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21 hours ago, compo said:

Just been reading that your very own Roman Abramovich is seeking to talk to him ,you may be getting a pure gem .

Yes saw that, but i'm not convinced that Messi would want the challenge of the PL and may prefer Ligue1 as it is not dissimilar to La Liga. 

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Just watched the Press conference.  A wee bit OTT. No one has died ffs. Wouldn't it be great if he turned round and said don't worry. I've got all the money I need so I'll play for free over the next 2/3 years? Why go to PSG if it's not for money? Disappointed if this happens 

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5 hours ago, BlackSocksRedTops said:

Just watched the Press conference.  A wee bit OTT. No one has died ffs. Wouldn't it be great if he turned round and said don't worry. I've got all the money I need so I'll play for free over the next 2/3 years? Why go to PSG if it's not for money? Disappointed if this happens 

Only a wee bit? It was cringeworthy. Don't remember Ronaldo blubbing when leaving Real Madrid, then again he truly was the worlds best player over recent years............ discuss ;) not again!!!!

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Obviously only in football for the money now not as an escape from the humdrum poor peasants who will pay through the nose to see him where ever he goes.

Okay football is a short career for most but how many millions do these superstars need to see them through their life???.

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A long read:

 

FOOTBALL | BOOK EXTRACT

A crying shame: Lionel Messi’s part in the downfall of Barcelona

In 2015 Barcelona won the Champions League. Now they are a footballing basket case. In this book extract Simon Kuper charts an astonishing decline and explains why having the world’s best footballer did nothing to help

 

Messi has enjoyed great success with Barcelona but it has come at a substantial cost

 

Simon Kuper

Tuesday August 10 2021, 12.01am, The Times
 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/a-crying-shame-lionel-messis-part-in-the-downfall-of-barcelona-95wkn6l7w

 

Staggering cost of keeping a genius

After Lionel Messi renewed his contract with Barça in 2017, the club’s head of legal services, Román Gómez Ponti, sent the CEO, Òscar Grau, an email that consisted of one word: “ALELUYA”, with the final A repeated 69 times. Grau replied: “The extension of Leo Messi . . . was important for the survival of FC Barcelona.”

The three separate contracts guaranteed Messi an annual salary of over €100 million [about £84 million], according to a document obtained by Football Leaks and passed to Germany’s Spiegel magazine. One internal club document recommended: “The player needs to be aware of how disproportionately high his salary is relative to the rest of the team.”

Indeed, Messi was earning about as much as a typical top-class team of the time. Pretty soon, Barça were paying him even more. Aided by the release clause in Messi’s contract, his father, Jorge, negotiated large annual pay hikes. Over the four years from 2017 to 2021, the player earned more than €555 million in total, according to highlights from his 30-page contract published in El Mundo.

 

A senior Barça official told me that Messi’s salary had tripled between 2014 and 2020. He added: “Messi is not the problem. The problem is the contagion of the rest of the team.” Whenever Messi got a raise, his team-mates asked for one as well.

After about 2015, Barça morphed from més que un club (more than a club) into Messi’s club. “Messi-dependencia” is an old concept in Barcelona, but originally it described an incidental phenomenon: Messi winning a tight match. Over time, Messidependencia became the system. Barça parasited off Messi, until he began eating the club.

In 2020 sporting disaster, economic disaster and Messi’s decision to leave all struck at once.

 

How Barcelona and Messi stopped playing great football
During Messi’s first decade in the team, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta had enough status not to give him the ball too early in an attack. But as the duo faded from the team, and Neymar left, Barça’s strategy simplified into Messidependencia. From 2017 until 2019, Messi’s shots and assists accounted for between 45 and 49 per cent of Barcelona’s annual expected goals, calculates the Financial Times data journalist John Burn-Murdoch.

Barça’s system became “get to the final third, then give the ball to Messi, wherever he is”. Barcelona’s first team were abandoning Barcelona football.

Instead of Messi moving as part of a fluid collective that embodied the principles of Johan Cruyff, Barcelona’s tactical mentor, now his team-mates simply reacted to his moves. Most were awed by him. Frenkie de Jong told me: “Messi’s really much better than the other players. I think people underestimate that. You’re playing with the very best players in the world, but he’s far above that. You have to make sure you’re always trying to keep an eye on him.”

Meanwhile, although nobody at Barça wanted to talk about it, the king was growing old. Messi stopped defending. When Barça lost the ball, Messi would often trudge back alone, yards offside behind the opposition’s defenders. As the team aged too, Barça’s training sessions slowed down. This was a shock for Antoine Griezmann, who had come from Atletico Madrid, where “every training session was at the intensity level of a match”. Barcelona’s defenders and midfielders rarely overlapped any more.

 

This went against the grain of modern football. The sport continued to evolve weekly, and the one-time innovators Barça were being overtaken. “Every day football gets more spectacular, the players physically, technically and tactically stronger,” Gerard Piqué remarked. “I always say that the best defenders in history are those of today.” Even Franz Beckenbauer, he added, was “worse on the ball, slower and understood the game less well” than Piqué’s generation. As for defenders who just kicked people, they had died out.

 

Piqué was right that football kept improving — but only outside Barcelona. While Barça neglected pressing, other teams updated it. Gegenpressing, the Germans called the latest version: chasing up the opposition the moment you lose possession, so as to win the ball near their goal, before their defence can organise. It was Ajax’s “hunting” of the 1970s on fast-forward — a game so rapid it should be called “storming”.

Storming teams adopted some of Barça’s innovations, such as Pep Guardiola’s five-second pressing rule, but discarded others, like the obsession with possession.

By 2020, storming had become the orthodoxy, practised even by traditionally cautious teams such as Juventus and Chelsea. In February 2017 a storming Paris Saint-Germain beat Barcelona 4-0 in the Champions League. Barça won the second leg 6-1 with their famous remontada (comeback), but then lost 3-0 away to Juventus in the quarter-final and were eliminated. In 2018 they lost 3-0 at Roma at the same stage and were eliminated again.

 

The good news was that Cruyffian attacking pressing football still worked. The bad news was that other clubs had modernised it.

Yet the club did not hire a coach to turn their ageing players into a high-intensity storming unit. Barça’s thinking was that, with a core of veteran world-class players, topped by Messi, a strong coach would only get in the way.

Every Barça coach from 2013 until 2020 understood his own shrunken role. When I visited Ernesto Valverde in 2019 at the first team’s training ground, the Camp Tito Vilanova, his white office walls were almost bare, except for the team’s schedule. There was scarcely a personal touch in the room. Valverde knew he was just a caretaker.

On May 1, 2019, at half-time in the home leg of the Champions League semi-final against Liverpool, with Barça leading 1-0, Messi said: “Try to calm the match. I know it’s hard, but try. If we play one against one, they are stronger. We’re not used to it; they’re quick. Then we’re going up and down; it’s a lottery. If we have control, it’s another story.”

In a seven-minute spell in the second half that night, Messi sealed a 3-0 win. Afterwards, a smiling Jürgen Klopp bounded into Liverpool’s forlorn changing room shouting: “Boys, boys, boys! We are not the best team in the world. Now you know that. Maybe they are! Who cares? Who cares! We can still beat the best team in the world. Let’s go again.”

That night, it sounded like bravado. Barça really did look like the best team in the world. Three days after clinching their second straight Spanish title, they had one foot in the Champions League final, where they would be favoured to beat Ajax or Tottenham Hotspur. There was life in the old dog yet.

Six days later, in the second leg at Anfield, Barça returned to their changing room at half-time 1-0 down. Jordi Alba, whose error had given Liverpool the goal, was in tears. The whole team was anxious. Once a group of players has been together for years, every new match becomes an echo of past matches. The thrashings by PSG, Juventus and Roma had given Barça a complex.

 

At this point Messi decided to stand up and remind his team-mates of their deepest fear. “We have to start strong,” he said, his monotone louder than usual. “Remember Roma was our fault. Nobody else’s. We mustn’t let the same thing happen. It was our fault, nobody else’s.”

As the Irish journalist Ken Early remarked, Messi seemed to believe that “ ‘Let’s talk about the thing that we desperately don’t want to happen, and get that very firmly in our heads before we go out and play’ is a sound basic format for a captain’s gee-them-up speech.”

In the second half Barça crumbled, succumbing 4-0 to Liverpool’s storm. After Anfield, Messi gave his first press conference with Barcelona in four years. “The worst thing,” he said, “and for that we can never forgive ourselves, is that we didn’t fight.”

When the team needed a rocket up the arse, as the English phrase goes, he saw it as his job to deliver it.

 

The end is nigh
If 1992 had been Barça’s annus mirabilis, 2020 was their annus horribilis. Everyone had seen the cracks in the cathedral’s ceiling. But nobody expected the building to collapse. That year an almost carnivalesque string of mishaps occurred.

It started on January 13, when Josep Maria Bartomeu, the club’s president at the time, sacked Valverde after a 3-2 defeat by Atletico Madrid. Though the role of Barça’s head coach had been denuded of most of its responsibilities, one remained: the coach serves as designated scapegoat. He is sacrificed so that the president can live on.

The sacking looked harsh. Admittedly Barça hadn’t been playing well, and Valverde had closed the team’s door to gifted players from the Masia, the club’s academy. Still, he had won two Spanish titles in two seasons, and he left with the team top of the league again.

 

The sacking upset Messi: though he does not care much who the coach is, he thought Valverde was a nice guy.

The Argentinian was outraged when Barça’s sporting director, Eric Abidal, told a newspaper: “Lots of players were not satisfied [with Valverde] and nor did they work much.” Messi posted Abidal’s interview on Instagram, with a red circle around those words, and wrote that the players had no responsibility for the sacking.

Barça offered the coach’s job to Xavi, Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino. None of the preferred candidates wanted to take over in mid-season. And so the obscure, jobless 61-year-old Cruyffista Quique Setién, who had spent the previous day walking among the cows of his home village in northern Spain, received a surprise call.

But in fact, Setién’s unremarkable CV reassured Barcelona. At least a C-list coach would not delude himself that he was the boss of Messi. During half-time at one of his first matches, away to Betis, he asked him what he thought. “What do you think I think?” snapped Messi.

He was irritated that the inexperienced Junior Firpo (a protégé of Setién’s in their days at Betis) had started at left back instead of Messi’s friend, the veteran Alba. “This isn’t a youth team!” Messi shouted. “Play your best players.” Soon after half-time, Alba replaced Firpo.

 

On the field Barça were faltering, and at that point the coronavirus came along to shut down football and devastate Spain.

In 2018-19 Barcelona claimed revenues of €990 million, but in May 2020, Barça’s vice-president, Jordi Cardoner, told me the pandemic had already wiped about €130 million off the club’s revenues.

Spanish football resumed in June. If only it hadn’t. Barça lost the league to Real Madrid, and then, in their Champions League quarter-final in a mercifully empty stadium in Lisbon on August 9, went down 8-2 to Bayern Munich. Six of their starting outfield players that night were aged 31 or over.

An era — an unusually long era, by football’s standards — had ended in one night in Lisbon. Now Barça needed to recruit a new team. The problem was that they had run out of money.

 

Setién, whose 15 minutes of coaching fame had at least secured him a nice pension, was dispatched back to his village. Months later, interviewed by Spain’s former manager Vicente del Bosque in El País newspaper, he unburdened himself about Messi. “There’s another facet that’s not that of a player, and that is more difficult to manage,” Setién said. “He is very reserved, but he makes you see the things he wants. He doesn’t speak much. But he watches.”

During Setién’s seven months at Barça, he had always been aware that Messi could get him sacked at any moment. He had felt helpless around the player, unable to be himself: “Who am I to change him if they have accepted him for years here and have never asked him to adapt?”

Setién diagnosed in Messi a permanent anxiety fuelled by the pressure to win matches.

 

Barça replaced Setién with Koeman, who arranged a meeting at his captain’s house and reportedly told him: “Your privileges in the squad are over, you have to do everything for the team. I’m going to be inflexible.”

As so often before in Barcelona’s history, Dutch directness had encountered Latin etiquette. Messi was offended — nobody spoke to him like that — and more so when Koeman then informed Luis Suárez in a one-minute phone call that he was no longer needed.

Worse, nobody from the board rang the Uruguayan to thank him for his 198 goals for Barcelona. Messi could accept Barça’s decision to discard his best friend, but he couldn’t forgive the disrespect.

It hardly mattered anyway. Messi was planning to leave the club regardless, frustrated that Barcelona were no longer competitive at the highest level. But at the time, Barça held him to his contract and barred him from leaving.

 

In September 2020 I took a train from Paris to Catalonia. I disembarked in a stricken Barcelona. I’d come to meet a director for a post-apocalyptic briefing. He said that the pandemic had slashed revenues by a total of €300 million across two seasons. Barça had offered refunds to its 85,000 season ticket holders (435 of whom had said: “Keep the money.”).

 

The club’s debt was ballooning out of control. The director played down the dreadful figures, but no other big football club had as urgent a need to buy a new team. And no other club in any sport had a higher annual wage bill than Barça’s €500 million, about a quarter of which went to Messi.

On top of that sum, noted the director, Barça had to write off another €200 million a year on transfer fees. If a club sign a player for a fee of €100 million and give him a four-year contract, they write off €25 million a season in their accounts. That’s not a problem if he’s a youngster who can be resold later, but Barça’s collection of oldies had little resale value.

Adding together the salaries and write-offs, Barça’s total outlay on players was about €700 million a year. Shockingly, that was more than the club’s entire revenue for the 2020-21 season. (Before the pandemic, the club’s target for 2021 had been to surpass €1 billion.) In short, salaries at Barça had got out of hand. Now a period of austerity loomed.

La Liga, hoping to prevent bankruptcies during the pandemic, had quietly tightened its spending controls on Spanish clubs. The club were about to pay Suárez millions to leave. It would still end up hundreds of millions over La Liga’s limit, and without money to sign new players.

In 30 years of visiting Barcelona, I had never seen the club laid so low. It was now possible to imagine that football’s biggest spenders of the 2014 to 2019 period would eventually have to sell rising stars such as Pedri and Ansu Fati to richer clubs.

At the Barça training ground, Koeman’s efforts to change club culture earned him the nickname “Sergeant Koeman”. Players had to report an hour before practice started. Training sessions were extended from one hour to 90 minutes, and became quite strenuous, by Barça’s standards.

Koeman said that coaching Barcelona was “the most stressful job” he’d ever had. His wife couldn’t bear to watch their first few matches, and instead went out with De Jong’s girlfriend, who couldn’t watch either.

 

Things on the playing side improved a little after Christmas 2020, with Messi seeming to rediscover his pleasure in football, and combining happily with his young team-mates Pedri, De Jong, Sergiño Dest and a newly professional Ousmane Dembélé.

But even with Messi’s salary jettisoned, the financial outlook remains grim. The club’s debt is now about €1.2 billion. The league has slashed Barcelona’s total permitted spending on transfer fees and players’ salaries to somewhere between €160 and €200 million for the coming season — down from €656 million in 2019-2020.

 

Where now for Barcelona?
Maybe the Barcelona model is coming to an end. For a while now, the club’s business executives have been planning for a future of mediocrity on the pitch. One told me in 2019 that Barça should expect to be less successful in the next 25 years than it had been in the previous 25.

The worst-case scenario was becoming AC Milan: from European champions to national also-rans. If that happened, Chinese kids would stop watching Barça matches and buying their shirts.

And if that were the case, Barça risked dropping out of the top three when it came to European clubs with the highest revenues. The foreign fan base — which now consist largely of youngsters in love with Messi — may age over time. As a senior club official told me, “After Messi you see the desert, you see darkness.”

 

This is an edited extract from Simon Kuper’s new book Barça, which is published on Thursday. Simon Kuper is an FT Weekend columnist

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2 hours ago, Uilleam said:

A long read:

 

FOOTBALL | BOOK EXTRACT

A crying shame: Lionel Messi’s part in the downfall of Barcelona

In 2015 Barcelona won the Champions League. Now they are a footballing basket case. In this book extract Simon Kuper charts an astonishing decline and explains why having the world’s best footballer did nothing to help

 

Messi has enjoyed great success with Barcelona but it has come at a substantial cost

 

Simon Kuper

Tuesday August 10 2021, 12.01am, The Times
 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/a-crying-shame-lionel-messis-part-in-the-downfall-of-barcelona-95wkn6l7w

 

Staggering cost of keeping a genius

After Lionel Messi renewed his contract with Barça in 2017, the club’s head of legal services, Román Gómez Ponti, sent the CEO, Òscar Grau, an email that consisted of one word: “ALELUYA”, with the final A repeated 69 times. Grau replied: “The extension of Leo Messi . . . was important for the survival of FC Barcelona.”

The three separate contracts guaranteed Messi an annual salary of over €100 million [about £84 million], according to a document obtained by Football Leaks and passed to Germany’s Spiegel magazine. One internal club document recommended: “The player needs to be aware of how disproportionately high his salary is relative to the rest of the team.”

Indeed, Messi was earning about as much as a typical top-class team of the time. Pretty soon, Barça were paying him even more. Aided by the release clause in Messi’s contract, his father, Jorge, negotiated large annual pay hikes. Over the four years from 2017 to 2021, the player earned more than €555 million in total, according to highlights from his 30-page contract published in El Mundo.

 

A senior Barça official told me that Messi’s salary had tripled between 2014 and 2020. He added: “Messi is not the problem. The problem is the contagion of the rest of the team.” Whenever Messi got a raise, his team-mates asked for one as well.

After about 2015, Barça morphed from més que un club (more than a club) into Messi’s club. “Messi-dependencia” is an old concept in Barcelona, but originally it described an incidental phenomenon: Messi winning a tight match. Over time, Messidependencia became the system. Barça parasited off Messi, until he began eating the club.

In 2020 sporting disaster, economic disaster and Messi’s decision to leave all struck at once.

 

How Barcelona and Messi stopped playing great football
During Messi’s first decade in the team, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta had enough status not to give him the ball too early in an attack. But as the duo faded from the team, and Neymar left, Barça’s strategy simplified into Messidependencia. From 2017 until 2019, Messi’s shots and assists accounted for between 45 and 49 per cent of Barcelona’s annual expected goals, calculates the Financial Times data journalist John Burn-Murdoch.

Barça’s system became “get to the final third, then give the ball to Messi, wherever he is”. Barcelona’s first team were abandoning Barcelona football.

Instead of Messi moving as part of a fluid collective that embodied the principles of Johan Cruyff, Barcelona’s tactical mentor, now his team-mates simply reacted to his moves. Most were awed by him. Frenkie de Jong told me: “Messi’s really much better than the other players. I think people underestimate that. You’re playing with the very best players in the world, but he’s far above that. You have to make sure you’re always trying to keep an eye on him.”

Meanwhile, although nobody at Barça wanted to talk about it, the king was growing old. Messi stopped defending. When Barça lost the ball, Messi would often trudge back alone, yards offside behind the opposition’s defenders. As the team aged too, Barça’s training sessions slowed down. This was a shock for Antoine Griezmann, who had come from Atletico Madrid, where “every training session was at the intensity level of a match”. Barcelona’s defenders and midfielders rarely overlapped any more.

 

This went against the grain of modern football. The sport continued to evolve weekly, and the one-time innovators Barça were being overtaken. “Every day football gets more spectacular, the players physically, technically and tactically stronger,” Gerard Piqué remarked. “I always say that the best defenders in history are those of today.” Even Franz Beckenbauer, he added, was “worse on the ball, slower and understood the game less well” than Piqué’s generation. As for defenders who just kicked people, they had died out.

 

Piqué was right that football kept improving — but only outside Barcelona. While Barça neglected pressing, other teams updated it. Gegenpressing, the Germans called the latest version: chasing up the opposition the moment you lose possession, so as to win the ball near their goal, before their defence can organise. It was Ajax’s “hunting” of the 1970s on fast-forward — a game so rapid it should be called “storming”.

Storming teams adopted some of Barça’s innovations, such as Pep Guardiola’s five-second pressing rule, but discarded others, like the obsession with possession.

By 2020, storming had become the orthodoxy, practised even by traditionally cautious teams such as Juventus and Chelsea. In February 2017 a storming Paris Saint-Germain beat Barcelona 4-0 in the Champions League. Barça won the second leg 6-1 with their famous remontada (comeback), but then lost 3-0 away to Juventus in the quarter-final and were eliminated. In 2018 they lost 3-0 at Roma at the same stage and were eliminated again.

 

The good news was that Cruyffian attacking pressing football still worked. The bad news was that other clubs had modernised it.

Yet the club did not hire a coach to turn their ageing players into a high-intensity storming unit. Barça’s thinking was that, with a core of veteran world-class players, topped by Messi, a strong coach would only get in the way.

Every Barça coach from 2013 until 2020 understood his own shrunken role. When I visited Ernesto Valverde in 2019 at the first team’s training ground, the Camp Tito Vilanova, his white office walls were almost bare, except for the team’s schedule. There was scarcely a personal touch in the room. Valverde knew he was just a caretaker.

On May 1, 2019, at half-time in the home leg of the Champions League semi-final against Liverpool, with Barça leading 1-0, Messi said: “Try to calm the match. I know it’s hard, but try. If we play one against one, they are stronger. We’re not used to it; they’re quick. Then we’re going up and down; it’s a lottery. If we have control, it’s another story.”

In a seven-minute spell in the second half that night, Messi sealed a 3-0 win. Afterwards, a smiling Jürgen Klopp bounded into Liverpool’s forlorn changing room shouting: “Boys, boys, boys! We are not the best team in the world. Now you know that. Maybe they are! Who cares? Who cares! We can still beat the best team in the world. Let’s go again.”

That night, it sounded like bravado. Barça really did look like the best team in the world. Three days after clinching their second straight Spanish title, they had one foot in the Champions League final, where they would be favoured to beat Ajax or Tottenham Hotspur. There was life in the old dog yet.

Six days later, in the second leg at Anfield, Barça returned to their changing room at half-time 1-0 down. Jordi Alba, whose error had given Liverpool the goal, was in tears. The whole team was anxious. Once a group of players has been together for years, every new match becomes an echo of past matches. The thrashings by PSG, Juventus and Roma had given Barça a complex.

 

At this point Messi decided to stand up and remind his team-mates of their deepest fear. “We have to start strong,” he said, his monotone louder than usual. “Remember Roma was our fault. Nobody else’s. We mustn’t let the same thing happen. It was our fault, nobody else’s.”

As the Irish journalist Ken Early remarked, Messi seemed to believe that “ ‘Let’s talk about the thing that we desperately don’t want to happen, and get that very firmly in our heads before we go out and play’ is a sound basic format for a captain’s gee-them-up speech.”

In the second half Barça crumbled, succumbing 4-0 to Liverpool’s storm. After Anfield, Messi gave his first press conference with Barcelona in four years. “The worst thing,” he said, “and for that we can never forgive ourselves, is that we didn’t fight.”

When the team needed a rocket up the arse, as the English phrase goes, he saw it as his job to deliver it.

 

The end is nigh
If 1992 had been Barça’s annus mirabilis, 2020 was their annus horribilis. Everyone had seen the cracks in the cathedral’s ceiling. But nobody expected the building to collapse. That year an almost carnivalesque string of mishaps occurred.

It started on January 13, when Josep Maria Bartomeu, the club’s president at the time, sacked Valverde after a 3-2 defeat by Atletico Madrid. Though the role of Barça’s head coach had been denuded of most of its responsibilities, one remained: the coach serves as designated scapegoat. He is sacrificed so that the president can live on.

The sacking looked harsh. Admittedly Barça hadn’t been playing well, and Valverde had closed the team’s door to gifted players from the Masia, the club’s academy. Still, he had won two Spanish titles in two seasons, and he left with the team top of the league again.

 

The sacking upset Messi: though he does not care much who the coach is, he thought Valverde was a nice guy.

The Argentinian was outraged when Barça’s sporting director, Eric Abidal, told a newspaper: “Lots of players were not satisfied [with Valverde] and nor did they work much.” Messi posted Abidal’s interview on Instagram, with a red circle around those words, and wrote that the players had no responsibility for the sacking.

Barça offered the coach’s job to Xavi, Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino. None of the preferred candidates wanted to take over in mid-season. And so the obscure, jobless 61-year-old Cruyffista Quique Setién, who had spent the previous day walking among the cows of his home village in northern Spain, received a surprise call.

But in fact, Setién’s unremarkable CV reassured Barcelona. At least a C-list coach would not delude himself that he was the boss of Messi. During half-time at one of his first matches, away to Betis, he asked him what he thought. “What do you think I think?” snapped Messi.

He was irritated that the inexperienced Junior Firpo (a protégé of Setién’s in their days at Betis) had started at left back instead of Messi’s friend, the veteran Alba. “This isn’t a youth team!” Messi shouted. “Play your best players.” Soon after half-time, Alba replaced Firpo.

 

On the field Barça were faltering, and at that point the coronavirus came along to shut down football and devastate Spain.

In 2018-19 Barcelona claimed revenues of €990 million, but in May 2020, Barça’s vice-president, Jordi Cardoner, told me the pandemic had already wiped about €130 million off the club’s revenues.

Spanish football resumed in June. If only it hadn’t. Barça lost the league to Real Madrid, and then, in their Champions League quarter-final in a mercifully empty stadium in Lisbon on August 9, went down 8-2 to Bayern Munich. Six of their starting outfield players that night were aged 31 or over.

An era — an unusually long era, by football’s standards — had ended in one night in Lisbon. Now Barça needed to recruit a new team. The problem was that they had run out of money.

 

Setién, whose 15 minutes of coaching fame had at least secured him a nice pension, was dispatched back to his village. Months later, interviewed by Spain’s former manager Vicente del Bosque in El País newspaper, he unburdened himself about Messi. “There’s another facet that’s not that of a player, and that is more difficult to manage,” Setién said. “He is very reserved, but he makes you see the things he wants. He doesn’t speak much. But he watches.”

During Setién’s seven months at Barça, he had always been aware that Messi could get him sacked at any moment. He had felt helpless around the player, unable to be himself: “Who am I to change him if they have accepted him for years here and have never asked him to adapt?”

Setién diagnosed in Messi a permanent anxiety fuelled by the pressure to win matches.

 

Barça replaced Setién with Koeman, who arranged a meeting at his captain’s house and reportedly told him: “Your privileges in the squad are over, you have to do everything for the team. I’m going to be inflexible.”

As so often before in Barcelona’s history, Dutch directness had encountered Latin etiquette. Messi was offended — nobody spoke to him like that — and more so when Koeman then informed Luis Suárez in a one-minute phone call that he was no longer needed.

Worse, nobody from the board rang the Uruguayan to thank him for his 198 goals for Barcelona. Messi could accept Barça’s decision to discard his best friend, but he couldn’t forgive the disrespect.

It hardly mattered anyway. Messi was planning to leave the club regardless, frustrated that Barcelona were no longer competitive at the highest level. But at the time, Barça held him to his contract and barred him from leaving.

 

In September 2020 I took a train from Paris to Catalonia. I disembarked in a stricken Barcelona. I’d come to meet a director for a post-apocalyptic briefing. He said that the pandemic had slashed revenues by a total of €300 million across two seasons. Barça had offered refunds to its 85,000 season ticket holders (435 of whom had said: “Keep the money.”).

 

The club’s debt was ballooning out of control. The director played down the dreadful figures, but no other big football club had as urgent a need to buy a new team. And no other club in any sport had a higher annual wage bill than Barça’s €500 million, about a quarter of which went to Messi.

On top of that sum, noted the director, Barça had to write off another €200 million a year on transfer fees. If a club sign a player for a fee of €100 million and give him a four-year contract, they write off €25 million a season in their accounts. That’s not a problem if he’s a youngster who can be resold later, but Barça’s collection of oldies had little resale value.

Adding together the salaries and write-offs, Barça’s total outlay on players was about €700 million a year. Shockingly, that was more than the club’s entire revenue for the 2020-21 season. (Before the pandemic, the club’s target for 2021 had been to surpass €1 billion.) In short, salaries at Barça had got out of hand. Now a period of austerity loomed.

La Liga, hoping to prevent bankruptcies during the pandemic, had quietly tightened its spending controls on Spanish clubs. The club were about to pay Suárez millions to leave. It would still end up hundreds of millions over La Liga’s limit, and without money to sign new players.

In 30 years of visiting Barcelona, I had never seen the club laid so low. It was now possible to imagine that football’s biggest spenders of the 2014 to 2019 period would eventually have to sell rising stars such as Pedri and Ansu Fati to richer clubs.

At the Barça training ground, Koeman’s efforts to change club culture earned him the nickname “Sergeant Koeman”. Players had to report an hour before practice started. Training sessions were extended from one hour to 90 minutes, and became quite strenuous, by Barça’s standards.

Koeman said that coaching Barcelona was “the most stressful job” he’d ever had. His wife couldn’t bear to watch their first few matches, and instead went out with De Jong’s girlfriend, who couldn’t watch either.

 

Things on the playing side improved a little after Christmas 2020, with Messi seeming to rediscover his pleasure in football, and combining happily with his young team-mates Pedri, De Jong, Sergiño Dest and a newly professional Ousmane Dembélé.

But even with Messi’s salary jettisoned, the financial outlook remains grim. The club’s debt is now about €1.2 billion. The league has slashed Barcelona’s total permitted spending on transfer fees and players’ salaries to somewhere between €160 and €200 million for the coming season — down from €656 million in 2019-2020.

 

Where now for Barcelona?
Maybe the Barcelona model is coming to an end. For a while now, the club’s business executives have been planning for a future of mediocrity on the pitch. One told me in 2019 that Barça should expect to be less successful in the next 25 years than it had been in the previous 25.

The worst-case scenario was becoming AC Milan: from European champions to national also-rans. If that happened, Chinese kids would stop watching Barça matches and buying their shirts.

And if that were the case, Barça risked dropping out of the top three when it came to European clubs with the highest revenues. The foreign fan base — which now consist largely of youngsters in love with Messi — may age over time. As a senior club official told me, “After Messi you see the desert, you see darkness.”

 

This is an edited extract from Simon Kuper’s new book Barça, which is published on Thursday. Simon Kuper is an FT Weekend columnist

Now you can see why Barca and RM need the ESL to succeed and why they are hanging on to the idea in the hope it will save them from the 25 years of obscurity it mentions in the piece. 

 

Player spending and salaries were €656m in 19/20 wow. 

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