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17th Aug 2020

Barcelona is rotten to the core – a new manager won’t fix that

Quique Setien has been let go by Barcelona, but nothing will improve unless Barça make huge changes from board level to the playing squad

Setién is gone, but he wasn’t really the problem

Barcelona have sacked manager Quique Setién following the club’s humiliating exit from the Champions League, and have replaced him with former Barcelona defender Ronald Koeman .

The 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich was the final game Setién managed as Barcelona boss, but the writing had been on the wall for a while.

Ever since the restart, when Barcelona conceded their lead at the top of LaLiga to Real Madrid, he was bound for the sack at the end of the season. Having been hired under the premise of prettier football, more in line with Barcelona’s Cruyffian roots, performances did not improve sufficiently to keep him in a job he was surprised to get in the first place.

He is not a bad manager by any means, his Real Betis and Las Palmas teams were revered for their entertaining football. But the Barcelona job demands both style and substance, and there is no real shame in failing there, especially when you consider the environment he walked into.

What Ronald Koeman has done to earn the right to take charge of this crucial next chapter in the club’s history other than play for them is beyond me. But who sits in the dugout will not make much different if the current structure remains in place.

Barcelona’s issues pervade every part of the club, from the boardroom to the famed La Masia academy, whose production line has dried up in recent years, in stark contrast to the wealth of talent it produced just over a decade ago. In the immediate aftermath of the Bayern loss, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said “Now we have to make decisions. We’ve already thought about some of them.”

His comments came under great scrutiny, notably from former president Joan Laporta, who described them as an example of “cowardice and ineptitude.” Many Barcelona fans will agree – it is Bartomeu who should feel ultimately responsible for the repeated failures in the Champions League. Appointed in 2014, Barça won the Champions League in his first season, but have not reached the final since then, and have spent £800 million on 29 players, none of whom can be deemed great successes.

Bartomeu’s refusal to accept responsibility for his, and the board’s part in Barcelona’s demise has pushed Lionel Messi to the end of his tether. He has no faith in the board’s ability to make substantial changes and reportedly wants to leave, now.

There are a few possible outcomes from this. Firstly, Barcelona honour his request and sell him to any of numerous interested clubs – Inter are supposedly interested, and you’d expect Man City to consider a bid too.

The second option is that Barcelona bring the presidential elections forward by a year, a new board is elected, and Messi agrees to play out his final years at the Camp Nou. And the third is that no club makes an appropriate offer for the 33-year-old, and Messi walks free next summer.

Barça will want to avoid losing their best player, the greatest player ever on a free transfer, so a transfer this summer is at the moment most likely.

And while for Barcelona that might seem like the worst possible thing to happen to a club who, as Gerard Pique described it, have just hit rock bottom, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

The squad is far too old, slow, and unbalanced. The core of the team that won their last Champions League, Ter Stegen, Pique, Messi, Suarez, is still there, starting every game. New signings brought in to replace the likes of Neymar and Iniesta have not worked, left on the bench and in one case loaned out.

A huge squad overhaul is needed at the Camp Nou, which means a few transitional seasons probably without a trophy. The longer they delay that process, the worse it will get. The big concern is that this will not happen under the current regime.

Big changes are needed, beyond the players and the manager. Bartomeu would do well to realise that the decisions he refers to include him handing in a letter of resignation.