It’s been just under a year since President Joan Laporta held an extraordinary press conference unveiling the results of an internal audit that uncovered evidence of false accounting, falsification of documents, unexplained payments to third parties and of colossal financial mismanagement at Europe’s most iconic football club.
The turmoil at Barcelona is well documented and has brought them to the brink in 2020 with debts exceeding €1bn. The club’s financial structure needed a complete overhaul to survive, with substantial reductions in player wages a necessity alongside the partial sale of their broadcast rights for the next 25 years.
Despite numerous setbacks, against all odds, Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez has managed to assemble a squad more than capable of rivaling Europe’s elite. Their team still boasts ridiculous talent: Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele, Frenkie De Jong, Ansu Fati, Raphinha, Gavi, Pedri, the list goes on. In the shadow of one of their most disastrous years in recent memory, they still managed a second place in La Liga, a record sponsorship deal and the acquisition of one of the most prolific strikers in the world to Lewandowski. Obviously, even the strictest financial restrictions have not been effective in stopping the train of Catalan money.
Whether or not you see the events at one of Europe’s most iconic football clubs as an indictment of modern football or not, there is no doubt that they still have the resources to compete in the Mountain peak. Unfortunately for Xavi, they haven’t hit the target in the Champions League this year and will have to settle for the Europa League in their quest for a European trophy. The financial incentives aren’t as lucrative in the secondary European competition and so the pressure is on if Barca want to get out of this financial black hole anytime soon.
The Catalan club’s shortcomings in Europe’s elite club competition will be all the more painful knowing that they were among the top contenders with the bookies heading into the tournament. Only City, Liverpool, PSG and Munich have a better chance of lifting the trophy in Istanbul before a ball is kicked. Laporta inherited a terminal financial crisis so severe that they had to part ways with the greatest player of a generation in Lionel Messi, and yet they found themselves in contention at the start of the European campaign. The La Liga giants still proudly displayed a considerable Champions League pedigree and hoped for at least a quarter-final spot in this year’s edition, but that was not the case.
It’s largely thanks to their deals in the summer transfer window, decried as reckless, they at the very least set them up with a team that could have taken on the biggest powers that Europe has to to offer. But now their hopes of Champions League glory have gone up in smoke and it has set the stage, in financial terms, for a do-or-die scenario. It is essential for Barcelona’s long-term operations that they enjoy a long run in the Europa League this year.
The Catalan giants finished third in Group C of Europe’s elite competition behind Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, meaning they failed to reach the last 16, and now face a match. draw to even qualify for the last 16 of the secondary European competition. . Those who want to bet on Barcelona to win the Europa League should get the best betting offers when they do. It will only be the second time since 2009 that Barcelona have entered the Europa League, having played and crashed out of the competition last season in the quarter-finals to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt 4-3 on aggregate.
They are joined by some of the biggest names in Europe, which only goes to show the strength of European football. Roma, Ajax, Juventus, Arsenal, Monaco and their play-off opponents Manchester United are just some of those who will take part in the next round of 16. Erik Ten Hag’s United find themselves at a crossroads at the moment amid disappointing performances and the ongoing Cristiano Ronaldo saga, so perhaps there is some rest for Xavi knowing that the Manchester club is no longer the behemoth it once was. Even so, they are giants of the world stage who wouldn’t look out of place in the Champions League semi-finals. The scale of the task in Xavi’s side could easily be daunting for this team with so much pressure to deliver on their shoulders. However, although their Champions League campaign did not go to plan, they were in an extremely tough group and they still have a squad more than capable of making it to the final in Budapest.
Xavi’s team will not start their Europa League campaign until February 16, and while they have won just two out of six matches in the competition this season, the Spanish giants have at least managed to end their Champions League campaign on a high note with a victory 4-2 over Viktoria Pilsen. They are also enjoying excellent La Liga form which has propelled them top of the table two points clear of their Clasico rivals after the first 14 matches. With Ajax slipping domestically, Roma and Juventus struggling to keep pace in Serie A and United falling in the Premier League, Arsenal appear to be the only remaining force capable of taking on the Catalan giants in depending on the current shape.
With that in mind, Barcelona will be imagining themselves against all the remaining clubs in the competition that day, particularly if they can take their league form to the knockout stages, and Xavi is adamant his side are the favorites to lift the trophy in May. “There is still a very good Europa League. Our goal is to reach the final and win it. I understand that they call us favourites,” Xavi told the media via Goal. “We have to try to win the Europa League, but we saw last year that it is a very complicated competition. With the teams there this year, it looks very difficult. he team they have put together and the remaining teams in the competition is up to Barca to take and they will have to take it to avoid any further financial burdens.