The train wreck in Barcelona just keeps getting uglier, it seems.
While Agusti Benedito’s call for a vote of no confidence in Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu certainly showed there was discord and drama among the Catalans, Neymar’s departure for Paris Saint-Germain and Messi’s clear decision to pause on signing what had, just weeks ago, seemed a sure contract extension have Los Blaugranes in all sorts of upheaval. Even former club president Joan Laporta has called for Bartomeu to step aside.
As Laporta told Goal, he believes the club is being destroyed from the inside, and Bartomeu is to blame, “Because he is a person who, with his attitude, he has Barca kidnapped with intoxication, with lies – and on top of that he is a president who is facing charges, so in that respect he isn’t very trustworthy.” None of the words that the former club president had for the current club president were, well, complimentary.
Laporta had previously called for the current board to step down earlier this summer, in concert with Benedito’s call for a vote of no confidence, which will occur this September.
Fan petitions calling for Bartomeu’s head are picking up steam at Camp Nou (and at one point after the Paulinho signing, were trending worldwide on Twitter), and the latest rumor from Messi’s camp is that he’ll not sign any extension until Bartomeu’s been replaced, opening up the frightening possibility that should the board choose to play chicken, they may lose a singular talent ever greater than that they just lost to PSG.
Speaking of Neymar, he’s of course at the center of this drama as well: Bartomeu has used every opportunity to slam the player (noting “no player is above Barca“), and Neymar himself has of course also chosen to weigh in, slamming the current board.
“I don’t have anything to say to the Barcelona board,” Neymar said after his fast start with PSG (three goals and three assists in his first two games). “For me…well, actually I have something to say: That I am disappointed with them. I spent four years there and was very happy. I began happy, spent four years happy and left happy. But not with them. For me, they shouldn’t be in charge of Barca. Barca deserve much better, and everyone knows this.”
In the same interview he admitted to being part of the impetus for Dani’s move from Catalonia to Paris, noting that many of his former teammates are unhappy in Barcelona.
His points are further driven home when one looks at how Neymar chose to leave Barca. When it came to his teammates, he was nothing but class, offering touching tributes. He’s at no point had anything positive to say about the board, however.
And then there are Benedito’s most recent comments. While the former club president has never been Bartomeu’s biggest fan, his most recent indictment of Barca leadership was one of his harshest yet. As he told ESPN FC and as SB Nation is reporting, he had the following condemnation to offer:
“I am almost convinced that Messi, like all the players at Barca, is seeing the severity of the institutional situation at the club.
“I think Leo’s waiting to see what happens with the vote of no confidence, the signings that are made, how things are going in October, November…He’s going to wait and wait.
“And with the way Bartomeu is going, with the team he’s building, I think it’s really clear that Leo, free, without a clause…it could be worse than the Neymar case. It would surprise me a lot if Messi signed his deal before the end of September, October…
“Bartomeu said in July that Messi had signed — but he’s still not signed. He is playing with fire. He said it to distract [from other problems], to change public opinion…
“But he’s still not been able to get Messi to sign. And if he’s still not signed, it’s because he’s not certain. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s possible that Messi doesn’t sign [the renewal]. It’s worrying.”
No less a voice than Pep Guardiola himself has felt the need to weigh in, playing coy when it comes to the possibility of Messi leaving Barca. As he told reporters following a 1-1 draw with Everton, “I don’t know — someone might [pry him away] if they have the money and want to spend it…It might happen, who knows?”
While Guardiola added that he couldn’t see his Manchester City club paying the €300m transfer fee, the longer things look poorly for the Catalans, the more likely it seems City may not have to. Given that Messi’s current contract expires in 2018, come January 1, if he hasn’t signed an extension with Barca he’ll be free to sign a pre-contract with another club that would see him move on a free transfer next summer.
And that would have to be the absolute worst case scenario for Los Blaugranes, as they’d get nothing in return while losing one of the world’s best-ever players (if not the best), his record five Ballon d’Ors, and the unrivaled gem of their youth academy—having been with Barca since he was thirteen.
Andrés Iniesta, the other player Bartomeu pointed to as the class of the club, the epitome of what FC Barcelona stands for, has also not yet re-signed, and a few recent indicators are that he, too, may be struggling with what is happening in Catalonia. As El País and Yahoo Sports report, he had the following to say recently:
“In fact, I still have not renewed [my contract]… I’ve experienced many feelings I did not recognize, but I think they are normal. It’s a scenario that three years ago surely I never could have imagined… Let’s say I’m thinking about my future when before I wasn’t.”
From a player well-known for his stalwart support of the club, that’s nearly as damning an indictment as we could expect.
And so, we have to ask, who will lose in this unconventional battle? Will it be Mr. Josep Maria “Liar” Bartomeu, or the players that have for so long been the heart and soul of the club?
Regardless of where things go from here, heartbreak is certain for at least a few.