Blame La Liga. Point fingers at previous owners. Lament the ludicrous, unfettered levels of spending in a rapidly decaying football ecosystem.
Yet when Sunday’s press conference featuring a tearful Lionel Messi is looked back upon, perhaps it will be remembered as the moment the bubble burst.
“I did everything possible and the club, [president Joan] Laporta, they couldn’t do it because of La Liga,” Messi cried. “I’ve heard things said about me, that I didn’t want to continue, but on my life, we did everything we could because I wanted to stay.”
Barcelona are unable to re-sign the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, who is currently a free agent, as they desperately clamber to meet La Liga’s wage cap, a regulation which they agreed to in the 2011-12 season. They are not to spend more than 70 per cent of their turnover on player wages and even with their talisman gone, they are still at 95 per cent.
Gerard Pique, Sergio Buquets and Sergi Roberto are in talks over reduced salaries, but however chaotic the situation may seem at Nou Camp, Barcelona are not alone in their plight.
The haemorrhaging of hundreds of millions of pounds in previous seasons has been magnified by the pandemic across Europe’s super-clubs. Even where the madness seems unabated – Manchester City have just broken the British transfer record to buy Jack Grealish (£100m) and could yet exceed it again if they sign Harry Kane – outgoings will be needed.
City would prefer to engage Tottenham in a player-plus-cash deal for Kane rather than stumping up £150m.
Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Aymeric Laporte and Nathan Ake have all been linked as part of that swap, but City can ease the pressure on their bursting coffers by finding buyers for Yangel Herrera, Patrick Roberts, and Ryo Meshino.
Messi aside, Barcelona have largely been getting rid of fringe players. Matheus Fernandes claims he was informed of his exit by email, while Carles Alena, Jean Clair Todibo, Junior Firpo, Konrad de la Fuente, Francisco Trincao (loan) have all been removed from the books.
Also reportedly up for sale are big earners Antoine Griezmann, Samuel Umtiti, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto, as is goalkeeper Neto. Martin Braithwaite could make way having fallen behind new signings Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay in the pecking order, Miralem Pjanic is set to join Juventus, and Barcelona would listen to offers for Ousmane Dembele – but the Frenchman’s injury makes it unlikely he’ll move this summer.
Carlo Ancelotti takes the reins once more on the back of Real Madrid’s first trophyless season in a decade, but there are off-field worries too at the Bernabeu. Although Raphael Varane is on his way to Manchester United, Gareth Bale and his half-a-million-a-week wages are back and fellow Galactico Eden Hazard could be allowed to leave having failed to live up to his billing due to injuries.
Dani Ceballos and Martin Odegaard, both of whom were previously on loan at Arsenal, face uncertain futures and Marcelo could follow fellow veteran Sergio Ramos out the door. Isco, Marco Asensio, Luka Jovic and Mariano Diaz are also thought to be on the transfer list.
PSG’s extraordinary summer has already seen them sign Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, and Georginio Wijnaldum on free transfers.
Even if Uefa relax their Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules due to the lost revenues in the Covid-19 period, the Ligue 1 runners-up could oust Mauro Icardi, Leo Paredes, and Idrissa Gueye from central midfield. Quintet Abdou Diallo, Thilo Kehrer, Rafinha Alcantara, Arnaud Kalimuendo, Pablo Sarabia are all up for sale.
The irony, of course, is that Messi will almost certainly end up at one of the few superpowers able to support him, and so the cycle will continue. Nor is there any real reason to believe that this end of an era, sad though it may be for the player himself, will really change much at all.