Unfortunately for FC Barcelona fans, the most decorated club in Spain is in serious need of a rebuild, and the club’s next moves could shake up the power balance both in Spain and throughout Europe.
Ever since Barcelona legend Lionel Messi left for French club Paris Saint-Germain in August, the Catalan club, once the apex predator of international soccer, is paying the price for its divorce with its former Argentine superstar. They are lavishly spending on other stars, to the point where there was no money left for Messi.
In both domestic and European competition, the Blaugrana’s performances to start the season have been concerning when compared to the club’s former glory: two wins and two draws in four LaLiga games is discouraging. In the first gameweek of the UEFA Champions League (UCL), Barça’s 3-0 loss — at home — to German club Bayern Munich was humiliating given the historical prowess of the Catalan club. It begs the question: what’s next for Barcelona?
One step should be to prioritize youth. Last season, Messi’s enormous talent managed to cover up the cracks in Barcelona’s lineup, but without him, head coach Ronald Koeman must recognize the deficiencies in his team. The current squad is barely strong enough to compete for the LaLiga title, so its best bet would be to use this LaLiga and UCL season — early returns show the team can’t win these competitions this season, anyway — as a jumping board for future trophies. That means molding a starting eleven around young players such as Pedro Gonzalez, the 18-year-old midfielder who made his name at this summer’s Euros, Ansu Fati, the 18-year-old forward still recovering from injury and Frenkie de Jong, the 24-year-old playmaker.
Veteran players, such as 34-year-old defender Gerard Piqué, 33-year-old midfielder Sergio Busquets and 32-year-old left back Jordi Alba — who have all been at the club for over nine seasons — should also remain in the squad to provide leadership and continuity as Barcelona transitions into life after Messi.
Maximizing the young players’ minutes will allow them to evolve into leaders and indispensable contributors for the club. Barcelona’s goal should be to mold the next Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, or, of course, Messi — products of Barcelona’s youth teams who later became club legends. But the club cannot do that if older, high-wage players like Memphis Depay, Martin Braithwaite or Philippe Coutinho — good players but, ultimately, not difference-makers — are commanding the most touches.
As a result of Barcelona’s post-Messi struggles, the club’s brand has lost its former allure. Not long ago, the Camp Nou was the dream destination for A-List free agents, but without a coherent identity or a roster equipped to win trophies in the immediate future, Barcelona will miss out on many of the world’s best players. Clubs that are prepared to win, such as PSG, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United and Bayern Munich are far more appealing to players looking to sign somewhere.
LaLiga also lost entertainment value when its best player, Messi, left for the French Ligue 1. Without its most marketable player, LaLiga will sell fewer jerseys and command smaller TV audiences, further diminishing its influence on the world stage, even more so after the departure of former Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018.
Barcelona’s Messi-induced restructuring, however, has had the counterintuitive benefit of making LaLiga more competitive. In the 17 seasons since the 2004-2005 season, Barcelona and Real Madrid have combined to win 15 LaLiga titles — Atlético Madrid won the other two, in the 2013-2014 and 2020-2021 seasons. In nine seasons since the 2012-2013 season, the top three have consisted exclusively of some combination of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid; clearly, the competition has been predictable and lacking in real parity.
With Barcelona failing to dominate in the manner fans are accustomed to, though, another team could challenge for a spot in the top three, cracking nine years of exclusivity. An ascendant team, such as Sevilla, Real Sociedad or Villareal, could supplant the depleted Catalans as a title challenger. If so, the league and fans around the world would be better off, savoring the sight of a small-but-mighty newcomer potentially throwing a giant off its perch.
Barcelona, with its rich history, championship pedigree and financial status, will rebound. But it will take the Catalans at least two or three seasons to assemble a team and identity capable of competing — and winning — LaLiga and the UCL. In the meantime, Barcelona’s rivals will delight in the opportunity to fill the power vacuum — if only a temporary one — the Blaugrana leave behind.
Christian Baldari is a sophomore in the College. Beware the Hype appears online every other week.