That must have been a fun conversation to have while waiting for the coffee to brew at the Camp Nou staff canteen on Monday. As soon as Luis Enrique had gone over the cycling he'd done over weekend in an attempt to reduce his stress levels to merely ‘unbearable’, the Barcelona boss probably asked club president Josep Maria Bartomeu how everything was going in terms of the bigger picture.
“Oh, you know. So, so,” says Bartomeu. “Remember that whole transfer ban being lifted in January so you can renew a depleted and injured squad? Well, funny story. The club losing money in the last financial year means that we probably can’t spend any money. Oh, and Leo Messi might go to jail for a couple of years for a whole tax thing. Along with Neymar and Masche. And Neymar flew back to Brazil at the weekend and went to a giant samba party. Aside from that, all’s good! Byeeeee!”
Luis Enrique’s mouth either opened and shut like a goldfish, or the Barça manager simply shrugged and returned to his cubicle, got out his desk wipes, fully aware that this was a fairly typical day in the life of this wonderfully madcap club.
Although, it is quite unlikely that Messi will be doing any stir – the punishment that the Spanish Law Bods are asking for is fairly light – going in and out of court on a regular basis can’t be particularly good for the star player’s mental state. Especially if a certain Neymar gets caught up in the same legal entanglement.
The whole debt business is a thornier issue, though. Barcelona’s constitution was amended in October 2013 to rule that if the club’s debt increases for two consecutive years then the board must resign. This was implemented after what was seen as apparently irresponsible spending by the Joan Laporta regime which forced the club to go out and seek sponsors.
For the past two years, this clause was not a problem as the debt had dropped from €431 million to €287 million. But over the past financial year, that debt went back up to €328 million after the outlays on Neymar and Luis Suárez, along with an increased wage bill.
All this means that the club is going to have to be a little more frugal in its spending over the next year and maybe a little more stingy in its contract renewals. The increase in debt also puts into jeopardy any plans for a new stadium or improvements to the Camp Nou as neither is possible if the debt is over €200 million. Which it currently is.
Although a relatively small purchase like Celta Vigo’s Nolito might be possible in the January window, anything substantially larger looks unlikely. Indeed, Neymar’s wage demands in a new deal, along with the fact that he still isn’t delivering the goods compared to his transfer fee, means that he could be a way of raising a good €100 million in sales and saved salary.
One of the biggest demands of being a Barça boss is not just winning games of football, but handling all the other institutional problems that arise from the club being taken to court for tax evasion, to FIFA bans on transfers. That is something that Tata Martino clearly didn't enjoy and saw him take on the Argentina job, apparently looking for an easier and quieter life.
But it's all on the plate of Luis Enrique. It’s no wonder that the Barça chief likes long rides in solitude on his bicycle. They might be the only way to stay sane.
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