FC Barcelona has descended into chaos this week as six directors have resigned from the board and Lionel Messi has thrown a very public tantrum on social media.
But what is actually going on at the Neucamp and how might it affect Manchester United?
It is a long and complicated story, but essentially Barca’s club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who is up for re-election next year, has been widely criticised for his management of the club in many aspects.
First, the president suddenly sacked head coach Ernesto Valverde in January even though the Catalans were top of La Liga at the time. The club claimed that the decision had been made because Valverde had stopped motivating some players – a claim which Lionel Messi hotly refuted as he said ‘the players recognise when they have not been good; directors also need to take responsibility for the decisions they take.’
Expensive transfer flops such as £90 million Ousmane Dembele, £145 million Philippe Coutinho and £110 million Antoine Griezmann have left the club in a precarious financial position despite revenues almost reaching one billion Euros this year – ‘a new record in the world of sport’, according to the club’s own website.
Such exorbitant transfer fees and huge salaries means that spending is on a par with that massive revenue and now that the revenues have started to fall due to COVID-19, Barcelona suddenly find themselves in financial freefall.
Bartomeu’s handling of the club’s response to the coronavirus crisis has been pretty much the last straw for both players and other board members.
The president effectively blackmailed the players into taking a 70% pay cut by threatening that if they didn’t, he would put the Blaugrana under ERTE, an emergency Spanish law that allows companies to suspend up to 70 per cent of salaries to avoid bankruptcy.
This riled Lionel Messi again, who said ‘we were always willing to accept a wage cut but it amazes us how, from within the club, there are those trying to put us under scrutiny.’
This all comes in the wake of ‘Barçagate’, in which Bartomeu has been accused of hiring a social media PR firm to to help improve his own image as president, while at the same time damaging the reputations of other powerful figures at the club including players such as Messi and Gerard Pique.
The reason that all of this is relevant to Manchester United is that Barça’s problems are putting their transfer plans in jeopardy. One of their main transfer targets this summer is (or was) Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez.
The Red Devils have also been widely reported to be fans of Martinez, hailed yesterday by Argentinian legend Hernan Crespo as ‘the new Aguero’. It had looked as if the Spanish side had won the battle for the 22-year-old, but for any club to sign him they would have to trigger his €111 million (£102 million) release clause which is only active in the first two weeks of July.
With Barcelona’s finances in such a fragile state and the boardroom in chaos, their chances of putting that bid together look increasingly slim and United, whose own finances are surviving the crisis better than most clubs due to their huge sponsorship revenue, could nip in and snatch Martinez from under Bartomeu’s nose.
There may of course be other suitors for Martinez and Inter will also fight hard to keep their player, but if Barcelona’s problems do prevent them from making their move, the Red Devils could quickly become favourites to sign one of the world’s best strikers.
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