Any way you want to define it, Barcelona is in turmoil: Throughout this season their play has been lackluster and the team has lacked a definite identity, the transfer ban was upheld ensuring that the club cannot sign any new players till January 2016, the president had to resign due to less than professional behavior, their director of football—Zubizarreta— was fired, club legend Carlos Puyol stepped down from his administrative position, on Monday their star player skipped practice in what is being reported as a power play to force out the Luis Enrique as the coach, and if you believe Barcelona experts Graham Hunter and Guillem Balague Messi has never been closer to leaving (although probably still won’t leave) and several players are not happy with Enrique. And oh, their rivals are currently top of the table with a game in hand and playing excellent football.
For anyone who follows Barcelona, the warning signs that the club was in trouble were abundantly clear over the last few years. First, with the hiring of Luis Enrique Barcelona got their 4th new coach in 3 years (counting Jordi Roura). Such dramatic turnover undoubtedly would have a negative impact on how the team plays as different coaches bring in new strategies and ideas that take time to perfect. Barca’s lack of on-pitch perfection and understanding of their coaches’ ideas has been visible since Tito had to walk away.
Next, the board of directors indefensible decisions over the last few years have contributed to a weaken squad. The decision to not buy a quality center back despite the need for one and spending massive amount of money on forwards with big names instead of one with the qualities to complement Messi have ensured Barcelona are no longer one of the best teams in the world.
Finally, throughout the last few seasons and especially this one, Barcelona has been a team with seemingly no real strategy and no real identity besides the school ground tactic of get the ball to Messi. Needless to say, it is not difficult for teams to frustrate Barcelona and steal a point or three.
In short, the current crisis the club finds themselves in shouldn’t be a surprise, which is why it is so frustrating to the club’s supporters. It was evident and predictable from afar that Barcelona could be heading in this direction yet nothing was done to stop it.
One of the greatest players of all time is having the last of his prime years wasted, club legends have left either due to their frustration or lack of empathy from the board, supporters have grown wary, and a club that should be challenging for the numerous titles each year could well be looking at a second straight year with no hardware.
Yet, all is not lost. Barcelona is still alive in La Liga and the Champions league and although the transfer ban limits Barcelona’s options, there are a few things they can do immediately to salvage this season and the club’s future.
First, the club needs to announce and organize new presidential elections for as soon as possible (rumors are that this could happen this summer). Josep Bartomeu was never elected and in his brief time has done nothing to gain the trust of the club’s supporters. A new election will allow the members to decide on the future direction of the club and bring back some stability to what has been a traumatic few years.
Next, the situation between Luis Enrique and Messi (and the other players) needs to be solved immediately. If that means Enrique needs to go, so be it. No player is bigger than the club but reports from Barcelona insiders (Hunter and Balague) indict that Messi isn’t the only player upset with the current state of the squad under Enrique. And since the option to buy or sell players is unavailable, the clubs’ options are severely limited.
The hiring of Enrique was supposed to bring back the Barca way by restoring the principles that has come to define the club. Evidence from the pitch and reports out of the locker room seem to show that Enrique has so far failed. If Barcelona had more options, a case could be made to keep Enrique on the sidelines, but Barcelona has killed their alternative options. If Enrique cannot gain back the locker room and improve the product on the field immediately, the only right choice Barcelona has is to find someone who can.
Finally, the board or someone at the club needs to come out and admit the mistakes the club has made. Not only will this show that the club understands the frustration of its supporters it will also show that the club knows what they need to improve not only on the field but also internally. This will help to restore the supporters’ faith, help lay out a framework for the club’s future, and hopefully pacify the players’ frustration by letting them know the club is dedicated to the players and empathize with their concerns.
If the board takes the right steps, Barcelona can right the ship and return to what it once was. However, if the board continues their recent history of ineptitude and disinterest of what is best for the club, Barcelona’s present and future are in trouble. Unfortunately, if past events are any indication of what will happen, Barcelona are in for a long slog and the clubs in Madrid will be stocking up on party supplies.