Barcelona’s creative accounting is the biggest story of the summer so far.
In a post-Covid word, paying big money for (and to) Robert Lewandowski seems crazy enough even at a club with healthy finances, though selling off ever-growing slices of the club’s future in order to do so is beyond negligent.
That particular signing, amid a raft of others, seems like the most reckless. The Poland great might still be one of the most prolific in world football, but to be on eye-watering wages as the Camp Nou crumbles around him even by the time he reaches 38 is somewhat grotesque.
Where this was a club who conquered all before them in a glory period to have rewritten the record books, the attraction now is solely to see how badly their spending goes wrong.
Perhaps Lewandowski and company will fire them to another LaLiga title, or even another Champions League, but would such trinkets matter if one of the biggest clubs in the world cease from existence?
Everyone at the club is chasing a short-term high. One last drink before the night is over and the bar shuts, potentially forever. The Camp Nou boarded up like a 200-year-old pub in rural England, offering only assumptions on what life was truly like there.
Usually, there is a feeling that big clubs will always escape the mess. Still, watching Joan Laporta activate lever after level like some kind of vaudevillian circus manager, it’s difficult to see how the situation is saved aside from another attempt at a European Super League.
To bank on that seems ludicrous. To bank on all of these players fitting in under a relatively new manager in Xavi Hernandez and subsequently pay the bills is insane.
When Leeds United had to pay the piper, Peter Risdale quipped the now iconic words “Should we have spent so heavily in the past, probably not, but we lived the dream, we enjoyed the dream!” Now, that is a flippant reading of a period to have brought one of English football’s biggest clubs to its knees, though there is an element of truth there.
After their First Division title win in 1992, the club were chasing the kind of high they’ve indulged in twenty years before. Clearly the wrong decision of course, but that is at least a palatable – albeit not particularly comforting – explanation.
How would lifting a league title for the 27th time, or winning the Champions League on a sixth occasion make any material impact on the club? This is a celebrity still trying to stay relevant, desperately clinging to the glory days and only ruining their legacy with every reputation-damaging reality TV show appearance or advert.
Where Barca once defined football, the glory has grown grotesque. The only attraction is to see just how badly this all goes wrong, or how much they can get away with spending before everything implodes.
Indeed, it’s quite an achievement to get to that point, with empathetic eyes usually cast across situations such as this one. A proud institution struggling after a global pandemic and the influx of state-owned clubs across Europe, Barcelona should be the good guys here. Given the glee with which their goalless draw with Rayo Vallecano was met, it’s safe to say they very much aren’t.
And so the world watches on again. Instead of Lionel Messi, there are economic levers to enjoy. In place of tika taka, there are sales of the club’s audio-visual studio to production companies to analyse.
This is Barcelona in 2022. A castle built on sand. Let’s see how much worse it gets. The tide is on its way.