It is just under a year since 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 in 2020 with debts running over €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, against the odds Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez has managed to assemble a squad more than capable of competing amongst Europe’s elite. Their side still boasts some 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 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 Catalan money train.
Whether or not you see the happenings at one of Europe’s most iconic football clubs as an indictment on modern football or not, there is little doubt that they still have the resources to compete at the top. Unfortunately for Xavi though, they have fallen short of the mark in the Champions League this year and will have to settle for competing in the Europa League in their quest for a European trophy. The financial incentives are not as lucrative in the secondary European competition and so the pressure is on to deliver if Barca are to claw their way 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 amongst the top contenders with the bookies heading into the tournament. Only City, Liverpool, PSG and Munich with better odds to lift the trophy in Istanbul before a ball was kicked. 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 found themselves in contention come the start of the European campaign. The LaLiga behemoth still proudly boasted considerable pedigree in the Champions League and were hoping for at least a quarter final berth in this year’s edition, but it wasn’t to be.
This is in large part down to their business in the Summer transfer window, maligned as reckless, it did at the very least set them up with a squad that could’ve gone toe to toe with the biggest powerhouses Europe has 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 critical to the long term operations of Barcelona 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 play-off tie in order to even qualify for the last 16 of the secondary European competition. Those wanting to place a bet on Barcelona to win the Europa League should get the best betting offers when they do. It will be only the second time since 2009 that Barcelona will feature in the Europa League, having played and crashed out of the competition last season at the quarter-final stage to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt 4-3 on aggregate.
They are being joined by some of the biggest names in Europe which just goes to show the strength of European football. Roma, Ajax, Juventus, Arsenal, Monaco and their play-off opponents Manchester United are but a few who feature in the upcoming knockout rounds. Erik Ten Hag’s United find themselves at a crossroads at the moment amidst underwhelming performances and the ongoing Cristiano Ronaldo saga, so perhaps there is some rest bite for Xavi, knowing the Manchester club are not the juggernaut they once were. Even so, these are giants of the world stage who would not look out of place in a Champions League semi-finals. The scale of the task on Xavi’s side could easily be daunting to this squad with so much pressure to deliver on their shoulders. However, while their Champions League campaign did not go according 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 side will not begin their Europa League campaign until the 16th of February, and while they only mustered two wins out of six matches in the competition this season, the Spanish giants at least managed to finish their Champions League campaign on a high note with a 4-2 victory over Viktoria Plzen. They’re also enjoying a great run of form in LaLiga that has propelled them to top of the table two points ahead of their El Clasico rivals after the first 14 matches. With Ajax slipping up domestically, Roma and Juventus struggling to keep pace in Serie A, and United falling off in the Premier League, Arsenal look like the only remaining force capable of going toe-to-toe with the Catalan giants based on current form.
With that in mind, they will fancy themselves against all the remaining clubs in the competition on their day, particularly if they can bring their league form to the knockout stages, and Xavi is adamant his side are the favourites to lift the trophy in May. “There is still a very nice Europa League. Our goal is to reach the final and win it. I understand that they label us as favourites,” Xavi told the media via Goal. “We are forced to try to win the Europa League, but we saw last year that it is a very complicated competition. With the teams that there are this year, it looks very tough.” With the squad they have assembled and the sides remaining in the competition, it is Barca’s for the taking and they will have to take it to keep any further financial burden at bay.