One candidate to develop into Soccer Membership Barcelona’s president proposed naming the cub’s stadium after Lionel Messi instantly. One other floated the thought of rehiring Pep Guardiola to educate the struggling workforce again to greatness. Then there was the hopeful who promised to reimburse each member’s season ticket if he couldn’t lure Barça legend Xavi Hernandez again to the membership from Qatar.
Welcome to election season at Soccer Membership Barcelona, a interval of fanciful pledges designed to safe the presidency of probably the most well-known soccer groups on the planet.
The distinction this time, because the roughly 90,000 membership members who make the choice head to the polls on Sunday, is that Barça is going through an emergency of historic proportions. Crippled by the burden of huge debt, it has no clear vision for the future or apparent path to rebuild its funds. Nor does the membership have any sense of how Messi, its highest-paid employee, may react. There isn’t a doubt that a very powerful particular person on this election is the moody genius in shorts who isn’t on the poll.
The three candidates who’re can solely agree that the present mess is all of the earlier administration’s fault.
“At this time limit, the membership can not maintain its value construction,” Victor Font, a Catalan investor who’s one among three remaining candidates on Sunday’s poll, stated in an interview with The Wall Avenue Journal.
A debt burden that exceeds $1 billion has mixed with weird personnel selections, the Covid-19 disaster, and existential questions in regards to the membership’s identification to upend an establishment that was lengthy held up as a mannequin of how one can run a profitable soccer enterprise.
Barcelona’s ability to develop expertise led it to four Champions League titles within the area of a decade. Now, humiliations in Europe have develop into an annual prevalence—after the 4-0 loss at Liverpool in 2019 got here the 8-2 demolition towards Bayern Munich final summer time and a 4-1 collapse at dwelling to Paris Saint-Germain final month.
The method of repairing issues begins with Sunday’s ballot in probably the most arcane techniques in world sports activities. Barcelona, technically, is owned by its supporters, who enroll as “socios” and are assigned a membership quantity for all times. Each six years, they elect a president from a small class of distinguished, rich members who can afford to safe a financial institution assure for 15% of the membership’s annual price range—now greater than $140 million. They run advertisements, they press the flesh, and this week, they even held a debate. Solely three males have made the lower: Font, former membership president Joan Laporta, and a lawyer named Toni Freixa.
Traditionally, the primary thrust of a presidential marketing campaign has been which star participant a candidate guarantees to signal. However with the membership’s gross debt now over $1 billion, that’s no technique to advocate for prudence.
“In elections of a soccer membership, bids are at all times profitable primarily based on guarantees round signings—this identify and this participant,” Font stated. “Sadly at this time limit, that’s not going to take us wherever.”
This election isn’t about including a brand new participant. It’s about determining what to do with the best participant the membership has ever recognized. Messi is 33 and final summer time formally introduced his need to go away in a lawyer’s letter faxed to the membership. Solely a technicality brought on by the pandemic season schedule meant that Messi’s window to interrupt his contract was already closed.
“I’ll do my greatest to proceed this good historical past between Messi and Soccer Membership Barcelona,” Laporta stated in an interview with the Journal. “He’s essential to the membership in sporting phrases and in addition in financial phrases.”
Messi’s sporting significance is undisputed. He has both scored or assisted 42% of Barcelona’s La Liga targets this season—a phenomenon recognized in Spain as Messidependencia. It’s the second half, the trickiest cost-benefit evaluation in Barça historical past, that has just lately develop into a problem.
Spanish each day El Mundo final month revealed that Messi’s present contract, with all of its bonuses and picture rights riders, was value $672 million over 4 seasons, making him the best paid athlete on the planet. (The membership didn’t dispute its authenticity.) Now that Barcelona should depend each penny, some inside its places of work are asking the unthinkable: is their genius nonetheless value it?
“Individuals say that his wage is simply too excessive and it’s not true,” Font stated. “The revenue that Messi generates for the membership is greater than the wage the membership is paying to the participant.”
It’s going to all be tutorial if Messi likes his probabilities higher at one of many few golf equipment who might match these astronomical numbers, corresponding to PSG or Manchester Metropolis.
“I do know that Messi isn’t considering solely in cash,” Laporta stated. “He’s pleased in Barcelona…An important is to like him once more, to respect him, to supply him a really aggressive proposal.”
In different phrases, he must be satisfied that Barcelona can win the Champions League once more. Besides the membership will possible be out of the match by the tip of subsequent week. It additionally sits in second place in La Liga, 5 factors behind Atletico Madrid. Proper now, the Copa del Rey last in April is its greatest shot at avoiding a second consecutive 12 months with out silverware.
Laporta presided over the membership throughout a trophy-laden first stint from 2003 to 2010. What he was capable of depend on then was a technology of otherworldly expertise simply graduating from Barcelona’s famed youth academy, La Masia. Lately, the pipeline seems to have run dry.
That is the state of affairs that Font has dreaded since he launched his marketing campaign in 2013, again when Barcelona was on high of the world. “This momentum that we’ve now, after we are successful every part, that’s not going to final without end,” he says he thought on the time.
The membership’s subsequent missteps within the switch market are nicely documented. It paid 35 million Euros right here for Arda Turan, who made 36 appearances for the membership. One other 67 million Euros went for a pair of Valencia gamers who wouldn’t rack up 80 video games between them.
Nothing might match the profligacy that adopted Barcelona’s world-record sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017. The membership obtained $270 million for him, in a single financial institution switch, and proceeded to blow all of it on striker Ousmane Dembélé and playmaker Philippe Coutinho. Dembélé has scored 15 league targets in 4 years. Coutinho was loaned out to Bayern Munich after half a season.
“The spending spree was phenomenal, with most selections being flawed selections,” Font stated.
Messi has merely stayed out of it. In a uncommon look on the TV channel La Sexta in December, he delivered an excellent rarer second of self-awareness.
“Individuals are at all times saying that I run the membership,” he stated. “So think about the response if I stated who I want to be president.”
Write to Joshua Robinson at Joshua.Robinson@wsj.com
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