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First there was the earth-shattering transfer. Then the groundswell of unrest, and the crescendo of supporters’ displeasure. It was only natural. To some extent, perhaps even healthy.
But three weeks after Neymar’s stunning move to PSG, there isn’t much healthy about the state of Futbol Club Barcelona. There is nothing natural.
Unrest has spread from fans to former players, former presidents and, reportedly, current players. Neymar was the latest to spark it: “They shouldn’t be in charge of Barcelona,” he said of the club’s board. “Barca deserve much better.”
In fact, consider the four most attention-grabbing Barcelona-related headlines the day after a comfortable 2-0 win to kick off the La Liga season:
– Neymar slams Barcelona directors: The club ‘deserve much better’
– Andres Iniesta hints he may leave Barcelona when contract expires
– [Ex-president Joan] Laporta: Barcelona must get rid of [president Josep] Bartomeu to keep Messi happy
– Lionel Messi ‘seriously considering’ leaving Barcelona as Man City circle
Neymar’s criticism was the most eyebrow-raising of all, because the Brazilian largely handled his exit with class. He posted touching tributes to teammates and the club on social media. He even acknowledged his love for the club right before addressing his thoughts on the club’s directors: “I spent four years there and was very happy,” he said of Barcelona. “I began happy, spent four years happy and left happy.
“But not with them.” Not with the board.
Neymar, who was speaking after a two-goal performance in a 6-2 PSG trouncing of Toulouse, also hinted at dissatisfaction within the Barcelona dressing room. “To see my former teammates unhappy makes me sad also, because I have many friends [there],” he said. “I hope that things get better for Barca.”
There is necessary context to not only Neymar’s words but the feeling around the club as a whole. The unrest has heightened as attempts to spend the Neymar cash have stalled. And it intensified after Barcelona slumped to a 5-1 aggregate Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid, after which Gerard Pique admitted he felt “inferior” to Madrid for the first time.
But it’s also a result of years of mismanagement that left the club ill-equipped to cope with a departure like that of Neymar. That’s why many fans have called for Bartomeu, the club’s president since 2014, to resign. The signing of 29-year-old Brazilian midfielder Paulinho for 40 million euros last week saw the hashtag #BartomeuDimissio – #BartomeuResign or #BartomeuOut – trend worldwide on Twitter.
It’s unclear how much all of the underlying consternation has clouded the interpretation of Iniesta’s comments or led to the (probably untrue) reports that Messi really could leave. There’s no sense in lending too much credence to the latter. But Iniesta’s exact words were interesting. Via El País, translated from Spanish:
Q: Realistically, is it an option to leave Barcelona?
Iniesta: In fact, I still have not renewed [my contract]… I’ve experienced many feelings I did not recognize, but I think they are normal. It’s a scenario that three years ago surely I never could have imagined… Let’s say I’m thinking about my future when before I wasn’t.
Iniesta is a Barcelona legend, a fixture at the club for over a decade. He has said he would like to retire at Barca. But, as he said, he has experienced unrecognizable feelings recently.
Those unrecognizable feelings could stem from his diminishing role in the team, or even from his diminishing – though still world-class – talents. But it’s surely not a coincidence that they overlap with instability that is also unrecognizable to many at the club.
These are worrying times for Barcelona, and there is no obvious path forward. Perhaps, as former club president Laporta suggested, that path will only open up if Bartomeu steps aside. But surely that would not be an immediate fix.
Something, though, is not right. And something likely must change. Neymar’s decision to speak out, under no real pressure to do so, made that much abundantly clear.
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Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.