Courtesy of City Blog writer The ItaliA.N.
Barcelona, Man City, and the Dirty War…
To understand the political nature of a club like Barcelona you need only look at the treatment of one Johan Cruyff. Made honorary president in 2010 by outgoing president Joan Laporta, at the time, Cruyff ‘s influence on the club was directly responsible for all of the success the previous decade had brought. From Rijkaard to Guardiola, the tiki-taka football which saw Barcelona sweep all before them had its roots in a philosophy Cruyff brought to the club first as a player, then as a manager, then finally as de-facto advisor to Laporta and Txiki Begiristain.
This title, which was akin to the freedom of the Camp Nou, was unceremoniously revoked by incoming president Sandro Rosell only a few months after Cruyff received it, as the battle lines between the former board and the new board began to take shape. Cruyff claimed Barcelona owed his charitable foundation money, Rosell claimed Barcelona weren’t going to pay the money until they understood what it was for, and Cruyff retaliated by saying “I will not go to Camp Nou as long as Rosell is president at Barcelona”.
At the same time as going to war with Cruyff, Rosell also went to war with the previous board of directors, in particular Ferran Soriano. Soriano, the current Manchester City CEO, was Vice-President of Finances under Laporta, and was accused by Rosell and his team of spying on Nou Camp employees and going so far as to hiring private investigators to access the private emails of these employees while on the board at the club. The claims were made in a lawsuit filed in Catalonia by Barcelona F.C against Soriano. City’s response to the allegation was to describe Barcelona and their directors’ behaviour as a “dirty tricks” campaign. Barca went on to accuse “Manchester City directors” of trying to poach Barcelona players and staff as hostilities became more public.
These incidents, although for the most part, a tit-for-tat game between huge ego’s in the world of football, have had a significant impact upon Barcelona. The biggest impact, and one which is hotly refuted by a Catalonian press in denial, is Pep Guardiola leaving his managerial post at the club. Although Guardiola had always insisted he would not coach Barcelona “forever”, he left abruptly in the summer of 2012. Privately, Pep was hugely disappointed by the treatment of first Cruyff, his hero and mentor at Barcelona, and then Laporta, Soriano, and Begiristain. The four men had been instrumental in bringing Pep to Barcelona as a coach, and then in giving him successive promotions until he was coach of the Barcelona first team. He owed his managerial career to them and found it difficult to work under Rosell who so angrily and publicly disavowed the former board.
The knock on effect of Pep leaving wasn’t felt in the first half of the 12/13 campaign as his former assistant Tito Vilanova stepped into the breach and tried to continue Pep’s footballing philosophy. However, Tito’s ill health meant he had to step down in the summer of 2013 and Barcelona quickly replaced him with Tata Martino. Martino was seen as a safe pair of hands due to his relationship with Barcelona’s golden boy Lionel Messi. His appointment also meant that all of the coaching ties with Guardiola’s golden era at the club had been severed once and for all.
Last week’s back-to-back defeats at the hands of Ajax (Cruyff will have been grinning like a Cheshire cat no doubt at the final whistle) and Athletico Bilbao, have given rise for many to now question Martino’s credentials. Keen Barcelona observers have been dismayed to see the devolution of the ‘Barcelona way’ as Martino’s team play a more direct style of football to the tiki-taka of the last decade. The question the Barcelona faithful dare not ask though is how do the players feel?
Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Busquets, Pique, Valdes, Puyol, Pedro, et al, were all players who came of age during the Laporta/Guardiola years. They were part of a winning club, but more importantly, part of a football club that prided itself on its traditions, on its history, and on its place as a footballing forerunner. Players, now older, some of them coming to the final stretches of their careers. The men who brought them to the club, molded their careers and helped them achieve unparalleled success they’ve experienced, have all left. At the club they have spent their whole career at begins what is an inevitable process of transition, it’s little wonder players such as Iniesta are stalling on renewing their contracts.
We woke this morning in England to stories that Barcelona were preparing a bid for Sergio Aguero. Catalonian newspaper Sport claimed Aguero had gone so far as to inform City manager Pellegrini that he wanted to move to Barcelona.
Is it coincidence that this story comes so close to recent press reports linking Lionel Messi with a move to Manchester City?
Anyone who has followed the ongoing rancor between City and Barcelona would have to say “absolutely not”. Barcelona are a club in transition, playing football in a league which is financially on the brink. Barcelona’s finances are no different. They generate huge amounts of income, but also carry large amounts of debt which limit how much player trading they can do. They certainly are not a club who need to sell to buy, not by a long stretch of the imagination. However they are also staring down the barrel of a squad which needs significant refreshment regardless of outgoings.
Raising the funds for this refreshment is something they will have to do at some point. As they saw in the summer of 2013 when their number one target Marquinhos moved to Paris, the competition for player acquisition at the highest level is as fierce as it has ever been, with subsequent transfer fees and wages being much more inflated than they have ever been.
Transferring Lionel Messi would of course be political suicide for Rosell. The notion of this happening and Messi moving to Manchester City to rejoin Soriano and Begiristain must be ageing Rosell prematurely.
However, it is foolhardy for them to try and fight fire with fire by linking themselves to Sergio. City have recently tied him down to a new long-term contract, and in today’s marketplace his transfer would have to be a world record fee.
Even if Barcelona could afford this fee without selling players of their own, they would need the will of the selling club, and it’s unlikely that City will sanction the sale of their best player to a club with whom they have such bad relations. Sadly for Barcelona, with Iniesta’s contract coming into its final 12 months, and Messi’s buy-out clause being one which Sheikh Mansour is rumoured to be prepared to pay, they will struggle to keep those players if City are seriously interested.
What this means for the watching world is a Catalonian soap opera played out in front of the world’s footballing media over the next six months.