In recent times, mention Barcelona and the word “crisis” probably isn’t too far behind.
For a number of years, talisman Lionel Messi, widely considered to be the greatest player of all time, has been the glue that has held the Catalan club together.
His consistently brilliant match-winning performances have papered over the figurative and literal cracks that have been steadily widening at the Camp Nou.
Yet this season especially, an aging team without an apparent identity has seen performances and results fall apart, regardless of Messi’s exploits; off the pitch, the regeneration of the stands of a once great stadium has been put on hold due to the financial difficulties Barcelona finds itself in.
Without a trophy so far this season – the team finished five points behind Real Madrid in La Liga – the Champions League offers Barcelona one final chance of silverware.
On Saturday, it welcomes a rejuvenated Napoli to the Camp Nou for their round of 16 second leg, with the scores delicately poised after the 1-1 draw in Naples. Defeat would undoubtedly be a disaster and would present Barcelona with its first trophy-less season since 2007-08.
“We’ll see what happens, but I see a black future,” Catalunya Radio journalist Ernest Macià Ballus tells CNN.
At the turn of the decade, Barcelona was, in many ways, the model for any elite European club; a young visionary coach with a clear philosophy, a revered and highly productive youth academy and a clear transfer strategy.
Pep Guardiola’s promotion to head coach from the Barcelona B team in 2008 signaled the start of the most successful era in the club’s history.
With a core of graduates from the club’s academy, La Masia, Barcelona won 14 trophies during Guardiola’s four seasons in charge, including an unprecedented treble for a Spanish club.
Fast forward eight years and only Messi, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique of the acclaimed La Masia alumni remain on the pitch, while the rest of the club appears in disarray. So, what has gone wrong at the Camp Nou?
Barcelona’s ‘Espai Barça’ project, the ambitious renovation plan for the Camp Nou and surrounding area, was due to be completed by next year. Instead, it hasn’t even begun.
The estimated cost of the project is reported to be between $600 million and $800 million, money the club has struggled to raise.
Some of the blame can be apportioned to the coronavirus outbreak, but this is a project which the club has wanted to undertake for more than a decade. The enforced lockdown due to the pandemic brought football to a halt around the world and slashed clubs’ income through ticket sales and television rights deals.
Barcelona was particularly badly affected. The club’s wage bill is the highest in world football, according to a report published by UEFA earlier this year.
The Global Sports Salaries Survey by Sporting Intelligence puts Barcelona’s average annual salary spend per player at $12.3m for the 2019-20 season.
According to Barcelona’s last accounts, up to June 30, 2019, the wage bill for