Beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League and already having dropped four points in LaLiga, Barcelona’s season is in crisis with just five games played.
Ronald Koeman is the easy target as everyone looks for someone to blame – and on Wednesday he refused to answer any questions before walking out of his press conference having read out a three-minute statement begging for ‘support in these difficult times’ – but is the 58-year-old coach really the principal reason for the slow start?
Sportsmail looks at the reasons why the five-times European Cup winners have been accused of playing ‘football from the last century’ and given up on being able to compete with the continent’s best sides.
Barcelona are already facing another crisis, despite being just five games into the new season
Ronald Koeman is the easy target but is he really the principal reason for the slow start?
Bartomeu still wins the blame game hands-down
Anyone who thinks the previous president can’t continue to carry the can for this season’s woes has not been paying attention.
It was Bartomeu who put almost the entire squad on long, high, contracts with huge release clauses that made Barça’s wage bill completely unsustainable and the task of selling players next to impossible.
The due diligence report the club will release on October 6 is likely to reveal the full extent of the previous board’s wild-west handling of the club’s finances.
Former president Josep Maria Bartomeu made Barça’s wage bill completely unsustainable and the task of selling players next to impossible
Economics vice-president Eduard Romeu, who has seen the report, has already revealed to Diario Sport: ‘There are some very surprising clauses in the contracts and there are add-ons for turning up to work, bonuses for signing on, bonuses for loyalty. When you look at Barça’s wage bill compared with Europe’s other big clubs the difference is huge.’
Why does this matter now? Because when the pandemic decimated revenue, it was that bloated wage bill that became 110 per cent of income forcing the club into the botched fire sale this summer that has left them with such a flawed squad.
Laporta undermined Koeman and promised Messi but delivered Luuk de Jong
Barcelona’s current president has taken to emitting short videos on social media after every Barça defeat to call for calm and patience. The poor quality transmissions look and sound amatuer and he’s been advised to do ‘as any You Tuber with four viewers does’ and buy a decent microphone and video conference light before the next state of the union speech.
There is none of the smooth media-savvy charisma that shone from his campaign when he hung a giant canvas two blocks from the Santiago Bernabeu with his face emblazoned beneath the message: ‘hoping to see you again soon’.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta (above) has asked fans to show patience with the team
It was while campaigning that he repeated the message that he believed Lionel Messi would stay. It won him the vote but could not be followed through on. Without Messi he could have brought in Xavi as coach and asked for patience for from Barcelona fans while a new team was built.
Instead he stuck with Koeman and, worse than that, he kept the Dutch manager in place but undermined him by admitting that he was taking some time out to look for better options.
None were found and Koeman stayed but Laporta had made it clear from the start of the season that he was there because no one better was available.
Koeman: ‘It is what it is’
Now we get to the coach. In an interview with ‘Voetball International’ Koeman says: ‘Messi disguised everything’. In other words: all the problems festering beneath the surface are only now in plain sight because Messi’s brilliance is no longer there to dazzle.
When Koeman came out with his now infamous: ‘it is what it is line’, he was merely illustrating that if the team couldn’t compete with the likes of Liverpool and Bayern Munich when they had Messi, Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann then what chance with Sevilla’s third choice centre-forward Luuk de Jong, 18-year-old prospect Yusuf Demir and Memphis Depay.
Luuk de Jong had partnered Memphis Depay up front for Barcelona in their limp performance
That said, you can talk your way out of not competing with Bayern, it’s harder to explain a draw with Granada and the ten points were dropped last season in matches against Granada and Barça next two opponents Cadiz and Levante.
Barcelona blew the title last year with a far inferior squad so it was always likely he would fall short this season. And just as Laporta undermined him by looking for a replacement in the summer, so Koeman has undermined his own players by saying publicly: ‘We can’t play tiki-taka with this lot!’
Barcelona’s medical team
It wouldn’t be right to apportion blame here – club doctors are often credited with injuries that heal quickly and blamed for ones that don’t when other circumstances play a far bigger part.
But it does seem beyond dispute that when Ansu Fati tore the meniscus in his left knee 11 months ago, and was operated on by the club’s trusted surgeon Dr. Ramon Cugat, it was reported as the type of injury that usually keeps a player out for between four and six months. Fati – who could finally return on Sunday against Levante – has almost missed a year’s action.
Barca’s medical team have bungled Ansu Fati’s recovery from a torn meniscus 11 months ago
He needed a second intervention and when progress was still unsatisfactory his agent Jorge Mendes took him out of the care of his club and sent him to Jose Carlos Noronha, the surgeon used by the Portugal team.
A fit Fati would have made a huge difference to Barcelona’s start to the season. He has taken on Messi’s number 10 shirt but last year’s slow recovery has delayed his start to this season.
Barcelona are also missing Jordi Alba, Pedri, Martin Braithwaite and Sergio Aguero, although it’s true international duty did for three of them and Aguero is still yet to play for Barcelona.
And what about the players?
This one has been deliberately left until last. Who do you want to blame? Is it Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets’ fault that at 34 and 33 years of age they can no longer allow Barcelona to defend on the halfway line, squeezing the pitch and suffocating the opposition?
It is the fault of Sergino Dest, 20, Eric Garcia 20, Alex Balde 17, Gavi 17, Nico 19, and Demir 18, that the team in the tunnel at the start of the second half against Granada on Monday look completely bereft of leadership and belief?
Barcelona’s squad is made up of veterans, youngsters and players who are not good enough
Is it the fault of Pedri, De Jong, Ronaldo Araujo and Memphis that the season has started so badly? Almost definitely not. Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele’s failure to come anywhere close to living up their price tags can’t be ignored.
But then that just brings everything full circle to the name at the top of the list – the previous president who having sacked Barcelona’s last effective director of football Andoni Zubizarreta, went out and paid completely over the odds to sign them.
Beleaguered Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman refuses to answer any questions and then walks out of his press conference after reading out a three-minute statement begging for ‘support in these difficult times’
By Pete Jenson and Daniel Davis
Ronald Koeman took the extraordinary step of reading out a prepared statement instead of answering questions in his press conference on Wednesday morning.
The scheduled pre-match appearance from the Barcelona manager before the game away to Cadiz should have involved the Dutch coach taking questions from reporters but instead Koeman read out a sombre statement asking for patience from fans.
When the three minute discourse was over he got up from his seat and left.
Koeman started by greeting everyone politely before beginning: ‘The club is with me in what is a process of reconstruction.
‘The financial situation of the club is linked to the sporting performance of the team. That means that we have to rebuild the team without big money to spend and we need time.
‘The young talents can be big starts in a couple of years and the good thing about rebuilding the team is that the young players will get their chance just as Xavi and Iniesta had theirs in their day. But patience is necessary.’
Setting the bar low for this season, Koeman added: ‘Finishing in a high position this season will be a success.
‘European football is a good school for these young players but miracles cannot be expected in the Champions League. Last week’s defeat to Bayern Munich has to be seen with that perspective.’
Koeman sat bespectacled and head bowed as he carefully read the prepared speech.
His decision to do so comes a day after club president Joan Laporta addressed fans with a specially prepared message.
Under-fire Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman read out a long statement in his press conference
After finishing reading from his sheet of paper, Koeman left without taking media questions
The coach continued: ‘The process that we are in with the squad deserves to be unconditionally backed in both word and deed. I know that the media understand this process.
‘This is not the first time this has happened in the club’s history. We count on your support in this difficult time.
‘The dressing room is very happy with the support from the fans against Granada.’
Koeman concluded with a ‘Visca el Barca’ (long-live Barça) and thanked everyone for turning up.
It was another bizarre chapter in Barcelona’s recent history and one that could have ramifications for Koeman’s already rocky relationship with the board, who he had not informed beforehand of his decision to read a statement.
Koeman did inform the club captains and the pleas for patience for the players is likely to win him support in the dressing room. But to what extent this was Koeman calling out the board for their lack of open support of him is open to debate.
He did begin by suggesting he had the board’s backing but the later comment that the players deserved to be unconditionally backed in word and deed suggested there is not the level of support that he feels there should be.
Barcelona are back at the Nou Camp on Sunday when they face Levante trying to avoid a third successive home game in which they don’t win. Cadiz are their rivals away from home on Thursday night.
Sportsmail reported on Tuesday that, in the wake of a difficult week which saw his side fall to the defeat by Bayern Munich and draw with minnows Granada, Koeman has just a handful of games left to save his job.
He may be confident that he can turn around the club’s ailing fortunes, but the axe is yet to fall because Barcelona’s can’t afford to sack him. That move would cost the around £10million, to cover his contract and compensation.
Should Koeman be able to successfully keep his team in contention in a title race or top four challenge, then he is likely to remain in charge. But if the crisis deepens, the hierarchy are poised to make a change in the dugout.
The man earmarked as his potential successor is Belgium boss Roberto Martinez, who is believed to be interesting taking the role. Hiring him may please the supporters demanding a return to the club’s historic style of play.
Laporta, meanwhile, has also asked for the fanbase to ‘stand by’ the team despite their truly nightmare start to the campaign.
With little signs that their form will change, Laporta has been forced to concede that the club understands ‘what needs to be done’.
He also insisted the issues will be ‘solved’ shortly and has asked for ‘calm’.
Koeman (pictured in training today) is under pressure after Barcelona’s poor start this season
Sharing his plea on Twitter, he said: ‘I ask you to keep supporting our team. The team needs you and is thankful to you.
‘You know we are living difficult moments and these are the moments you need to stand by us.
‘This week a Barca delegation is going to “Palos de la Frontera” to an act of “Penyes”, which coincides with the match in Cadiz.
‘In Cadiz, you can be sure that the team will try to win. I do not know what will happen, but no matter what, in the next match against Levante this week keep supporting our team.
‘The team needs it. And try to remain calm, we know what needs to be done and we will solve it. Thank you very much.’
KOEMAN’S FULL STATEMENT
Good afternoon. The club is with me in what is a process of reconstruction.
The financial situation of the club is linked to the sporting performance of the team. That means that we have to rebuild the team without big money to spend and we need time.
The young talents can be big starts in a couple of years and the good thing about rebuilding the team is that the young players will get their chance just as Xavi and Iniesta had theirs in their day. But patience is necessary.
Finishing in a high position this season will be a success.
European football is a good school for these young players but miracles cannot be expected in the Champions League. Last week’s defeat to Bayern Munich has to be seen with that perspective.
The process that we are in with the squad deserves to be unconditionally backed in both word and deed. I know that the media understand this process.
This is not the first time this has happened in the club’s history. We count on your support in this difficult time.
The dressing room is very happy with the support from the fans against Granada.
Long live Barcelona. Thank you.