by Tony Attwood
Before Messi left Barcelona, the club president Joan Laporta revealed that the club had debts of around £1.13bn. Which is pretty remarkable, especially since Barcelona had just become the first club to get close to a turnover of £1bn.
Debts by and large are paid out of profits. Profits are generally a proportion of turnover – making profits of over 9% of turnover is, in many industries considered to be rather good. So one might expect profits for Barcelona to be around £100m a year on a £1bn turnover.
But in fact they have been losing money, year after year. The debt has gone up, while the revenue has gone down, and now the league has told the club to stop spending money it doesn’t have.
Barcelona’s problems however go back a bit further. For while most of the media would fawn over Barcelona, as they also did over Real Madrid, one man was willing to take them on: Javier Tebas Merano, a lawyer and president of Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional, the association that runs the two Spanish professional leagues.
He was first elected in April 2013. He was re-elected for a third period in charge of the league in December 2019. He is considered by many as the most knowledgeable person in Spanish football, a man of integrity, and as a man who is willing to fight the big guys. The man who was willing to take the fight to Barcelona and Real Madrid, and through doing that was able to hold the two Spanish leagues together. What he did in fact was unite the rest of the league against the big two over the issue of TV rights.
Prior to his arrival, Real Madrid and Barceolna negotiated their own TV deals, ensuring that 80% of the TV money for the top division went to the big two, leaving 20% to be shared among the 18 others.
Tebas in fact ended the exclusive rights for the big two in terms of TV revenue for domestic matches. In short, he was willing to take on the big two, by telling them that if they wanted to negotiate their own TV rights deals they should go and play elsewhere.
What that one action told everyone was that here was a man who would not be pushed around by others and would not attempt to do secret deals in the way that Infantino, Blatter and Platini have done.
It was primarily in response to this diminution of their income through the change in arrangements for the TV deal that caused Real Madrid and Barcelona to start talking with clubs elsewhere about the Super League.
Indeed it was the retention of the TV money for the SuperLeague series that made it so attractive to the big clubs in general. TV around the world would pay a fortune for the rights to SuperLeague, and 100% of that money would then go the clubs.
But the loss of its dominant position in selling TV rights in Spain, and the collapse of SuperLeague have left Barcelona with a significant problem, and as a result it has sold a sizeable chunk of its merchandising company, in order to reduce the 1bn euros debt.
That of course works in the short term – the club is still there and still functioning. But its merchandising revenue has gone, SuperLeague has gone, and basically all the money has gone.
To try and solve that problem Barcelona has started to sell its real estate and this is a story told by
Of course Barcelona did not help themselves by having a system in which different men stood for the post of club president on a ticket that included details of which players they would buy. As a negotiating tactic that was not particularly clever because it generally meant that the club that currently owned the registration of the player mentioned, knew that the incoming President had to buy the player to fulfil his promise. The price invariably doubled.
Which is maybe troubling if the club actually has the money to spend, but if it has already spent the rest of the budget elsewhere that can move from “troubling” to “extremely awkward”.
At the same time PSG were on the rise, challenging Barcelona’s crown, while the image of Barcelona as a club who could and would sign anyone, perversely made it harder for them to sign some talented younger players who looked at the way the club was moving, and thought, “I’ll never get in the team with that lot there.” Or words to that effect.
So it all ran out of control. Which led to the problem of Messi. We may have loved Bergkamp and Henry at Arsenal but neither were ever bigger than the rest of the team. Messi at Barcelona was bigger than the entire city.
Which all sounds bad enough, but in Spain, a club like Barcelona which is owned by its members, must follow certain accountancy practices, such as the fact that if the club makes a loss, the directors have to make good the loss. Personally.
To avoid this Barcelona started contacting other clubs with financial difficulties and engageing in what these financial whizzkids call “creative accounting”. Those of us outside the business call it something quite different.
But the biggest problem of all was that Barcelona had got used to the endless stream of new players, the regular winning of the league, the swagger, the gloss, the self-belief, and above all the money. And the money is important because they are still paying the instalments on all the insane purchases of a few years previous.
Now in fact Barcelona can’t afford to buy anyone, and can’t afford the stage payments on the players bought in recent years, and generally can’t get anyone else in the league to stop laughing long enough to sell them anyone.
It’s a bit of a messi situation.
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