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FC Barcelona’s problems run deeper than results

The Catalan club is set for another bloody revolution with former president Joan Laporta hinting at return

Published: Updated:

Barcelona looked dysfunctional and out-of-sync on Sunday, losing 1-0 away to Real Sociedad, but Luis Enrique may have more serious grumblings to deal with.

Lionel Messi was left on the bench, a star-studded one at that, but was introduced at the break with Sociedad already leading Enrique’s men by a Jordi Alba own-goal. The Balon D’Or nominee struggled to make an impact in the game as Barcelona looked a shadow of themselves in the first game after the New Year.

Messi has a known tendency to miss out on the first match after the Spanish winter shutdown – he’s only played in the first game of the New Year once at Barcelona. Moreover, he returned to training on Jan. 2, three days before the game in San Sebastian, and was out of training on Monday with gastroenteritis, which means he could be doubtful for Thursday’s clash with Elche.

What’s more, there are even suggestions that Messi is becoming frustrated at life under Enrique, according to Spanish radio. One Spanish newspaper wrote that Messi was ‘sick of the excessive authoritarianism’ of Enrique and that Chelsea could be poised to make their move this year for the attacker.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (R) vies with Real Sociedad's defender Alberto de la Bella (L) during the Spanish league football match Real Sociedad de Futbol vs FC Barcelona at the Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian on Jan.  4, 2015. (AFP)
Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (R) vies with Real Sociedad's defender Alberto de la Bella (L) during the Spanish league football match Real Sociedad de Futbol vs FC Barcelona at the Anoeta stadium in San Sebastian on Jan. 4, 2015. (AFP)

In a book written by Spanish writer Guillem Balague, the same situation occurred in 2012 when Messi missed training the next day, having taken the huff because he was left out of the team to play none other than Real Sociedad.

Could the same situation be arising at the Camp Nou?

Joan Laporta poised for a return?

It seems Barcelona are set for another bloody revolution with former president Joan Laporta dropping hints that he’s looking to challenge current incumbent Josep Maria Bartomeu at the next club elections in 2016.

Laporta served between 2003 and 2011 and brought about radical change at the club. Barcelona quickly harnessed its global potential and reconnected the club’s playing philosophy with that of the famous Johan Cruyff era.

The 52-year-old oversaw major deals in the transfer market, whilst the decision to promote Pep Guardiola to first-team coach in 2008 would prove to be a masterstroke. Ironically, that success, however, has been a recent stick to beat Barcelona’s under-performing players who’ve looked out of sorts since his departure in 2012.

But the problems at Barcelona run deeper than results: there is a serious dissatisfaction at how the club is being managed from the top. It’s the handling of the last two years, in particular, which have blackened the ‘More than a Club’ image with a rapid commercialisation of the club, backed by the tiny, oil-rich state of Qatar, the controversial pursuit of Luis Suarez and its battles with the law.

On December 30th, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld FIFA’s decision to impose a transfer ban on the club who ‘breached the rules regarding the protection of minors and the registration of minors attending football academies’.

While the outcome of the appeal was pending for several months, the club spent more than 150 million euros - signing Luis Suarez, Thomas Vermaelen, Ivan Rakitic and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen among others - which has proven fruitless and reckless.

In 2013, the club was dragged through legal disputes over Messi’s tax affairs in 2013 and then last year the murky negotiations to sign Brazilian star Neymar followed.

Barcelona's players take part in an open training session at the Mini Stadium in Barcelona on Jan.  5, 2015. (AFP)
Barcelona's players take part in an open training session at the Mini Stadium in Barcelona on Jan. 5, 2015. (AFP)

Despite the darker days in the final months of Laporta’s reign, he probably stands as the most important president of Barcelona’s history, reviving the playing spirit of the club that led to arguably the greatest club side of all-time. The vision shared by Laporta and Cruyff is sorely missing.

Challenges ahead in 2015

Just a single point separates the top-three in La Liga – Real, Barca and Atletico – but the first defeat in 22 games for the current European champions from Madrid will go down as a missed opportunity to move to the summit of the Spanish top-flight.

As the Blaugrana rack up the numbers on home patch, they’ve hit a snag away from the Camp Nou. But the lack of cohesion under ‘Lucho’ Enrique has been clear with the former Roma head coach fielding 17 different starting XIs in 17 league games this season.

A troublesome pairing with English champions Manchester City in the Champions League could bring the chicken’s home to roost for Barcelona, should they exit Europe’s premier competition at the first hurdle of knockout action.

Indeed, to go through another year without a trophy would seem unforgivable to many Barcelona fans and even Xavi Hernandez has emphasised the need to add some silverware at the end of this season.

But beneath the surface, the rumblings of discontent are threatening to explode at the most inconvenient of times.