Barcelona: Worst window in history could push Messi to the exit

No Neymar whilst Messi edges closer to the exit as Bartomeu remains in charge upstairs. Are Barcelona even Barcelona anymore?

“We hope to present another player before the end of the month,” Barcelona technical director Robert Fernandez told the press amid the unveiling of £97m winger Ousmane Dembele.

“My intention is for one player to come or maybe two, if possible. I won’t go into names, but I admit that the club is working on the possibility of signing new players.”

What was promised was never delivered.

Looking at the window just gone superficially, it wasn’t an outright disaster. Barcelona signed a right back, Nelson Semedo, a central midfielder in the shape of much-maligned Brazilian Paulinho, a replacement for Neymar in Ousmane Dembele and a backup winger in Gerard Deulofeu, but it was how they handled the events of the summer that vastly outshines the personnel they brought in.

There’s a damning sense of failure encapsulating the club. Damage has been done, of that there’s no doubt.

From 0 to 100

At the start of the summer, the board was “200% sure” Neymar would not leave the Nou Camp, so much so that that they never truly made any contingency plans just in case.

It began as a myth and still the world refused to believe the stories emerging in the press over July and August as Paris Saint-Germain readied a world record £200m bid for the Brazilian.

There were the false promises from the board, the evasive and misleading Gerard Pique “se queda” tweet and lack of forward thinking. The Neymar situation was a poorly handled debacle.

Instead of actively planning, the board immersed themselves in the petty refusal to allow Neymar to buy himself out his contract, before pressuring La Liga to launch an investigation into PSG and attempting to sue the player himself.

A vote of no confidence

It painted the board in a terrible light, resulting in a vote of no confidence led by club member Agusti Benedito.

This summer was the impetus behind the calls for such a vote, but it’s been a long time coming, partly due to Josep Bartomeu presiding in one of the greatest collapses in football history.

Bartomeu was initially Sandro Rosell’s vice-president when the latter took over the reins in 2010, but his resignation in 2014 led to Bartomeu’s subsequent appointment at a point where the Catalans were by far the best club in the world.

“Bartomeu should resign, he is out of control. We are facing a really important institutional crisis and must act,” Bendito said.

However, since then Bartomeu has driven away Pep Guardiola, allowing the image of the club as one inspired by Johan Cruyff to erode, wasting the talent of La Masia. Now Barcelona are just another super-club, losing all semblance of their identity.

The worst window in history

Barcelona didn’t do badly in the transfer window, filling personnel gaps in the squad that had needed filling for years. The arrival of right-back Nelson Semedo was a particular highlight, very much a player in Barcelona’s mould.

However, there were questions about the signing of Paulinho from Guangzhou Evergrande, seemingly a central midfielder not fitting the profile needed since the departure of Xavi, whilst a late move for Dembele stunk of desperation, despite the player’s obvious quality.

Then came the Philippe Coutinho saga. Barcelona refused to listen to Liverpool’s stance that the Brazilian wasn’t for sale and thus continued their futile pursuit despite the availability of similar players.

They also left Jean-Michel Seri stranded at Nice after negotiating a deal for the midfielder, under pressure from the fans to do so, before pulling out at the final minute. The same goes for Inigo Martinez, Athletic Bilbao’s centre-back with a release clause in his contract, an apparently easy deal to complete.

It wasn’t the players they brought in that leave a sour taste in the mouths of fans and clubs members alike, rather the horrendous way the board conducted themselves during the window, failing to accept and plan for the inevitable.

What happens to Lionel Messi?

Then there’s Lionel Messi, the talisman and one of the last remaining pillars of the Barcelona of old.

There were claims Messi had previously signed a new deal keeping him at the Camp Nou until 2021 though those have since been disproved. Messi’s contract runs until 2018 and there’s a real chance the Argentine could leave on a free transfer.

It was never deemed possible, but the emergence of PSG and Manchester City have given added weight to this story. They’re able to afford the five-time Ballon d’Or winner and City, in particular, are well set up to receive him given the presence of several ex-Barcelona staff.

With no transfer fee to pay, the wages on offer would border on unfathomable. Money is no object for Messi, so it would ultimately boil down whether he wants to play in Paris or Manchester.

It’s all over

The era of Barcelona’s European dominance is already over. Real Madrid’s back-to-back captures of the Champions League have already confirmed as much, but it could get a great deal worse.

Not only is Neymar now gone, but, for the first time, there’s a real possibility that Messi might also jump ship on a free transfer if he fails to sign a new deal.

The old semblances of what gave Barcelona their unique identity have slowly been eroded by Bartomeu and company, with the club nearing the point of no return. If Messi leaves, Barcelona as we know them are over.

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Oli Stein

Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_