First the director of football, then the manager, and now the president.
Josep Bartomeu, the current President of FC Barcelona, has announced the club will hold early elections for his position as they work towards resolving a whirlwind of dizzying news that paints a picture of turmoil in Catalonia.
In a news conference held today, the 51-year-old said they will hold elections during the summer following this season. “We are calling elections to reduce the tension and to dedicate ourselves to sporting questions. The final decision to call elections has been taken today with my fellow board members.”
Bartomeu also confirmed the feeling outside the club that things are internally tumultuous. “The tension in the last few weeks has been excessive and beyond what is normal. We want to reduce it”
It all began with a one-year transfer ban imposed by FIFA beginning on January 1 – for which the club still maintains its innocence – and the dominos have fallen since.
Two days ago the club fired director of football Andoni Zubizarreta after a run in charge that didn’t come close to matching his legendary status as a player. With him went assistant Carles Puyol, whom the club had hired into the front office just months ago. Puyol is reportedly on his way to NYCFC as an assistant executive.
Zubizarreta was a victim of his own poor results. In his position since 2010, the club has failed to replace aging stars like Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and while they may not be over the hill yet, it’s coming soon. In addition, the Barcelona defense has gone untouched for multiple windows, and as a result, the club is a point (and a game) behind Real Madrid in the table.
But the biggest sign of internal turmoil comes in the form of a broken relationship. With reports that Lionel Messi has fallen out with manager Luis Enrique, the club has reportedly been faced with the unthinkable: that Messi could leave. Apparently the star striker missed a public training session on Monday, the result of his anger following his benching in the eventual 1-0 loss to David Moyes and Real Sociedad.
This, coupled with Messi following Chelsea on Instagram and reports that Chelsea has contacted Messi’s father/agent, has led to a firestorm of media speculation that he could leave.
It’s also led to an internal struggle. While publicly all parties have denied it (as we might expect), there are reports that Bartomeu has issued Enrique an ultimatum that requires him to not just win the club’s next two matches against Atletico Madrid and Elche, but also repair relations with Messi.
A transfer away from the Nou Camp is a long way away – as Jose Mourinho has already pointed out, the money required to complete such a transfer would require the purchasing team to complete the nearly impossible parallel task of balancing the books to avoid Financial Fair Play penalties. However, an unhappy Messi does nobody any good at Barcelona – transfer or no transfer – and any truth to these reports would mean Bartomeu has made it clear Messi is more important to Barcelona than Enrique.
Bartomeu confirmed he will be a candidate to be reelected, and tried to extinguish some of the flames surrounding various reports. He said Zubizarreta had nothing to do with the FIFA ban, and that was completely unrelated to his firing. He downplayed the rift between Messi and club, as expected. He also confirmed a replacement for Zubizarreta will be named soon, someone who has “Barcelona DNA” meaning it will likely be someone from within.
Whatever happens, it’s clear Bartomeu has a major project on his hands, and much of it revolves around club relationships. Relationships with the board members, relationships between the club and the new director of football, and relationships between his subordinates. Relationships are as big in soccer as in any sport, as things can crumble in a very short amount of time.
Enrique has apparently done some things to anger not just Lionel Messi (including requiring every player to pack bags for road trips before finding out who is in the squad) but he remains the focul point. Reports have suggested Enrique wanted to punish Messi for not showing up to the public training, but some fellow players convinced him otherwise.