Barcelona was once better than this

Catalan giant now a shameful shell of former self

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It’s called “Spotify Camp Nou” now. Even if no one will actually say that.

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Opinion

It’s called “Spotify Camp Nou” now. Even if no one will actually say that.

The sign on the iconic Barcelona stadium will bear the name, and it is, in fact, officially, the name. The streaming service is paying €5 million for the honour — a pittance when compared to the rates being charged by peer clubs.

Not that Futbol Club Barcelona should even have such equals. For much of their history they’ve held themselves to different, higher standards.

On the pitch, it’s involved an uncompromising commitment to innovative, aesthetically-pleasing football played by some of the best athletes in the world. Commercially, it’s meant those stylistic values, as well as admirable community involvement and a proud history of representing the Catalan region and its culture, even in the face of oppressive dictatorship, being closed to third-party profit.

No longer.

For the Barcelona of 2022, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that isn’t for sale. And all are welcome to the auction. Camp Nou? Sold! Shirt sponsorships? Sold! The broadcasting rights? Those too! Commercial futures? Gone!

Oh, and the first-team squad is also on the market. A part of it anyway. And to fund, of all things, a different first-team squad. The stadium is one thing, but it’s the club’s treatment of its most important assets — its people — that truly disappoints.

The matter of Frenkie de Jong rather encapsulates the entire situation.

Following years of criminal mismanagement — literally the go-to-jail kind of criminality — and the destructive incompetence of gifting inflated contracts hither and thither, Barcelona are in the embarrassing position of having to sell existing players in order to register new ones.

Defender Samuel Umtiti, on a surprisingly modest €120,000 per week, has been asked to leave almost since he was signed from Lyon for €25 million, and attacker Memphis Depay, another former Lyonnais, is being shuffled out the door just a year after making the move. He’s owed more than €10 million this season if he stays.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, acquired from Arsenal last winter, will earn nearly €11.5 million if he sticks around. This despite his relatively advanced age and a buyout fee of €100 million that all but guarantees he will.

Then there’s Miralem Pjanic—the Bosnia and Herzegovina midfielder, whose case has been dealt with scandalously since his arrival from Juventus two years ago. Signed to a contract worth a preposterous €300,000 per week, the now-32-year-old has made only 19 appearances in La Liga and spent all of last term on loan at Besiktas. His release clause is €400 million.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta would love nothing more than to wipe their salaries — each agreed in good will — off his books. Because, if he can’t, he’ll be faced with the humiliation of leaving his latest signings unregistered ahead of the upcoming campaign, which begins next weekend.

His headache — entirely self-inflicted — would be at least partially relieved if he could only convince de Jong to leave the club. And he’s doing his best to make it happen.

Arguably Barcelona’s best player, de Jong came to Catalonia by way of Ajax — a familiar route once blazed by Johan Cruyff — in 2019, following a league and cup double for the Amsterdam club and haul of individual honours, including Champions League Midfielder of the Season. Now 25 and in the prime of his career, he earns a whopping €29 million annually on a pact that extends thru 2026.

Laporta has agreed a transfer fee with Manchester United, where de Jong’s one-time Ajax manager Erik ten Hag is now in charge, but the player simply doesn’t want to leave. And why would he? United aren’t exactly an attractive proposition at the moment, and he enjoys living in Barcelona. He’s also a key piece in Blaugrana boss Xavi’s project, and he’s already registered in the Primera Division.

His mind seemingly made up, his employer has introduced pitiful tactics to force his exit. And it’s all very unbecoming to an outfit for which such behaviour should be anathema.

Barcelona have gone so far as to withhold wages the Netherlands international deferred during the worst of the pandemic. They’ve demanded he reduce his salary. They’ve mobilized their media connections against him.

And all the while they’ve played the victim, wounded by decisions of previous administrations and forced to sell stake in their broadcasting, licensing and sponsorship rights in order to fund the procurements of Franck Kessie, Raphinha, Andreas Christensen, Jules Kounde and Robert Lewandowski.

Or, to almost fund them. Laporta still needs de Jong and several other players to leave town before he can get the new registrations under the wire.

The irony was obvious and disturbing this week when Lewandowski was formally introduced. On the first anniversary of Lionel Messi’s Barcelona departure, there was the new striker, playing keepy-uppy in front of supporters at Camp Nou. That is, Spotify Camp Nou.

Barcelona once took pride in being better than this.

Not anymore.

jerradpeters@gmail.com

Twitter @JerradPeters

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