By J Hutcherson (Oct 27, 2020) US Soccer Players – FC Barcelona is a super club by design, intent, and personality. Not winning defeats their broadest purpose. When it occasionally happens, there’s no expectation but change. That played out on Tuesday, with club president Maria Bartomeu and the board of directors announcing their resignations the day before Barcelona plays Juventus in the Champions League.
As timing goes, it’s almost the perfect Barcelona moment. This is an organization all about the major statement. Close doesn’t count, and losing El Clasico at home meant it was time for something. We’ll have to wait for the answer as to whether or not that something needed to be the club’s president.
On the field, Barcelona drew 1-1 with Sevilla on October 4 and lost 1-0 at Getafe leading into their game with Real Madrid. That 3-1 loss has them in 12th-place in La Liga, hardly the position of a super club. It’s worth pointing out that Barcelona, 8th-place Elche, and 5th-place Atletico Madrid are on five games played with the rest of the table at six or seven. That should eventually work in Barcelona’s favor to quickly correct the indignity that is the bottom-half of the table.
In the Champions League, they saw off Ferencvaros on matchday one. Domestic slump aside, group G is always going to be about whether Barcelona finishes 1st or 2nd. There’s an argument for making that part of the problem. The super clubs treat their domestic obligations accordingly as the only way into the bigger prize. They know what they play for and what’s at stake.
Bartomeu mentioning that the outgoing board had OK’d the idea of joining a super league should surprise exactly no one. Resetting the top level of Europe in their own image makes too much sense. Europe may be in a decades-long holding pattern for what happens next, but it’s the elite clubs acting in their own best interest. Call that self-interest and load whatever you like onto it, but it’s the simplest of business decisions at this point.
For a club like Barcelona, there are real costs to waiting around, trying to regroup just outside the limelight, or taking any action with even the perception of harming their global brand. They’ll spend in every transfer window because they have no choice. It’s the cost of play at this level, putting them into a self-selecting elite category that has already separated themselves from the bulk of European soccer clubs.
Barcelona can’t accept a lost season, even one without fans played during a pandemic. There’s simply no excuse. As much fun as it is for rival fans and a whole lot of neutrals to laugh at the expense of a flailing super club, it’s just that. It’s expensive in a way very few clubs can afford to shoulder for long.
Manchester United has slotted in as the prime example of a super club that can’t seem to push itself back into contention. Blame a succession of managers and questionable choices, but United has followed the framework. Spend, spend more, keep on spending. That United and Liverpool were linked with Project Big Picture and then with the rumors of a FIFA-backed alternative to the Champions League is once again no surprise. That level requires clubs to position themselves to maximize revenue. Anything else means putting themselves into a position to fail.
For those wanting a truly competitive version of a Champions League, the business realities of the elite clubs work against that. There’s no pragmatic basis to award weaker clubs for overachieving when there’s so much money in play. Simply put, it’s both bad business and bad for business. The argument that so is the super club model in general is certainly reasonable, but it pushes against this reality. Super clubs exist. The global market positioned itself accordingly to let them take full advantage as worldwide brands.
Unwinding that is in its own way as unfair as what the super clubs will eventually succeed in doing. What we’re watching with Barcelona is not a super club cracking under pressure. Instead, it’s a super club making one in what will likely be a series of what are primarily business decisions.
Getting them closer to right returns the rewards that they’re used to receiving. This, more than anything, is the game clubs like Barcelona have spent decades positioning themselves to keep playing.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
More from J Hutcherson:
- 2020 doesn’t need a Super League rumor
- English soccer pushes for the return of fans
- David Wagner moves on from interesting times at Schalke 04
- UEFA’s Super Cup
Logo courtesy of FC Barcelona