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Friday, December 9, 2022

Barcelona have gambled everything on winning La Liga this season

Barcelona are the most successful La Liga club of the last decade. Indeed, the Catalans have been crowned Spanish champions five times in the last 10 years, but their performance last season prompted many to conclude it would be some time before Barca could even challenge for the domestic trophy again.

The way this summer has unfolded, though, Barcelona are now gambling on winning another La Liga title this season. Not only this, they are counting on being competitive again in the Champions League after crashing out of the competition at the group stage last term. There is a lot riding on Barca’s performances on the pitch, and their decisions off of it.

After all, this is a club saddled with over €1 billion of debt. Barcelona have eased immediate financial concerns by selling various TV rights packages and 49% of a media company attached to the Camp Nou club, but there are only so many assets they can flog. Barca need success on the pitch to generate even more revenue.

Club president Joan Laporta has implemented a strategy known within the financial world as a ‘virtuous circle.’ The idea is that by investing in the team now Barcelona will be able to stay competitive in the short-term while super-charging the club’s revenue streams in the long-term. Barca believe spending money will help them make money.

Indeed, no club has spent more money in this summer’s transfer window than Barcelona. Over €150m has been splurged on new signings with the Catalans reportedly still in the market for more – Barca have chased Bernardo Silva all summer and still hope to conclude a deal with Manchester City for the Portuguese international.

There’s no denying Barcelona’s squad is stronger – much stronger – now than it was 12 months ago. This time last year, the Camp Nou outfit was reeling from the exit of its greatest ever player. The sight of Lionel Messi in tears as he bid farewell to Barca served as the perfect illustration of the mess the Catalans had got themselves into.

This summer, though, Barcelona have welcomed Robert Lewandowski to the club as one of the most reliable goalscorers in the game, with Brazilian winger Raphinha signed from Leeds United and Jules Kounde arriving from Sevilla. This is on top of the capture of Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen as free agents and after a January window which saw Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres signed.

Xavi Hernandez will have the job of squeezing all this talent into the one team. Not only have Barcelona added world class talent to their squad this summer, they boast one of the most exciting, promising groups of youngsters around – Pedri, Gavi and Nico Gonzalez are all expected to be Barca stars for a long time to come.

Winning La Liga season won’t be easy. Real Madrid were the dominant force in Spain’s top flight last season and also went all the way in the Champions League, beating Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool en route to lifting European club soccer’s most prestigious trophy for a record 14th time. Carlo Ancelotti has re-forged a formidable force.

But the turnaround in Barcelona’s form after the appointment of Xavi midway through the 2021/22 campaign suggests the Catalans will be competitive at the top of La Liga this season. They now boast the depth to maintain a challenge on all fronts and Laporta has more than once voiced his desire to see Barca win the Champions League again. The bar has been set very high.

The game Barcelona are playing off-the-pitch has even higher stakes than the ones they will play on the pitch this season. La Liga still hasn’t permitted the club to register their new summer signings amid concerns over the high wage bill at the Camp Nou. Reports continue to emerge of Barca’s increasingly desperate efforts to offload unwanted players like Frenkie de Jong and Miralem Pjanic.

Widespread confusion has followed many of Barcelona’s decisions this summer with many within soccer unclear on why, and how, the club has continued to spend when there is so much financial pressure on the Camp Nou outfit. Leeds United chairman Andrea Radrizzani has even raised doubts over Barca’s ability to pay transfer fees for their summer signings.

But in terms of the team on the pitch, Barcelona are in better shape than they have been for a number of years. That is just as well given the money spent at the Camp Nou this summer. There is more than just points and trophies on the line for Barca this season.

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