Get-rich-quick Barça

The Catalan giants have sacrificed their financial future to help them in the present, but will it work out?

Rob Palmer
ROB PALMER

It was just like the FC Barcelona president had headed to the casino and placed everything on red, and the wheel kept landing on red. Joan Laporta was pulling levers like an addicted gambler on his first visit to Las Vegas and his luck was in.

The premise was to borrow from the future to pay off the debts of the past by improving fortunes now. If the team was successful, the fans would come back, the money would flow in, and the financial crisis would relent.

The money-men had calculated that a successful La Liga season would attract fans who would buy merchandise; global backers would want to be associated with the football club and all would be rectified.

Domestically it's a shout of "Bingo!". Barça head into 'El Clásico' as La Liga leaders. They've won seven games in a row, scored more goals than any other team, and conceded just once.

The fans' imagination has been spurred: average attendances are up to almost 82,000. This is an increase of 13,000 per game. Most of those fans are buying shirts with Lewandowsi or Raphinha's names on the back.

The model of "speculate to accumulate" is working brilliantly on one front.

Alas, the other half of the wager was to reach at least the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League. This would be the minimum one would expect of a Barcelona side in most seasons.

However in most seasons, they wouldn't be drawn in a group with Inter Milan and Bayern Munich.

The giants of Italian and German football have squads which are far more suited to competing domestically as well as in Europe.

After matchday 4, Barça appear to be heading for elimination from the elite European competition. The Europa League beckons in the spring and the downside of this reality is a huge financial loss: it's calculated to be €13 million and that's conservative.

The Europa League will bring less television revenue even if Barça manage to advance all the way to the final. The Thursday night crowds are unlikely to reach the 92,302 who attended the Camp Nou for the Inter game this week. Less fans means less shirts sold, which in turn equals less revenue. The levers will be getting rusty. The bingo numbers won't be coming up.

Even if the fans continue to flock in, the finances will be hit when they move out of the Camp Nou next season. They will lodge at the Estadio Montjuic for a year while the home ground is renovated. The former Olympic stadium is impressive, but only houses 55,000 fans. That's a lot less income and it means football tourists aren't passing though the museum and the superstore.

It looks like Laporta may have been a little premature when he declared to the socios at the AGM "Together we have saved Barcelona". It has been a collective kiss of life and the heart is beating but the lack of ratified European air will leave them with breathing difficulties.

At the present moment all looks swell - especially if Barça beat Real Madrid in the biggest game of the season - but the future looks problematic.