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'Barca re-signing Messi was like Anglo buying Goldman Sachs' | Simon Kuper

Who better to join us on the saga involving Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona than Simon Kuper, who h...



Soccer

'Barca re-signing Messi was like Anglo buying Goldman Sachs' | Simon Kuper


Who better to join us on the saga involving Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona than Simon Kuper, who has finished writing 'The Barcelona Complex'.

Kuper's insights into the abject chaos in the latter years of former club president Josep Maria Bartomeu paint a bleak backdrop but one that is grimly familar. The club that overstretched.

'Like Anglo trying to buy Goldman'

With Messi's departure to PSG, the Blaugrana's return to the mortal realm is all but confirmed. The question remains of why Barca were unable to secure their talisman's signature.

"What is that bank that went bankrupt - Anglo-Irish? Imagine Anglo-Irish in 2008 saying 'guys, we've got big financial problems but we're going to buy Goldman Sachs.'

"It would be a bit like that. Barcelona tried to keep Messi, they tried to keep the world's best player on the world's highest salary. They halved his salary but he is still the world's best player.

"They did want to keep him and the presidential elections were fought on keeping Messi, and Bartomeu ridiculously said that he would have an Argentinean barbecue with Messi and all would be fixed. Laporta was the 'Messi whisperer' who would keep him.

"It was just impossible. If you have no more money and you want to sign the world's best player - it just doesn't work."

'The Messi strategy'

Kuper's investigations led him to believe that Messi was the seat of power, both soft and hard, when it came to the running of the club.

"When Messi makes it clear that he wants something - for example, that he was happy for Tata Martino to take over [...] or he doesn't want Ibrahimovic in the first team because he gets in the way of his runs - everybody jumps.

"It's not that he decides but they are always trying to keep him happy, for fifteen years, so they have a kind of 'Messi strategy'.

"So when Messi said that the biggest mistake that Barcelona made was letting Neymar go, they had this dilemma. Neymar was 27 at the time, party lifestyle, always getting injured and €200m.

"Internally, they are thinking 'no way can we buy this guy, it's too much money' but they can't tell Messi.

"So they spend the whole summer pretending to sign Messi. Instead, they buy Griezmann who turned down Barca the year before.

"So it's not that Messi makes the decisions, Messi is heard more than anybody else. He is the most influential person at the club. They were trying to make the appointments and sign the players that would make him happy."

'Barcelona could go like Leeds'

Kuper's book is full of cautionary tales to budding footballing administrators. Failure, to borrow a phrase, at first comes slowly and then all at once.

There is one tale from closer to home that might be of concern to the Catalans.

"In 2019, when I began writing this book, club executives were saying to me that they felt they were going to become like Manchester United [post-Messi]. That Messi leaving is going to be like Ferguson leaving and that they wouldn't have much success.

"They said they were reassured by the fact that Manchester United remained in the top three or four clubs in revenue; they are still a global club with fans all around the world - so that would not be a terrible scenario for Barcelona.

"I think that is now the benign scenario and the worst is that you become AC Milan or Leeds United. Leeds is probably the worst-case scenario.

"It is possible. Most of their squad have no resale value, they still have no money - even without Messi, wages are still 95% of revenue. Lots of sponsors are going to run away, there are fewer tourists.

"I can see them having to sell Pedri, Frenkie de Jong, and then you're just left with some old blokes with no resale value."

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