Barca Ex-President Bartomeu resigned and the new Management Committee has scheduled elections for 24 January 2021. Regardless of which candidate prevails in the coming elections, there are 5 key changes that must be made to bring back the glory days that Barca is well known for. These changes are structural, sporting, and financial in nature. In this article, I will discuss what I think those changes should be.
1. Limiting the power of the President of Barca
The biggest contributor to Barca’s decline is that the President has too much power. Even though Barca is a billion-dollar institution with over 100,000 Socios, its fate lies solely in the hands of one man. For the last 6 years, that man was Bartomeu, and he showed how devastating that power can be when wielded by the wrong person.
In a deep-dive article on Bartomeu in The Athletic by Dermot Corrigan, a source with direct knowledge of the workings of the board said, “The president of this club has a lot of power. It should be collective management, as all the directors have collective responsibility. But the president has a huge amount of power. He is practically the person who decides all the transfers. He never consults with the board about which players are signed.”
Be it investment deals, sponsorships, or player transfers, the only word that matters is that of the President. The opinions of the other directors in the Board have no official importance, as the President can legally make most decisions on his own. In fact, the President can even usurp the roles of other directors if he so wishes. President Bartomeu took on the position of Vice President for Economic Affairs in November 2016 when Susan Monje stepped down from the role. In 2019, he also took on the role of Vice President of Sporting Affairs when Jordi Mestre stepped down.
Bartomeu was essentially like Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet, except in place of “the stones,” he had Board positions. With all that power, Bartomeu shaped Barca into whatever he wanted, “dusting” away, anyone who stood in his path. Even Messi couldn’t get a move away from the Camp Nou because Bartomeu disagreed. Unfortunately, just as Avengers: Infinity War ended in pain, dust, and ruins, so did Bartomeu’s tenure as President of Barca.
The next Barca President should move to drastically restructure the Board to take away power and responsibility from the President and distribute it among the relevant Vice Presidents. A potential solution could be giving Vice Presidents veto power over their own portfolio. For example, if the Vice President for Economic Affairs feels that the President/Board is ramming through an economic measure that could hurt the club, e.g. an €800M loan from Goldman Sachs, he/she could veto it, forcing the Board to continue discussions until a more acceptable measure is found.
Additionally, Vice Presidents should be protected from being fired indiscriminately, to prevent the President from simply firing and replacing a Vice President until he finds the one who will agree with him. This could be achieved by requiring a majority vote of the Board to remove a Vice President. This would give other members of the Board checking power over the President.
2. Restoring the power of the Sporting Director
Barca’s decline has mostly played out on the pitch, with poor performances from players, coaches, and technical staff. According to The Athletic, in Laporta’s six-year term, Barca had one sporting director: Txiki Begiristain. Rosell brought in Zubizarreta, who was fired by Bartomeu. Since then, Robert Fernandez, Pep Segura, Eric Abidal, and now Ramon Planes have nominally been in charge of squad building. That’s 5 different Sporting Directors in 6 years!
This means that the sporting project at Barca if you can even call it that, was masterminded by Bartomeu himself, as Sporting Directors barely had any time to create one of their own. If their vision differed from Bartomeu, he fired them. In essence, Bartomeu was the Sporting Director, in addition to being the President and Vice President for Sporting Affairs and Economic Affairs. Perhaps Spain is lucky that Bartomeu decided to stick to business and sports.
Reform is needed. Firstly, the Sporting Director needs to have a long-term contract guarantee that gives him time to execute his vision, with obvious exceptions for gross misconduct, negligence, and incompetence. Secondly, the Sporting Director needs to have very clearly defined and relatively broad authority over the sporting project, with clear demarcations as to what he and the Manager are responsible for.
If both the Sporting Director and Manager are expected to have long tenures, they can share the responsibility of deciding on transfers, with the Vice President of Sporting Affairs stepping in only when the two can’t come to an agreement. This will create needed hegemony between “the Office” and “the Dressing Room,” because the end goal is for the players on the pitch to feel that they have the support of the men in suits, but also play well.
A former player who also has managerial experience can help bridge the divide. I am envious of Bayern Munich’s club structure. Most of the people in charge of Bayern are footballers and not politicians, as is the case with Barca. The business side of Bayern is handled by business-minded people while the sports side is handled by sports-minded people. The result: excellence and dominance. In order to achieve what Bayern is achieving, Barca needs to kill the dictatorship model of Bartmoeu and embrace a flat structure based on democratic meritocracy.
3. Stop paying players ridiculous wages
Barca players are overpaid. At €500 million, the Barca wage bill is the biggest of any sports organization in the entire world. For many, it is puzzling why Bartomeu would limit the financial power of the club by giving away ridiculously costly long-term contracts to every player that walks into his office. For me, it’s not so puzzling. Having lived under a dictatorship, I came to understand that dictators like to project power with big displays of spending.
When my country was going through a world-record inflation period, the dictator threw himself a big birthday party with a cake the size of a truck, lots of food, and shiny cars. It’s an ego thing.
Similarly, Bartomeu felt good when he stood in front of the cameras next to Antoine Griezmann holding up his new Barca shirt, after having paid a €120 million transfer fee and agreed to a €380K weekly wage. “Look at me and all the money I just spent. Am I not the biggest and best of them all?” is what I imagine he was saying to himself subconsciously as the cameras clicked away. My analysis of Barca players’ contracts goes even deeper.
The ego-driven splurging of money has to stop if Barca is to survive. Given that most of the older players are now in the twilight of their careers and will soon run out of their contracts, the incoming Board must reset the contract policy. Starting with the youngsters at the club, the Board must reduce up-front transfer fees and wages, and instead offer players contracts that add performance-based incentives over time.
The club must also set a limit for contract lengths for any player that is over 30 years old. Like at Bayern, I believe that players who are 30 or more should only get single-year contract renewals. This incentivizes them to keep working hard to remain fit and in-form, while also giving the club flexibility, should they lose their form or get injured. Right now, Barca is stuck with a lot of bad and old players because they received 4 or even 5-year contract extensions from Bartomeu. This has to end.
4. Hire a competent Manager and set clear & ambitious goals
A hallmark of the Bartomeu tenure was his favored manager, Ernesto Valverde. Valverde was in charge for 2 full seasons and was fired halfway through his third. What is clear from his tenure is that there were no clear goals set for him. One would assume that given Barca’s dominance in La Liga, the Board would have expected him to challenge for the Champions League.
In his first season (17/18), he won the domestic double, but his team infamously capitulated in the UCL Quarter Finals against Roma in the 2nd leg, blowing a 3-goal advantage. In his second season (18/19), he won La Liga but yet again blew another 3-goal advantage, this time against Liverpool. To add insult to the injury, he also lost the League Cup in the final just a week later.
Many expected him to be sacked after the Liverpool loss because he had failed in Europe back-to-back in the exact same way. It was clear to most people that if Barca wanted to win the UCL again, Valverde was not the man. However, Bartomeu allowed him to stay on for another year. This is probably because Valverde did not challenge Bartomeu’s power in any way. Bartomeu then realized, halfway into Valverde’s third season (19/20) that Valverde was going to crash out of Europe yet again.
In a panic move, to shift blame in the eventuality that Barca got knocked out of the UCL, Bartomeu fired Valverde and replaced him with Setien, a Manager who had never won a major trophy in his entire career. That ended as we all predicted: Barca ended the season with no trophies for the first time since the 07/08 season. Don’t even get me started on the 8-2 humiliation at the hands of Bayern.
The incoming Board needs to remedy this by creating a set of clear & ambitious goals for the Manager. The Manager should be chosen based on their demonstrated ability to accomplish said goals. When/if the manager fails to accomplish those goals, they should not be allowed to continue.
This will ensure that they don’t panic-hire managers in the middle of the season, something that will most definitely upset the balance in the dressing room while not giving the new Manager a chance to apply their philosophy completely to the squad.
In the case of Setien, he never had the chance to make changes to the squad because he did not have a preseason, so, he was doomed before the ink on his contract was even dry. This should not happen at a club like Barca.
5. Stop buying players that don’t fit into the squad
One of the highlights of the 8-2 humiliation was that the most expensive signing in Barca’s history came off the Bayern bench and scored 2 goals against them and bagged an assist to boot. That is a perfect summation of Bartomeu’s tenure: Barca’s most expensive signing was not good enough to be on the starting XI of their European rivals, but he was still good enough to get 3 G+A in under 20 minutes. All this happened because Coutinho’s favored #10 position wasn’t available, so he was forced to play at LW. As a result, he struggled. The same can be said for Griezmann.
It should be common sense that the club should bring in players to fill the available positions, but after spending €1.1 Billion, Bartomeu still failed to successfully replace Neymar (LW), Xavi (CM), Iniesta (CM), Dani Alves (RB), Puyol (CB) and Alba (LB). I wish I had better advice to remedy this than “use common sense” but that is all that needs to be said, and that says a lot about the state of this club.
Overall, I think that it will be a long time until Barca is able to challenge Bayern Munich for the Champions League. Hell, it will probably take 2 or 3 seasons until Barca can comfortably beat Madrid, Atletico, and other challengers to the La Liga title. So, the incoming Board needs to be ambitious but realistic. They need to come up with a 6-year plan, communicate it clearly with the Socios, and execute it precisely. If that doesn’t happen, the 8-2 defeat will become the norm, and not the anomaly that it currently is, because teams like Bayern are not stepping on the brakes.
Barca also needs significant structural reform, most of which involves taking away power from the President. This will not be easy to achieve because human beings are not good at giving away power. Even the best of men can be seduced by great power. This is why I am being cautious with my optimism for candidates like Victor Font. While he has shown genuine love & ambition in his campaign, it remains to be seen if he will be able to resist the sickness that seems to infect every man who occupies that position.
If Victor Font is able to restructure the club to bring more transparency, democracy, meritocracy, and devolution of power, then his impressive Sí al Futur initiative will surely succeed.
That’s just my opinion. What do you think? Let me know!