The question is whether Barcelona can go all the way and reclaim the Champions League throne.
It is just under six months since Barcelona’s Club President, Joan Laporta, held an extraordinary press conference unveiling the results of an internal audit that discovered evidence of false accounting, forging of documents, unexplained payments to third parties and colossal financial mismanagement at Europe’s most iconic football club. The turmoil at Barcelona is well documented and brought them to the brink a few months ago with debts running close to £1billion.
The financial structure of the club needed a complete overhaul in order to survive with substantial cuts to player wages a necessity alongside the partial sale of their broadcast rights for the next 25 years. Despite numerous setbacks, Barca manager Xavi against the odds has managed to assemble a squad more than capable of competing amongst Europe’s elite.
Their side still boasts some ridiculous talent: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele, Frenkie De Jong, Ansu Fati, Raphinha, the list goes on. In the shadow of one of their most disastrous years in recent memory, they still managed a second-place finish in LaLiga, a record sponsorship deal and the acquisition of one of the world’s most prolific strikers in Lewandowski. Clearly even the most stringent of financial restrictions have not been effective in halting the Catalonian money train.
Whether or not you see the happenings at one of Europe’s most iconic football clubs as a sad indictment of modern football or not, there is little doubt that they still have the resources to compete at the very top. The question is whether they can go all the way and reclaim the Champions League throne.
According to these betting sites, Barcelona are 10/1 to win the Champions League this year with only City, Liverpool, PSG and Munich at better odds to lift the famous trophy in Istanbul. So they are by no means favourites to walk out of the tunnel at the showpiece event in May 2023 but it is hardly all doom and gloom. Laporta inherited a terminal financial crisis so grave that they had to part company with the greatest player of a generation in Lionel Messi and yet they find themselves in contention come the start of the European campaign.
The La Liga behemoth is still proudly boasting considerable pedigree in the Champions League and will realistically be hoping for at least a quarter-final berth in this year’s edition. This is in large part down to their business in the Summer transfer window, albeit maligned as reckless, it has at the very least set them up with a squad that can go toe to toe and trade blow for blow with the biggest powerhouses Europe has to offer.
Over €150million has been spent on bringing in five marquee signings so far this Summer and the squad is now bulging with an embarrassment of attacking options. The clearest threat up front will be their star signing: former Bayern man and Polish sensation, Lewandowski. Albeit 33-year-old and arguably entering the twilight of his career, his goalscoring ability is second to none. He was the most prolific striker the Bundesliga has had for the best part of two decades, scoring 41 goals in a single season and a combined 312 goals in his time with German giants Dortmund and Munich.
The club has also clearly got one eye on the future with Lewandowski the only transfer older than 26. Another new attacking option accompanying the frontman is Raphinha who joins the club from Leeds for a fee of €55million. Not proven in European competition to date, but has shown a lot of promise last season creating 65 chances in a Leeds side that at times looked short of ideas in attack last term.
They have also strengthened ties at the back bringing in Jules Kounde from La Liga rivals Sevilla. The 23-year-old Frenchman was a vital cog in Julen Lopetegui’s machine last season playing a pivotal role at the back in the league’s best defensive outfit that conceded only 30 goals, one fewer than champions Real Madrid and eight fewer than his new club Barcelona.
Add to that the free transfers of Andreas Christensen from Chelsea and Franck Kessie from AC Milan and the options at the Spaniard’s disposal in the dugout easily become the envy of most of Europe; Dembele, Alba, Pedri, De Jong, Fati, Aubameyang, it’s more than a team that can just compete, it’s a team that should be aiming for the title. The Catalan club’s ambition is clear to see but have they delved too deep into their pockets and will the gamble pay off?
The all-or-nothing approach has left the rest of the footballing world looking on utterly stunned at their gargantuan wage bill as the blackhole of debt underneath the club grows bigger by the day. Fingers are firmly crossed in the board room as the plan of mortgaging of their long-term future for some short-term gain in the hope the short-term gain will be substantial enough to offset the long-term mortgage could easily be considered one of the biggest risks taken in the history of the modern game. Perceived restraints have done little to stem the flow of outgoings as Barca’s plan rolls on with the risk as great as the potential reward.
Barcelona might well have looked on at the financial titans of PSG and Man City to see what can be achieved with flagrant disregard for expenditure in the pursuit of European silverware, and while it is yet to produce the desired outcome they are routinely in the conversation. Players clearly remain unphased at the financial plight behind the scenes for the time being as the Camp Nou remains one of the ultimate destinations for the game’s best and brightest, but how long can that last? For all intents and purposes, the club is all-in.
The pressure to deliver is immense, the fate of an icon is on the line and they can ill-afford a repeat of last season’s debacle that took them into the Europa League. Thankfully for Xavi his team are well placed to have a good go at it this year and could feasibly go the distance, but make no mistake, this giant of the game is on life support despite what the press conferences and spending habits will tell you. If the team falls short on the pitch and cannot reap the monetary rewards of a good run in Europe this year then the consequences will be disastrous.