Forget Koeman - Barcelona's problems run far deeper than the coach

The Dutchman's return is underwhelming and fails to address some fundamental issues which need to be resolved first

10:00am on Wednesday 26th August 2020
Paul Macdonald

Barcelona's 8-2 humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich was the culmination of years of gross mismanagement, incongruous signings and an acceptance of a lowering of standards.

But Ronald Koeman's appointment, a club legend who has never hid his desire to return one day as coach, is unlikely to drastically impact what is setting itself up for another dreadful year for Catalan giants.


Barcelona’s ability to hire a coach with a long-term plan - something that is desperately needed - hinges entirely on the fact that the presidential elections will take place in 2021.

Josep Maria Bartomeu will not be around and is always the case, a coronation will require a new coach that can shape the club. That means that any idea of Mauricio Pochettino being acquired and given the opportunity to instil a philosophy into a team that doesn’t have one simply couldn't happen.

The Argentine wouldn't come when he could be jettisoned within the season, leaving Setien-style stop-gaps the only alternatives for a position that few coaches would relish. Koeman was more than happy to step into the breach - he even had a clause written into his contract with the Netherlands that he could leave if offered the role.


Tradition and Johan Cruyff continue to cast a significant shadow over the club. Even when Pochettino was allegedly considered, the fact that he previously said he would “rather work on a farm” than coach Barcelona, given his Espanyol affiliation, precluded him from the job as far as some directors were concerned.

It’s nuts. Pochettino is everything the club needs; a strong, progressive, ambitious, attacking figure who can restore balance if given time. Messi would enjoy playing under him. Youth would be developed by him. There would be a long-term vision that has been lacking for years.


Barcelona's transfer disasters: Breaking down every bad deal as 1Bn is wasted

But it just can’t be that way, can it. Poch criticised the great institution and besmirched its hallowed name. It’s nowhere near the biggest problem with the running of the club, but it is, somehow, emblematic of the confusion.

And the problem extends to the constant replacement of sporting directors who are former players but in reality hold zero respect in that position. Eric Abidal is the latest patsy who will almost certainly make way before long.


But the coach almost doesn’t matter at the moment. The existence of a monument to dysfunction above the position is a far more pressing, and more complex, problem to solve.

It has been a sordid, dirty, corrupt environment all the way back to Joan Laporta’s creative accounting, through Sandro Rosell and the misappropriation of funds regarding the scandalous Neymar transfer, to Bartomeu’s outright incompetence that continues to infect the club.

At the very least Laporta had a vision; he brought in Ronaldinho and latterly Pep Guardiola with a view to restoring the club - as beleaguered and directionless in 2003 as Barcelona are now - to the position where it deserves to be. Bartomeu has shown he is incapable of making the decisions that can retain their position among the elite, and until the introduction of a regime that has both football and business intelligence, the situation is unlikely to improve.


Messi is at once the biggest asset and biggest problem.

Numerous succession plans have failed, because it’s impossible to succeed when the King is still on the throne. Hundreds of millions have been burned through in order to sign players for the day he leaves, rather than sign players who can complement him now. Antoine Griezmann and Phillippe Coutinho have been sacrificed at the altar of the Argentine, and the club, and player, are reaching a critical point.

Messi is 33. He has shown little sign of slowing down and recorded an exceptional 31 goals and 24 assists in 2019/20. He has evolved ever more into a playmaker but his disgruntlement at the efficacy of the supporting cast continues to grate; it’s largely his presence which impinges upon their ability to progress as a team.

33 yrs - F (RC) - Barcelona
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But the dilemma is obvious; the greatest player of all time, continuing to put up enviable numbers, the icon of the club, one which no aspiring president would ever want to ostracise or place in opposition to his appointment. A player paid 40m Euros before tax headlining a spiralling wage bill that means the club cannot be properly strengthened. A difficult, no, impossible situation that cannot be resolved in this transition season before the new president arrives.

Unless, of course, he decides to leave.


It’s one thing signing a posse of players that never, ever fit the club’s ethos in the first place, but it’s quite another getting rid of them, and it’s likely that Koeman’s first task will be to jettison as many as he possibly can before he can even entertain transfer business.

Links with Lautaro Martinez, Neymar, and countless others are laughable. The club is in financial dire straits, as represented by the bizarre, accounting-period servicing deal involving Arthur, Miralem Pjanic and Juventus. The pot is empty and cannot be filled until a host of utterly hopeless signings are claimed by whoever is silly enough to accept them.

Reports from Spain suggest that list is headed by Junior Firpo, Nelson Semedo, Martin Braithwaite and Arturo Vidal, while they are desperate for offers for Coutinho and, probably, Ousmane Dembele. Few have done anything to prove their worth and if Barca are to offload them, it will come as a massive cost to them, and not the buyer.


Gerard Pique’s revealing comments on how the club had hit “rock bottom” and how he would be happy to walk away if that’s what was needed to move forward were illuminating and befitting of a leader, but it’s unlikely many others would follow him.

The aforementioned Messi is joined by Luis Suarez (33), Sergio Busquets (32), Ivan Rakitic (32) and Jordi Alba (31) who might not be so easy, or willing, to move on considering the lucrative contracts they collect.

If Barca are to press the reset, then they must do it ruthlessly, and there has to be a decision as to which experienced heads can be moved on, and which can be retained for the development of youth.


Ansu Fati is only just 17, new signing Pedri (if he stays and doesn’t go out on loan) is the same age. Riqui Puig has finally made his breakthrough but still hasn’t played enough. Trincao is arriving but there’s already talk of loan deals for him.

17 yrs - W (L) - Barcelona
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And beyond that, there’s not exactly a treasure trove of talent at Koeman’s disposal. Contrary to belief there’s not a La Masia generation being stilted by the continued presence of has-beens in the first team. There are definite tweaks that can and will be made; De Jong positioned properly, Puig probing in the press, Fati stretching the play - but some of the first-teamers that aren’t good enough at the moment will still have to play next year, and that will be Koeman’s problem to solve - which of those can still perform some kind of positive role?

There is just no immediate solution for a team this fundamentally broken. It has been Koeman’s dream to lead them, and the respect he will generate, particularly given his role in delivering Barca’s first-ever European Cup, will go some way.

But not all the way. His record as a coach is patchy at best and at a time when Barca require definitive leadership, he strikes as a Dutch sticking plaster on the burst ball of the ideal of Cruyff.


Barcelona's transfer disasters: Breaking down every bad deal as 1Bn is wasted

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