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The prosecutor has just started work on Barça but why is football always like this?

By Tony Attwood

According to the Swiss newspaper Le Matin, the Spanish prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation into the management of Barça, focussing on the work of president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned in October 2020.

This follows a complaint filed on Wednesday by the current management of FC Barçelona, which has been under the chairmanship (since last March) of Joan Laporta.  It appears they have been going through the finances of the club, and they are somewhat disgruntled by what they have discovered.  This presumably means the data reveals something far worse than that which has been reported in the past.

We know that Barcelona’s crisis deepened in September last year as reported by ESPN after “LaLiga cut another €300 million from their spending limit, with six clubs in the Spanish top-flight now permitted to spend more than them.”

Overall that means the bar for operating costs for Barca for the 2021-22 season has been reduced to €97m, which is almost €650m less than rivals Real Madrid, whose limit has been fixed at €739m.

Last October, Barça’s general manager Ferran Reverter had claimed that when the new management arrived in March, the club was effectively bankrupt with debts and future payment commitments totalling 1.35 billion euros.  With that level of debt they rather obviously then had cash flow problems, most particularly in paying their huge wage bill.

It is widely reported in Europe that the economic crimes department of the public prosecutor’s office now has the details and is deciding whether the former management of the club can be prosecuted for bringing the club into this financial situation.

The club reported net losses for the 2020/2021 season of 481 million euros which really is rather a lot especially since expenses that season increased to reach a record figure of 1,136 million (an increase of 19%).  The target income for 2020/21 was 828 million euros.

Undoubtedly as a result of this, the club is now sitting fifth in the league, 15 points behind Real Madrid in first position.  Thus they are looking to be more likely candidates for the Europa league next season than the Champions League, although they could still make the top four, given they have not lost in the last six.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Real Madrid 22 15 5 2 47 20 27 50
2 Sevilla 22 13 7 2 34 16 18 46
3 Real Betis 22 12 4 6 41 25 16 40
4 Atletico Madrid 21 10 6 5 36 26 10 36
5 Barcelona 21 9 8 4 32 23 9 35
6 Real Sociedad 21 9 7 5 22 21 1 34

Since the return of Joan Laporta as president, some progress has been made as the wages bill has been cut to 155 million euros, from 759 million the previous season.

But the point about this is not so much that one big club in Spain is in a mess, but rather the problems within football flow through the leagues in several countries.

In England, supporting Arsenal, we might not worry too much about well-publicised the plight of Derby County, perhaps on the grounds that some clubs are always in trouble, (Derby is getting the most publicity just now) but there is little doubt that the various football leagues are not very good at self-regulation which is what they always stress they must have.

As I have tried to point out before, in May last year Uefa announced the Convention on the Future of European Football was largely ignored by the media.  Its aim was to discuss long-term policy and governance reforms especially in relation to the ongoing fight between Super League and Uefa.  Around this time the government of the UK, announced its “fan-led” review, although the “led” part of that title seems a real misnomer.

But instead of any real overview all we get is self-interest and a patchwork of minor reforms, always seen to be of less interest that false rumours about who clubs are going to sign.

In thinking of this consider this sentence from an article in the Guardian by Jonathan Wilson in which he considers the Africa Cup of Nations recent stadium tragedy. “There is a culture of indecisiveness and inaction and that creates an environment in which tragedies such as Monday’s can occur. Caf may, as Motsepe claimed, bear no legal responsibility, but it cannot simply blame somebody else, move on and forget what has happened.”

That is fair enough as far as it goes – but it only goes as far as considering the tragedy on its own, and not within the context of football.   Although far worse as a human tragedy in terms of news reporting this is the same as considering the plight of Derby, Bolton, Macclesfield, Southend, Dover, Oldham, Coventry… always as individual cases.

It may seem crazy or even obscene to put the tragedy at the Africa Cup of Nations in the same article as the financial collapse of a range of English clubs or the financial problems at Barcelona or indeed the move of the head of Fifa from Switzerland to Qatar, but the point is everywhere one looks in football there is mess, muddle, ineptitude and indeed quite often corruption.   The results are different in their magnitude but they are the same in terms of ineptitude.

And yet no one seems to be asking: “Why does football have to be like this?”

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