Football

Published on July 5th, 2017 | by Paco Polit

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From Messi to Mathieu – a summer of Stranger Things at Barcelona

Leo Messi may have signed a long-term deal at the Camp Nou, but that cannot cover up stories of corruption and on the pitch pitfalls

Barça fans are experiencing a bizarre summer. Last season was a disappointment, yes, but logic told them that the board would make an effort to turn things around after a year when Real Madrid cleaned house both in La Liga and the Champions League, leaving a measly Copa del Rey win for the Blaugranas to chew on.

However, things aren’t going exactly as planned in the Barça camp. Only Wednesday’s official statement regarding Leo Messi’s contract extension until 2021 (the eighth the superstar has signed in thirteen years as a professional Barcelona player) has managed to temper the fans’ anger.

Leaving the number-10 aside, the immediate future looks bleak. Or, at least, a little worrying. Any day in Barcelona could easily replace an episode of ‘Stranger Things’. For example, with Jeremy Mathieu’s amazing departure to Portugal where he will undergo a trial period (really?) and then, after a couple of weeks of training sessions, Sporting Lisbon will decide if they want to keep him or not. Way to go, Sporting.

We’re talking about a process designed for youth players in any football academy being applied to a 33-year old veteran player, who was signed three seasons ago from Valencia for a cool 20 million euros. If sold to the Portuguese side, it will obviously be at a huge money loss.

More weird stuff: the ‘Seient Lluire’ affair. Earlier this week, Catalan TV station TV3 broke a huge scoop regarding irregular activities surrounding Barça’s ‘Seient Lliure’ initiative, aimed at season-pass holders who are unable to attend some games but want to release their seat in order for the club to make a profit from it.

In turn, the holder receives a percentage off the new ticket sale. TV3 insisted on shady deals being performed from within the offices, with season-pass holders receiving only a small quantity of money while the club would have allegedly sold their tickets at inflated prices and bagged the biggest share of profits.

Outraged by these revelations, Barça announced last Monday that they will file a defamation lawsuit against TV3. TV3, meanwhile, is standing its ground and the trickling of sources, information, new details and evidence keeps growing every day.

In fact, FC Barcelona took a step earlier this summer in order to prevent these kind of news and reports of disturbing their day-to-day running of business: they released a statement threatening to sue anyone who would try to discredit the club, after a series of rumblings regarding their sponsorship contract with Qatar Airways. Additionally, they sent the contract itself to the Police in order to prove their “maximum transparency and collaboration” with justice authorities.

Mathieu, season-pass holder’s seats, lawsuits, rumours, accusations… What about football? In that area, problems also keep piling up. The last couple of weeks, Barça has struggled with Real Madrid in their chase of rising star Dani Ceballos. The player, who completed an excellent European U-21 tournament, is one of the most interesting midfielders around. Actually, Barça’s sporting direction compare him to Andrés Iniesta and believe he could be a perfect replacement once the player from Albacete retires.

Such a talented player would’ve been a no-brainer for the Barcelona scouting department, but it seems that in this case they may have come a tad late to the party. Real Madrid has been working around the clock to seduce him and the player is split between both sides. Five-years-ago, Ceballos would’ve chosen Barça with his eyes closed.

And that is precisely the problem that Ernesto Valverde and his collaborators face in their initial stages on the Camp Nou’s bench: they have to overcome the odds and make football relevant again within a club where non-football issues keep dragging down the team and its spirits as a whole. And even Messi’s welcome renewal can’t make fans shake off that unpleasant feeling.

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About the Author

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Paco Polit is a Valencia-based journalist with over ten years experience reporting La Liga, covering both Valencia CF and Levante’s news, signings, ups and downs. Madrid and Barcelona are huge, indeed, but the Spanish La Liga is much, much more: regarded as the top football competition in the world, he enjoys explaining why to every reader from abroad.



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