Johan Cruyff says ‘It’s pitiful to see Barca like this’ as off-the-field woes continue for Catalan club
BARCELONA, Spain // Even with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar in the team, a growing number of Barcelona fans are restless for change.
The discontent of the club members bubbled to the surface last weekend when the president and sports director were widely jeered by thousands of disgruntled fans. What the club had planned as a festive tribute video to Messi for breaking the Spanish league’s scoring record took an unpleasant turn when the taped congratulations from Josep Bartomeu and Andoni Zubizarreta were drowned out by ringing boos.
The fans know that Messi’s latest scoring feat, which came three days before he also topped the Champions League’s scoring chart, can’t mask a wretched run for the club off the field.
Not long ago Barcelona lived up to its motto of being “more than a club” as coach Pep Guardiola orchestrated some of the most attractive football ever while the club paid UNICEF to sponsor its shirts instead of cashing in on advertising like the rest.
With “Qatar Airways” now on its players’ chests, the club is mired in several legal battles and has lost its clean sheen of being the team that outshines its rivals.
Former Barcelona great Johan Cruyff recently said that the legal troubles embroiling the club, including those into Neymar’s transfer that led to its most recent former president, Sandro Rosell, to stepping down and giving Bartomeu his current job, are taking a serious toll.
“It’s pitiful to see Barca like this,” Cruyff said last month. “With UNICEF, it was the toast of the world. Everyone wanted to watch it play. We have lost so much prestige in the world.”
The Catalan club’s woes don’t stop there.
There is also former president Jose Luis Nunez, who ran the club from 1978-2000, going to prison for bribing tax officials to benefit his construction company, and the ugly courtroom battle between the current board and former president Joan Laporta.
Even Barcelona’s once lauded youth academy has fallen under scrutiny with FIFA banning the club from making new signings for one year.
Messi, who is facing his own problems over alleged unpaid taxes, pointed to “these moments that Barcelona is going through now” as one of the reasons he recently questioned whether he would be able to see through his desire of finishing the better part of his career with the team.
Barcelona’s answer to this multi-front crisis was to take a further risk by signing Suarez, one of the most divisive players in the game, fresh from his third suspension for biting an opponent.
The club now faces a critical season to see whether it can resolve its off-the-field problems as well as return to winning major titles after coming up empty-handed last year.
Zubizarreta, however, may not last until the summer. Signings such as the injury-plagued Thomas Vermaelen, who has yet to play and will be out another four-to-five months, and the little-known Brazilian defender Douglas, have put the former Barcelona goalkeeper under growing pressure.
On the field, Barcelona is settling in under new coach Luis Enrique. Sunday’s 1-0 win at Valencia came despite being outplayed for long stretches.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, is challenging Barcelona for the mantel of playing the most beautiful football in Europe, with Carlo Ancelotti guiding the club to the European title last season and a record 16 straight wins this week.
This all points to one conclusion: Barcelona either must rediscover its mesmerizing style and win a major title, or the club needs to heed its members and hold early elections at the end of the season, cutting short its current mandate that runs until June 2016, and start anew.
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Published: December 1, 2014 04:00 AM