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Football Reporting


Barcelona are in ruins and Messi, no matter where his future lies, can do nothing to save the club he loves

The Camp Nou is falling down. Like really, genuinely falling down — and the rest of Barcelona is crumbling with it.

That’s not some wild judgement from outside, nor a loud front-page headline inflated for maximum impact — in fact, the covers of Sport and Mundo Deportivo, the two dailies devoted to FC Barcelona, didn’t even mention it — nor a classic case of mischief-making from Madrid. Rather, it’s the verdict of interim president Carles Tusquets, the man desperately trying to hold it together until someone else can take over. Someone who actually wants to.

Whether he’s helping is another matter, but the portrait he paints is a painful one.

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On Thursday morning, Tusquets told RAC1 that there are chunks of the Camp Nou roof coming off, the stadium in a desperate state of repair. He said that the club had lost more than €300 million in the past year. He said that players’ salaries have been postponed to the tune of €160m; had they not been, Barcelona would not have made it to the end of the year. He said there can be no signings unless there are sales. He said that there is no money. And, most surprising of all, he said it would have been better to have sold Lionel Messi.

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That’s Tusquets the interim president, the man overseeing the commission in charge of the club until presidential elections on Jan. 24. He said too much. And although he appeared on Cadena SER radio that same night in an attempt to soften his words, backtrack a little and provide some context, there was no escaping them now. Nor is there any escaping reality. The truth hurts, and the truth is that Barcelona are in trouble.

“[Former president Josep Maria] Bartomeu has left the club virtually ruined,” Joan Laporta said on Thursday. He described this as “the worst situation in the club’s history, a very delicate moment.” Which perhaps he would: Laporta has just announced his intention to run for the presidency and although he was conciliatory as he presented his candidacy, he has long been an opponent of Bartomeu’s.

Tusquets is not. Now, have a look at that line again: he said that players’ salaries have been postponed to the tune of €160m — had they not been, Barcelona would not have made it to the end of the year. There was no money to pay players or staff in January, he explained, and so they agreed to postpone a significant percentage of what they are owed for four years. It’s no solution in the long run, and some day, somehow, somewhere, they will have to find the money. But there was no other choice, he insisted.

There is a Spanish phrase that serves as a criticism of short-term thinking: bread today, hunger tomorrow. But if there’s no bread today, there’s no tomorrow at all. For now, it’s just enough to get there. And then what?

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There is one way to make a really significant cut, which leads us to the fact that Tusquets also said “economically, it would have been desirable to sell Messi.”

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Later that night he tried to contextualise his words, insisting that he was only talking about the economic impact, that the sporting decision was different, and that he meant in the event of there having been an offer for Messi — which he didn’t know, but wasn’t aware of. Yet that point was somewhat undone by his explanation that rather than being a question of raising a transfer fee, it was a matter of saving on Messi’s salary. Which is, he said, “very different to the rest.”

Deep down, everyone sort of knew that. Messi certainly did: in the summer, he believed there would be a moment in which Barcelona would look at the numbers, look at his request to leave, and relent. But they didn’t. Even when they did the right thing, they may have done the wrong one, unpalatable as that thought might be.

And while most knew Barcelona’s economic situation was dreadful and that Messi’s departure would alleviate it, the extent of it was not yet clear — at least not publicly. There’s a difference between knowing that and it being laid out, from inside, in such blunt terms. Bartomeu never did: remember how he said there was a sporting crisis, but no institutional one? Well, it’s come to this: the institutional crisis is so bad that it would be better to sell the best player in your entire history.

It’s no wonder Messi wanted to go.

He still can, of course, but the chance to sell him has now gone; the chance to save a year’s worth of salary has too, somewhere near €80m. It may take four years, but he has to be paid, remember. In June, he will be allowed to walk for free and this time, there will be no arguments, no debate, no saving and no fee. Just his departure, a sad, pitiful end to the Camp Nou career of their greatest player ever. The only way to prevent that is to sign him to a new contract that you can’t really afford. Not unless something drastic changes: sales, in other words. Big ones.

And that’s your own (interim) president saying that.

Within the club, there are those who think saying it publicly was irresponsible, and certainly out of place. Outside the club, there are too. A public airing of your problems is hardly the best negotiating tactic, as now everyone knows just how desperate you are. It could even be seen as an invitation for Messi to go, a justification offered up in advance. Why would he stay knowing that strengthening the squad, instilling the competitiveness he demands, is likely to be beyond them now?

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There is another criticism of Tusquets: he was in charge of the economic commission before, so why is he only saying this now? Why did he not impose these checks before? Why didn’t he raise the alarm earlier?



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In a response that serves as a damning indictment of Bartomeu’s regime and may definitively damage the chances of any continuity candidates winning the elections (if they had any in the first place), Tusquets says he did. He says that over four years, he alerted Barcelona to the fact that their costs were out of control — an important point that undermines the argument that this crisis is all about COVID-19 — but that nothing was done. He even said that upon taking over the presidency post-Bartomeu, he found some invoices he was suspicious of and not prepared to sign off on. That would be the new president’s job, and that’s not him.

Asked if he would like to be president, he said: “Honestly, no.”



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That is also the point for some. Tusquets doesn’t seem to know where he is or who he is; he says he doesn’t want to be president, and he’s not, but he is acting like one. As an interim administrator, Tusquet’s role is supposed to be limited to the day-to-day running of the club. It is his job only to keep it going until the elections and to prepare for those elections, not to make executive decisions.

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The catch here is that these decisions are about the day-to-day running of the club: without them, there is no day after today. He insisted that these measures are necessary for Barcelona to continue, to even make it that far. Not compete, not grow — continue. Not that the press cared: it was comic, and also slightly tragic, to see Sport and Mundo Deportivo splash on signing Neymar. Had they not been listening?

There was an honesty in Tusquets’ analysis, and it was baffling to see it relegated behind yet more transfer talk, but it might not have been helpful of him to share it: he’s supposed to be virtually an anonymous figure, not to appear in the press, not talking to radio stations in a way that will inevitably affect the team — and in a week in which a certain optimism had returned. At least, there was until he spoke and reality bit.

“We know Leo’s situation,” Ronald Koeman said on Friday. “If anyone can decide his future, it is himself. Comments from outside don’t interest me. Comments from inside don’t help to keep things calm. We can’t control what comes from the outside; inside is different.”

And inside it is falling down. They say so themselves, even if they shouldn’t.

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