This is a club built on tradition and a way of doing business but Messi no longer sees a positive future in these
It’s still somewhat understated just how horrid 2020 Barcelona have suffered as a football team, a club, and an institution.
Since their 0-0 draw with Real Madrid in the Clasico before Christmas, whatever could go wrong, has went wrong, and the most brutal aspect of it isn’t bad luck but rather the feeling that this is a culmination of years of dereliction from the very highest level.
It should never, ever be underestimated to what extent Lionel Messi has papered over the many cracks. But this annus horribilis may prove too much to overcome for the Argentine.
Reports from Spain suggest he wants to leave in the summer of 2021, and it feels like this moment could be as close as he’s ever been to stepping away from the club that has been his home for two decades.
The terminal decline begins well before this, with the disastrous run of transfers since 2015 leading to £1 billion blown, but for this timeline, let’s begin in December.
⏱️ 19 December: Sporting Director Eric Abidal privately tells the Barcelona board members that he feels Ernesto Valverde’s team ‘lack one more gear’ and added that he sensed that ‘many players were not satisfied or worked hard’. This is confirmed by Abidal in an interview on 4 February.
⏱️ 19 December: Catalan newspapers suggest that Valverde was ‘surprised’ by Real Madrid’s tactics and that his team were ‘exhausted’ by the end of the match.
⏱️ 28 December: ABC newspaper report that Arturo Vidal is attempting to sue the club for unpaid bonuses amounting to €2.4m, something that the club is forced to vehemently deny.
⏱️ 1 January: Agent Mino Raiola suggests that defender Matthijs De Ligt – now at Juventus – was treated ‘like a piece of cheese’ by Barca in negotiations to sign him, by trying to include him in the deal for Frenkie De Jong instead of negotiating a separate arrangement.
⏱️ 4 January: Barcelona throw away a winning position in the derby against Espanyol, with De Jong given a silly red card as the home side equalise in the final minute.
⏱️ 9 January: Barcelona lose the Spanish Supercopa semi-final 3-2 to Atletico Madrid in Saudi Arabia, though on the balance of play they are somewhat unfortunate, having two goals harshly ruled out for offside and against Messi for handball. But the immediate press reaction and the late concession of two goals suggests Valverde’s days are numbered. Everyone except Valverde seems clear on this.
⏱️ 10 January: Barcelona confirm bombshell that Luis Suarez will miss four months after undergoing knee surgery. Meanwhile, with Valverde still in charge, Xavi is quoted by almost every facet of the Catalan press as close to being appointed the new coach.
⏱️ 13 January: Barcelona confirm departure of Ernesto Valverde and the appointment of former Real Betis boss Quique Setien, despite links to Xavi, Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman. Legendary ex-player Andres Iniesta says that ‘Barcelona’s behaviour has been a little ugly’.
⏱️ 16 January: Catalan daily Sport report in the wake of Valverde’s elongated departure – described in their paper as a ‘three-day crucifixion’ – that his mishandling of young talent such as Carles Alena and Riqui Puig contributed heavily to his demise.
⏱️ 17 January: Xavi claims that he met Eric Abidal to discuss taking over at Barcelona but it was ‘too early’ to be coach. Abidal would later deny any offer to Xavi had been made.
⏱️ 22 January: Ibiza beaten… just. The island minnows take a woefully inept Barca second-string to injury-time before Antoine Griezmann grabs a winner to spare the blushes of all concerned.
⏱️ 25 January: Messi hits 11 shots, but manages no goals in 2-0 defeat against a motivated Valencia side. Setien’s incessant passing philosophy is already coming under scrutiny.
⏱️ 28 January: With Suarez injured, Barcelona continue to be linked with a huge number of forwards. But the one that seemed closest to completion, Valencia’s Rodrigo on loan, eventually collapses after Los Che demand a compulsory purchase in the summer.
⏱️ 30 January: Despite the continued concern over the number of attacking options, winger Carles Perez is allowed to leave for Roma for €11m, while young striker Abel Ruiz departs for Braga on loan.
⏱️ 30 January: Former Villarreal striker Cedric Bakambu jumps on a flight from Beijing, where he plays for Sinobo Guoan, to Barcelona to sign on loan for the club only for Abidal to communicate to him that the offer had been withdrawn. Bakambu then later took to social media to mock himself as being a ‘nearly Barcelona’ player.
⏱️ 31 January: Barcelona sign Francisco Trincao from Sporting Braga for €31m; the club contrive to pay a huge fee for a 20-year-old who has played just 410 minutes of Primeira Liga football. What’s more, despite the squad’s attacking concerns, he won’t move to Camp Nou until July 1.
⏱️ 2 February: It is alleged in the Spanish media that super-agent Jorge Mendes could collect a maximum of €7m from the Trincao transfer deal.
The reporting is somewhat skewed; Braga’s message to the stock exchange made it clear that Mendes would receive €1.5m up front, with the rest tied into performance bonuses based on Trincao’s success at Camp Nou. Needless to say if those clauses are met, it is unlikely Barca will be too concerned about the additional payment.
⏱️ 2 February: Ivan Rakitic, who had been linked throughout the transfer window, ultimately stayed and told reporters after the 2-0 win over Levante that ‘I can say very clearly that things have happened that I have not liked’.
⏱️ 3 February: Abidal goes public on a number of issues, including Valverde’s situation and his comments regarding the players not working hard for the deposed boss.
⏱️ 4 February: Messi, not one for public statements, immediately hits back at Abidal’s remarks and demands answers, saying on Instagram, “I think that when you talk about players, you have to give names because if not, it makes everyone dirty and gives air to things that are said which are not true.”
⏱️ 4 February:ESPN report that Messi has been playing throughout January with a thigh injury but given the lack of attacking options available has continued to feature through the discomfort.
⏱️ 4 February: Ousmane Dembele, a transfer disaster of biblical proportions, is ruled out for the rest of the season with a serious muscle injury, while attempted to recover from another muscle strain he picked up in November. Dembele has played just 492 mins this season, scoring one goal. He cost €140m.
⏱️ 6 February: Barcelona are eliminated from the Copa del Rey after a 90th minute goal from Athletic Bilbao’s Inaki Williams.
⏱️ 25 February: Barcelona toil to a 1-1 result in Napoli earning a draw their performance scarcely deserved.
⏱️ 1 March: Barcelona produce another sub-standard performance away to Real Madrid in the second Clasico of the season, losing 2-0.
⏱️ 30 March: Knowing that there would be no football for some time, Barcelona move quickly to demand that the squad take 70% pay cuts, a move which is accepted by the team.
⏱️ 10 April: Despite the pay cut, Barcelona are still continually linked with signing players such as Lautaro Martinez (£100m) and even Neymar (who knows!)
⏱️ 18 April: Former president Sandro Rosell emerges from the shadows following prison time to give a series of interviews where he says he would ‘absolutely’ sign Neymar this summer.
⏱️ 2 May: With the Bundesliga nearing a return, Barcelona continue to look at plans to tentatively recommence training. They eventually return on 8 May after 56 days in lockdown.
⏱️ 15 May: Rumours begin to intensify that Barcelona will only be able to sign players during the summer if there are exits first, and that the club are actively trying to offload Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and other first-team players.
⏱️ 29 May: Quique Setien goes on record to say that he is not looking forward to the introduction of five substitutes, because Barcelona’s thin squad will not have as many options as Real Madrid during games.
⏱️ 18 June: Frenkie de Jong becomes the latest player to be injured ahead of the trip to Sevilla and will not likely play another match before the end of La Liga season.
⏱️ 19 June: Barcelona draw 0-0 in Sevilla to hand the initiative to Real Madrid in the title race, who have a superior head-to-head record. Gerard Pique already declares that it ‘will be very difficult’ to win the league.
⏱️ 24 June: El Mundo Deportivo’s headline on Barca’s transfer business of ‘SELL, SELL, SELL’ indicates the club’s financial position and expedites the rumours of Arthur’s departure to Juventus.
⏱️ 28 June: Following the 2-2 draw away at Celta which pushes Barca further behind Real Madrid in the title, there is talk of unrest in the dressing room, with senior players unhappy about Setien’s tactical decisions.
⏱️ 29 June: The transfer of Miralem Pjanic for a fee of €60m is confirmed, while Arthur’s deal going to Juventus is announced on 1 July. It is thought that there are clear accounting decisions at play and that Barca were required to do the deal to have the capacity to perform further transfers. Trincao, already signed in January for €31m, is arriving in July.
⏱️ 30 June: Barcelona draw 2-2 at home to Atletico Madrid, losing more ground.
Antoine Griezmann is given just three minutes injury time in the match. Griezmann’s family members take to social media to criticise Setien, while Spanish media suggest that Messi has been ignoring instructions from the bench during the contest.