Lionel Messi has been betrayed by the Barcelona board. President Josep Maria Bartomeu and his board of directors’ latest issue is really just a blip, but this Barcelona board has allowed the squad’s talent and balance to erode year in year out. Now, Lionel Messi’s outburst is the setup to a more dramatic problem.
The Barcelona Board are Wasting Lionel Messi
Eric Abidal Interview
The latest episode of incompetence starts with a SPORT interview with Eric Abidal. The former treble-winning Barcelona left-back is the current sporting director for this regime. Abidal said a number of interesting points in his interview, but it is what he said about the players that have created the latest controversy.
Abidal said: “Many players were not satisfied or weren’t working hard and there was also an internal communication issue.” Questioning the players’ work ethic was a mistake. It looked like he knew that the moment he said it, but saying it meant that he angered the most important man at the club: Lionel Messi.
Messi responded to Abidal on his Instagram story. He denied that the players’ work ethic had been anything less than their best, he questioned why Abidal would even say it, and he crucially mentioned the need for everyone at the club to be doing their best for the club.
The Barcelona board of directors have not been doing their best for the club, but it’s not just Abidal who is the problem. The Barcelona board have been failing the club for years and things are only starting to come to ahead.
The Barcelona Board
Barcelona have employed four different sporting directors in the past five years. From Andoni Zubizarreta to Robert Fernandez and Pep Segura, to now Eric Abidal. Each of them has had a variety of success and failure that has left Barcelona in the position they are in today.
Zubizarreta was able to sign Luis Suarez, Marc Andre Ter Stegen, Ivan Rakitic and Alexis Sanchez. Zubizarreta was sacked in January 2015 because things seemed bleak. This was the same period when Messi and the coach at the time, Luis Enrique, were at odds. They ended up going on to win the treble that season.
Zubizarreta’s replacement is when things really started going downhill. Robert Fernandez was easily the worst sporting director Barcelona had in the last decade. If there is a reason why Barcelona have failed to adequately rotate their squad over the past few years, it is probably him.
The Fernandez Years
Fernandez supervised the arrival of roughly 22 players during his time at Barcelona. Only seven of them remain, and that includes Philippe Coutinho and Arda Turan. Fernandez’s tenure will obviously be remembered by how poorly he handled the Neymar sale, but that was far from his only mistake.
The summer before selling Neymar, Fernandez and the Barcelona board tried to sign a collection of next-generation players. The board decided to sign players to compete with the first-team regulars.
Andre Gomes, Denis Suarez, Lucas Digne, Paco Alcacer and Samuel Umtiti all arrived in the summer of 2016. Only Samuel Umtiti was able to become a consistent starter. He is the only one of those five left in Barcelona, and even he has missed significant time due to injury.
Fernandez’s spending after the Neymar sale is what really got Barcelona in this position. He managed to spend big on Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Paulinho, Nelson Semedo and Yerry Mina. That is an insane amount of money for the production they have seen in return.
It’s hard to quantify the effects of such terrible long-term planning, but it can be summed up like this. Fourteen players have played 1,000 minutes for Barca this season and only one was signed by Fernandez.
The Present Team
After Fernandez’s contract expired in June 2018, Abidal took over. His business in the summer of 2018 saw Barcelona finish the transfer window with a positive net spend. According to Transfermarkt, that’s the first time that’s happened since 2005, but last season’s disappointing finish forced some bigger moves.
Abidal was instrumental in bringing in Frenkie De Jong from Ajax. He also played his part in signing Antoine Griezmann, and the loaning of Coutinho to Bayern Munich but other than that he has had to make a host of difficult decisions on young players who want to play.
With the signings brought in struggling and the young players wanting to leave for more game time, Abidal has had his work cut out, but letting young players like Carles Alena or Marc Cucurella leave goes against the fabric of this club.
The Importance of Youth
For an organization that prides itself on Cruyffist ideas, using La Masia to make up for the club’s transfer deficit is sacrilege. One of Johan Cruyff’s most central ideas is the importance of a club’s youth academy. Just look at Ajax. Their glorious run to the Champions League semi-final last year came with incredible performances from youth products.
You can even find examples of how important La Masia specifically can be to Barcelona. Ansu Fati, the 17-year-old sensation, for example, has been one of Barcelona’s best players this season. He doesn’t have a stand-out skill, but Fati’s time in La Masia has coached him to make the right reads and movements that help the team win.
The youth team is supposed to be there for emergencies. Teams are supposed to turn to the youth team when stars like Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele go down for the season. Instead, Barcelona are petitioning to the Spanish FA to get an injury exception to sign another striker.
Lionel Messi and Barcelona’s Future
All of these reasons make up how Barcelona are failing Lionel Messi. Their mistakes in player evaluation and squad dynamics have left the team a shadow of what it was even five years ago, and as Dermot Corrigan pointed out on Twitter, this latest spat of issues could lead to presidential elections in the summer.
As for now, it seems Eric Abidal will keep his job. Bartomeu has decided to calm the situation rather than inflame it. With SPORT reporting that Messi and Abidal talked it out, it seems like things will go on for now, but there is another crisis soon to come.
Barcelona came into this season really looking for the Champions League title. Taking the lay of the land, it’s hard to put Barcelona on their current form even amongst the top five likeliest winners. Liverpool are on fire, Real Madrid are 13 unbeaten, Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus are all very serious. On the outside, there’s also Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Atletico Madrid.
Barcelona fit somewhere in that final group and they would be kidding themselves to think otherwise. How can a team with the best player in the world not be considered a favourite? After what this Barcelona board has done to this team, it’s taking all of Messi’s power just to keep them where they are.