The Highs & (Many) Lows of Josep Maria Bartomeu’s Reign at Barcelona



Josep Maria Bartomeu’s time as Barcelona president will not be remembered fondly | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

After six eventful years, the reign of Josep Maria Bartomeu at Camp Nou has finally come to an end.

During his time on the throne, Barcelona won four La Liga titles and the 2014/15 Champions League, which sounds like a pretty good haul, right? Yeah, it is a good return, but the fact that it was balanced out with millions of major problems and diminished hope for the future means it was hardly worth it.

Let’s take a journey to remember all the highs and lows of Bartomeu’s time in charge.

Josep Maria Bartomeu, Sandro RosellBartomeu took over from the departing Rosell | David Ramos/Getty Images

Here’s where it all began. Bartomeu, who had been a director of Barcelona’s basketball team in the past, became president of the entire club following Sandro Rosell’s resignation in January 2014.

Rosell chose to walk away after being investigated for fraud over Barcelona’s purchase of Neymar in 2013, in what famously became known as ‘The Neymar Case’.

Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, NeymarBarcelona were on top of the world in 2015 | Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images

At the end of Bartomeu’s first full season in charge at Camp Nou, Barcelona lifted the Champions League trophy and completed a historic treble, having won La Liga and the Copa del Rey just weeks before.

Presidential elections were held in July, and given the outstanding achievements on the pitch, it came as no surprise to see Bartomeu win by a landslide.

Joan Gamper Trophy - "Barcelona v AS Roma"Turan couldn’t even play for six months | VI-Images/Getty Images

Despite serving a transfer ban which meant new players couldn’t be registered until January 2016, Barcelona shelled out €65m on Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan in the summer of 2015.

The two players, who sat on the sidelines for six months, didn’t instantly look like wastes of money, but their impacts were minimal and both were sold for massive losses just a few years later, suggesting the board didn’t really know what they were doing.

Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, Neymar JrBartomeu avoided blame for the Neymar Case | Power Sport Images/Getty Images

While Rosell chose to walk away because of the Neymar Case, Bartomeu stayed and fought. However, instead of fighting to disprove the allegations, he was solely focused on exonerating himself.

Bartomeu agreed a deal with prosecutors which would ensure both he and Rosell were seen as innocent, instead shifting the blame on to Barcelona as a club.

He avoided a €3.8m fine and potential prison sentence and instead agreed for Barcelona to pay €5m.

Entry of the new building named "La MasiLa Masia was completely changed | JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images

In an attempt to rejuvenate the famous academy which meant so much to Barcelona, Bartomeu unveiled the ‘Masia 360’ project in 2016 which was designed to revolutionise everything from accommodation and diet to philosophy and personal development.

It ended up being a complete waste of money, with fans and young players all growing frustrated with how Bartomeu had effectively torn up the roots of the club for no good reason.

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-FRA-LIGUE1-PSG-NEYMARNeymar’s exit was a catalyst for turmoil | AFP Contributor/Getty Images

Here’s where things really start going downhill. Barcelona sold Neymar to PSG after the French side paid his release clause of €222m, and fans soon became furious at Bartomeu for not doing enough to prevent it.

It also attracted the frustration of the Camp Nou dressing room. Many players were incredibly close with Neymar, but even those who weren’t recognised that one of the world’s best players had just been allowed to walk out the door. That should not happen at a club like Barcelona.

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BARCELONA-DEMBELESigning Dembele did not work out | AFP Contributor/Getty Images

Using the €222m earned through selling Neymar, Barcelona threw a whopping €145m at Borussia Dortmund to sign young winger Ousmane Dembélé.

The Frenchman has battled injuries ever since arriving at the club and was heavily linked with a move away from Camp Nou in the summer of 2020. Given how disastrously the deal went, Bartomeu’s transfer dealings were again in the spotlight.

Philippe CoutinhoCoutinho was incredibly expensive | Miquel Benitez/Getty Images

Billed as a replacement for Andrés Iniesta, Philippe Coutinho swapped Liverpool for Barcelona in January 2018 for a cool £142m.

He immediately struggled to impress in midfield and was shifted out to the wing, where things hardly got much better. He was desperately sent out on loan in 2019/20 as Barcelona scrambled to get their money back, but Bayern Munich declined to sign him permanently and sent him back.

Andries IniestaBarcelona won another league title | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Barcelona wrestled the La Liga title back from Real Madrid in 2018/19, earning Bartomeu a little more faith.

After all, his demolition of the club surely couldn’t be that bad if they were still the best team in Spain?

Antoine GriezmannGriezmann has not lived up to the hype | TF-Images/Getty Images

After pursuing him for over a year, Barcelona finally got a deal for Antoine Griezmann over the line in July 2019, parting with a cool €120m to get the deal done.

Immediate concerns over his fit alongside Lionel Messi were quickly justified as Griezmann looked like an average footballer at best. The humiliation got worse as the Frenchman continued to tear it up at international level. The problem was obviously Barcelona.

Xavi SimonsSimons’ exit proved there were problems with La Masia | TF-Images/Getty Images

He might not have made a single senior appearance, but the loss of then 16-year-old Xavi Simons to PSG in July 2019 really hurt.

Seen as one of the most exciting midfielder of his age, Simons was supposed to become a first-team star at Camp Nou, and Barcelona should have had no problem helping him see a pathway.

The board’s loss of faith in La Masia was too much for Simons, who followed Neymar over to Paris.

Ernesto ValverdeValverde’s exit seemed unplanned | Eric Alonso/MB Media/Getty Images

Barcelona had finished top of their Champions League group stage and were top of La Liga when 2020 arrived, but a handful of poor performances saw Bartomeu pull the trigger on manager Ernesto Valverde – a decision many fans thought was far too hasty.

To make matters worse, it leaked to the media that Valverde was going to be sacked, but Bartomeu made the boss wait all day while he frantically scrambled (and failed) to find somebody better than Quique Setién to replace him. There was no plan.

FC Barcelona Introduce New Player Pedro Gonzalez Lopez - 'Pedri'Bartomeu was accused of paying people to praise him | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

One of the craziest revelations of Bartomeu’s time at the club came in February 2020, when accusations emerged suggesting the president had paid a social media firm to slate the players and defend him through anonymous social media accounts.

After initially denying a relationship with I3 Ventures, Bartomeu eventually confessed to hiring the firm to ‘monitor’ social media, and although Barcelona were cleared of any wrongdoing, suspicions remain to this day.

Lionel MessiMessi questioned the board’s behaviour | Alex Caparros/Getty Images

The Barcelona squad all agreed to take 70% pay cuts as the COVID-19 outbreak paralysed Barcelona’s finances, Lionel Messi took to Instagram to voice his frustration towards what he felt was pressure from inside the club to make a decision they were always going to make.

His argument was that the players felt disrespected by the idea that they must cut their wages when they were always prepared to sacrifice some income anyway. It was a lack of courtesy that set the squad off.

Arthur Henrique Ramos de Oliveira MeloLetting Arthur leave was an unpopular move | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

Brazilian midfielder Arthur, who was seen by many as a future star at the club, was handed over to Juventus in exchange for 30-year-old Miralem Pjanić, who had shown clear signs of decline over the previous year.

Not only was Bartomeu clearly only thinking about the short term, he wasn’t even doing that well.

Lionel MessiThe loss to Bayern was the club’s worst result in recent history | Pool/Getty Images

Bartomeu may not have been directly responsible for the humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, but the defeat did highlight every way in which the team had crumbled in recent years.

The impact of poor signings (Bartomeu’s fault), poor managerial appointments (Bartomeu’s fault) and a general lack of harmony (largely Bartomeu’s fault) was clear to see for everyone.

Lionel MessiMessi tried to jump ship soon after the loss | Pool/Getty Images

When Messi revealed he wanted to leave Barcelona, the frustration towards Bartomeu grew tenfold.

It was clear that the tension from fans was shared by the club’s greatest-ever player, and if Bartomeu was unconsciously forcing Messi out the club, then he had to go.

Luis SuarezSuarez felt forced out of the club | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Legendary striker Luis Suárez claimed he felt forced out of the club as Barcelona tried to cut their ties with the ageing frontman.

Despite still being one of the world’s top forwards, he was unceremoniously shunted out the back door to Atlético Madrid, who signed him up for pocket change.

Josep Maria BartomeuBartomeu was almost forced out of the club | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

With fans and club members growing sick and tired of Bartomeu, a motion of no confidence was tabled against the president to force him out of office earlier than scheduled.

Thousands of signatures were collected to force the vote, but Bartomeu did his utmost to delay the elections.

Gerard PiqueThe squad were concerned about being forced to alter their pay | Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Just like with the initial pay cut controversy, the Barcelona squad were hit with a letter which said that they were going to agree to wage deferrals and they only had a few weeks to agree to the terms of it.

Unsurprisingly, the players were unhappy to have been backed into a corner, but they were also stunned that the club’s non-playing staff were being forced to cut their wages, despite taking up just 3% of the club’s expenses compared to the 70% of the players’ salaries.

Josep Maria BartomeuBartomeu resigned before he was forced out | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Instead of being thrown overboard, Bartomeu chose to jump on October 27, 2020, resigning from his position and bringing all the chaos to an end.

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