are too many missteps to mention but spending well over £100m on professional Fortnite player Ousmane Dembele and splashing out a similar fee on perennial underachiever Philippe Coutinho were particularly ill-judged moves.
However, the real key factor in creating the crisis has been Barcelona’s laissez faire attitude to player wages. As well as the deals those aforementioned signings penned, the eye-watering contracts they offered to Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi and even some fringe players have been crippling.
Although Barcelona were horrifically run prior to March 2020, the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic brought their issues to a head.
Not only did it take away their gate receipts it also brought the city’s football tourism industry to a screeching halt.
In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic the playing staff were quick to agree a temporary 70% wage cut. They even promised to forego more of their earnings if necessary.
After a harmonious start, the relationship between the board and the players broke down over the summer.
With Europe emerging from the first wave of the pandemic and La Liga starting up again, the initial wage reduction agreement expired. Then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu tried pushing through another wage cut – but that was firmly rejected by the players.
This kick-started a summer of the board trying to negotiate salary reductions and failing miserably for the most part.
With wage cuts not bearing fruit, Barcelona had to find other ways to fiddle their finances.
The 2020 summer transfer window was a prime example with Nelson Semedo, Rafinha and Ivan Rakitic all being let go. Luis Suarez was sold to Atletico Madrid too – a move that turned Los Rojiblancos into La Liga winners. Nice going, guys.
The most peculiar deal of all, though, involved Arthur Melo and Miralem Pjanic. The mechanics of the deal are too complex to discuss in detail here. All you really need to know is that the only reason the swap happened is so both clubs could kick their financial problems into touch for another 12 months.
As the 2020/21 season kicked off, the majority of Barcelona’s players remained stubbornly opposed to any pay cut.
Therefore, when Frenkie de Jong, Clement Lenglet, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Gerard Pique covertly signed new contracts which included wage reductions, their teammates were left furious.
This was far from the end of the story, though.
After failing to agree similar deals with senior players the much-maligned Bartomeu announced his resignation. It was the perfect example of ‘jumping before you are pushed’.
Although Barcelona’s situation had been worrying for some time, there was always a belief that a club of their size would be able to find a way out of their predicament.
That belief started to change in October 2020 when the first reports emerged claiming that Barça faced a genuine threat of bankruptcy unless the situation was rectified.
Remember, this came after some wage deferrals had already been announced and Bartomeu had resigned.
A few months after he announced his departure, Bartomeu was arrested in a police operation the media ingeniously coined ‘Barçagate’.
The ongoing investigation centres around accusations that the former president paid a PR company to disparage the reputation of senior Barcelona players on social media. Yes, seriously.
The police are investigating whether Bartomeu paid an inflated price for the service, which would would constitute improper management – a crime in Spain.
Joan Laporta was elected as Barcelona president in March 2021. Running on a platform of hope and ambition he easily batted off competition from Victor Font to secure his second term.
How long would the optimism last? Well, we think you know the answer to that one.
Ah, the Super League we hardly knew ye. In the dead of night, 12 elite clubs announced they were forming a breakaway competition that would have changed (ruined) European football forever.
The plans featured guaranteed income for the founding member so cash-strapped Barcelona were all over it like a rash.
They remained huddled in the bunker alongside Juventus and Real Madrid right till the very end, even when the other rebel clubs has hastily backtracked.
It was a PR nightmare for Barcelona and worst of all, the plans falling through only worsened their economic plight.
Any normal club in this dire position might have used the summer transfer window to cut their cloth further. However, Barcelona are no normal club.
Instead, they offered lucrative contracts to Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia. They also wanted Georginio Wijnaldum – only for Paris Saint-Germain to blow them out of the water at the eleventh hour.
The only issue was that these new signings could not be registered as Barcelona could not prove they had the funds to complete the season without financial collapse. Smooth.
Amid this flurry of new signings, Barcelona kept insisting that a deal for Lionel Messi – whose contract expired at the end of the season – was a mere formality.
As it turned out, that was a lie and a whopper at that.
At the beginning of August, Barça were forced to announce that a new contract was not possible, with Messi bidding a teary goodbye to the club he joined as a boy.
As the dust was still settling, he jetted off to the French capital to join PSG.
The reaction to Messi’s departure was cataclysmic. It highlighted Barcelona’s crisis across the world and it did not take long for the politicking to begin.
The deposed Bartomeu kicked things off, explaining his version of events in a rambling letter. He attempted to absolve himself from blame, even claiming the club’s current situation was better than when he took over in 2010.
Back on the pitch, Barcelona were days away from the start of the 2021/22 season and were still yet to register their summer signings.
Step forward Gerard Pique, who saved the club’s skin by agreeing to a paycut. This freed up enough space on the wage bill for Depay and Garcia to be added to the squad. Exactly how is still clear. Aguero remains unregistered, though.
Ironically, in Barça’s opening-day win over Real Sociedad the hero of the hour opened the scoring by nodding home Depay’s free kick.
On 16 August, Laporta held an explosive press conference in which he detailed the full extent of the club’s crisis.
He spent the majority of the time rubbishing Bartomeu’s letter as ‘full of lies’ but also made several incredible admissions about Barça’s finances.
Laporta explained that the club are in €1.35 billion worth of debt and have a net worth of negative €451m. What’s more, the club have been spending 102% of their total income on player wages.
He did finish the press conference by insisting he had a cunning plan to rectify the situation. Presumably he has a magic money tree in his back garden.