While Bartomeu has been unpopular for some time, fan anger peaked in the aftermath of the team’s 8-2 drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League in August. In the wake of that result, the club was rocked anew when Messi, who had been with the club since he was 13 and had led it during the most successful era in the club’s history, announced that he wanted out.
Bartomeu attempted to frame his decision to stay on amid mounting anger as a sort of service to Barcelona: He said it would have been easy for him to leave after the Champions League humiliation, but he contended that would have left the club in worse shape. He said there were important issues needing to be resolved, including persuading Messi to stay, hiring a new coach and dealing with important player contracts.
“An early resignation at the end of the season would have led the club to an electoral process and a power vacuum, under the direction of an interim board, with limited powers, and during a period where it was necessary to make unavoidable and powerful sporting and economic decisions,” Bartomeu said.
The new board will face a number of challenging economic decisions immediately. They will have to stem losses that rose to more than $100 million last year, while also finding a way to cut the team’s debt, which has also grown rapidly in recent years. At the same time, several key sponsorship agreements — including one with the team’s principal sponsor, Rakuten — are expiring, and will need to be renewed or replaced. And a $1 billion stadium financing deal with Goldman Sachs to renovate the club’s famed Camp Nou stadium will need to be revaluated.
All the while, the new board will have to appease a fan base that has become increasingly disillusioned by poor results, poor recruitment and a string of scandals and missteps at the top of the club.
Bartomeu’s announcement that Barcelona had agreed to form a Super League comes after speculation about talks of a breakaway European league featuring the richest teams started anew in recent weeks. The concept, which has been around in one form or another for two decades or more, has been widely lambasted by European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, and other key stakeholders.
Last week, UEFA said such a closed league would be “inevitably boring.” UEFA and the top clubs are currently in negotiations over a restructuring of the format of the Champions League, the Continent’s marquee club championship, starting in 2024, with the biggest clubs pushing for reforms that would see more games between the top teams.