Unshackled by his own resignation, Josep Bartomeu gave his side of the story. Forced out of Barcelona by a looming successful vote of no confidence, he revealed in a hastily arranged press conference on Tuesday how he and his family had been the subject of threats, how the Catalan club’s financial future hangs in the balance and how, most bizarrely, he’d accepted a proposal to participate in a European Super League before departing office.
This was the culmination of a tumultuous summer for Barcelona, with disquiet at the club growing steadily over the last few years. Lionel Messi’s public opposition to Bartomeu ultimately made the president’s position untenable. Faced with a choice between the two figures, the Socios were only ever going to side with Barca’s greatest player.
A sense of relief will be felt across Catalonia in light of Bartomeu’s decision. Barcelona can now finally detoxify the Camp Nou, but it’s only now that questions over the club’s future will be addressed. It’s only now that the Catalans will plot a course, and on the basis of what Bartomeu said in his not-so-fair farewell it’s crucially important they plot the right course.
It was only a few weeks ago that Barcelona confirmed their debts now amount to a monumental €488 million. The financial picture at the Camp Nou was already a bleak one before Covid-19 struck and the pandemic has only added to the club’s woes. Whoever succeeds Bartoemu faces a daunting clean-up.
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One might assume that with Bartomeu gone, Messi’s future as a Barcelona player would now be secure. But the Argentine’s current contract is still set to expire next summer and that contract reportedly sees him paid a staggering €2 million-a-week before tax. If another club, say Manchester City, can match that while Barca can’t, who’s to say Messi won’t still leave?
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
Image credit: Imago
While Victor Font, seen many as the man to restore FC Barcelona’s identity as more than a club and backed by the likes of Xavi Hernandez and Carles Puyol, is considered the frontrunner to succeed Bartomeu, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a continuity candidate could be next to sit in the Camp Nou boardroom.
Bartomeu’s resignation might have given Barcelona a fresh canvas for the first time since the election of Joan Laporta in 2003, but they must now decide what they want to paint on that canvas. Even if there is a common desire to return to the principles of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, finding someone to deliver that, both in the boardroom and the dugout, won’t be easy.
All the while, Barcelona’s balance sheet might restrict what their new president is able to do. That Bartomeu included news of a European Super League acceptance in his handover notes, reasoning that participation “would guarantee the future financial sustainability of the club,” hints that his successor might uncover even greater financial damage than has been openly acknowledged so far.
Image credit: Eurosport
Things on the pitch can change quickly. It was only a few weeks ago fans and pundits were discussing Ronald Koeman’s new ideas and how his 4-2-3-1 formation had reinvigorated a previously jaded group of players. Barcelona boast a core of talented young players including Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig, Pedri and Sergino Dest. If Koeman is to be replaced by Xavi, already picked by Font as his first managerial appointment, the former midfielder will have a lot to mould with.
Off the pitch, though, it will take a lot to make Barcelona, Barcelona again. The resignation of Bartomeu must only be the first phase of a longer process that could take years to complete. Whether Messi stays next summer or not, the Catalan club at least now stands a chance of recovery.