Even by the standards of Barcelona, a club where political intrigue and drama have been part of the furniture for years now, the events of this summer have been monstrous, to say the least. The revelation that Lionel Messi wanted to leave the club completely shook the wider sporting world, let alone football, with one estimate that there were more than 11 million Tweets in the hours following that bombshell announcement. The mismanagement at the top of the club drove Messi to this decision, but after a two-week period of speculation around his next destination, the Argentine superstar recorded an interview to say that he would be staying at the Nou Camp after all.
However, that does not mean that all of President Josep Maria Bartomeu’s problems are gone. The club’s socios, or members, have successfully managed to gather enough signatures to trigger a vote on his future next month, while even if he does survive that, it is almost certain that there will be change at the top at next year’s elections. Bartomeu himself cannot run for another term, while the various crises and issues that Barcelona have seen under his tenure mean that any candidate backed by him will probably lose as well. Barcelona are stuck in limbo, thus, and that is contributing to the problems being seen in their playing squad as well now, which is quite unbalanced and has a few issues.
Ronald Koeman’s arrival as the new manager was followed by the news that several veterans had been told to clear out. Arturo Vidal has promptly been moved on to Inter Milan, Ivan Rakitic returned to Sevilla, while Luis Suarez was belatedly allowed to go to rivals Atletico Madrid, after the Uruguayan threatened legal action as well as a tell-all press conference if he was not allowed to go to his preferred choice of club. This has immediately removed two influential members of the dressing-room, with Suarez departing as the third-highest goalscorer in Barcelona’s history. Along with this, it will be difficult to replace his energy, tenacity and ruggedness, especially as Barcelona look unlikely to complete a move for Inter’s Lautaro Martinez. Nelson Semedo has been sold to Wolves, which leaves Sergi Roberto as the only right-back in the squad, while highly-rated youngster Riqui Puig has been told that he will not be part of Koeman’s plans. Miralem Pjanic, Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong all play in almost the same role in midfield, so Koeman now has three deep-lying playmakers to pick from with hardly any other profile of midfielder to complement them, especially with Vidal’s departure. Philippe Coutinho is being reintegrated, largely because it is impossible to find a buyer willing to take on his salary and pay the fee that Barcelona want. All of this points towards some very botched thinking at the club.
Despite Real Madrid not making a single signing in this window, most betting odds that are new on esportbetting.net and elsewhere put them as favourites to retain La Liga, and that is mostly down to the dysfunction seen at the Nou Camp. It will be a long season for Barcelona fans, even though Messi may have decided to stick around for now.