Fans back Laporta’s gambles but Barça need to win major trophies for the bet to come off
A summer of privatizing assets has let Barcelona spend big, but optimism turned to frustration after Rayo draw
Rosalía’s 2019 hit ‘Milionària’ rang out at the Camp Nou moments before the season’s curtain raiser, perhaps as a knowing wink to fans in the ground anticipating the start of the new season or possibly even as a braggadocious nod to the rest of the footballing landscape, watching on as FC Barcelona aggressively spend their way out of debts mounting beyond €1 billion. Was the intended message, “we’re back and we’re ready to spend?” The story of the summer has undoubtedly been “f**king money, man.”
The feeling around Barcelona this summer has been hugely contrasting if viewed from outside the club or within – the outside world has been perplexed at how the blaugrana are managing their financial situation, but excitement and brazen optimism has been brimming inside the club and among fans.
However, that optimism had dissipated by the full-time whistle of the opening game of the new campaign, with a disjointed Barça being held to a scoreless draw by Rayo Vallecano on Saturday night. The almost manic pre-game elation to see what high-profile arrivals Lewandowski and Raphinha could do on the pitch together gave way to a dull hum that took over the immense stadium post kickoff, interrupted only by abuse shouted toward the visiting goalkeeper, Stole Dimitrievski.
Barcelona’s game plan amounted to trusting the wide talent of Dembélé and Raphinha to feed one of the best strikers in the world up front, Robert Lewandowski. It was an unimaginative approach that didn’t yield much danger for the well-drilled opposition.
The final ten minutes saw something of a flurry as the home side desperately pushed for a winner, but once Sergio Busquets was sent off in the 93rd minute for a flailing elbow to the face of Falcao, the crowd had significantly quietened and many punters started to make their way to the exits to try to beat the traffic before the final whistle.
Fans backing Laporta’s gamble
The result did not meet the lofty expectations in the surroundings of the Camp Nou before kickoff. The mood in the city was buoyant; Barça are spending big in the transfer market again and preparing to fight for titles on all fronts. Marquee arrivals have added quality to the squad – the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, an exciting young winger who excelled in the Premier League and was wanted by the biggest clubs in England, and clever additions to the midfield and defence.
To make all of this possible, president Joan Laporta has made huge bets this summer. In order to balance the books and find room to bring in new signings, four key financial ‘levers’ have been pulled, which essentially means the club has privatized portions of its assets. This ranges from selling off a percentage of future domestic TV rights deals for 25 years, as well as stakes in the club’s in-house media production company Barça Studios.
Fans in general have been agreeable to these moves, despite the uncertainty of the long-term effects they could have. Among various supporters surveyed ahead of Saturday’s game, the mood was generally that the club were forced into selling off the assets they had due to the situation inherited by the previous board led by Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Some culés even argued the point that the transfer market spending was not particularly significant – one fan compared the summer’s roughly €160 million spending as equivalent to “one Coutinho,” adding that this amount was "not much."
Confidence in Laporta is high – “100%” as some supporters put it. To them, the selling off of assets is a “calculated risk” that was necessary to alleviate the problems of the “chaos” that came before this board.
Laporta wants to create a ‘virtuous cycle’ – the idea being that spending money on the team will create a competitive squad that will see the team win major trophies, which will bring new revenue in terms of sponsorships, merchandising, and prize money. Barça are betting big on this model: the club has essentially mortgaged huge parts of its future in order to compete now, and at the beginning of the 2022/23 season, the fans are behind this new approach.
However, for Laporta’s bet to come off, and for fans to remain on board with the bold strategy, Barça need to win games and major trophies and leave frustrating nights like this goalless draw at home to Rayo Vallecano behind.