Barcelona: The toxic battle ripping apart a European giant

Joan Laporta, Barcelona's president was elected in March. He made it clear from the beginning that Ronald Koeman was not part of his long-term plans.
Six months later, he said that he was close to extending the contract of the Dutch manager for an additional year.

Six months and two weeks later, Koeman seems to be the only thing that keeps him in the job. He is the focal point of attention, which is useful for the board during times of crisis.

What could possibly have happened to Laporta's lack of balanced thinking?

It is not surprising that money or, in the case Barcelona, the absence of it, has a significant impact on it.

We won't mince our words. Barcelona is poor, skint, and broke. Much of the decision-making is influenced by finances.

The situation between the president of the club and the manager is getting so bad that they are now looking for other options. Depending on the results of the next few games, the club might have to spend a lot of their savings to fire a manager who doesn't follow the official line of the club because he feels betrayed.

Roberto Martinez, who would like to remain with Belgium for at least the duration of the Nations League campaign is one of the candidates to succeed him.

How did we get here?

Before the season began, Laporta and Koeman had met. Laporta asked Koeman to give him 14 calendar days to decide if the club would keep him as their manager, or to look for someone more suitable.

Rob Jansen (Koeman's agent) put it perfectly: "Imagine, I want to marry, but I have doubts. I need two weeks to find the right partner. We will marry if we can't find the right partner.

Bayern Munich, German champions, beat Barcelona 3-0 in their Champions League group stage match.

Of course, he couldn't. Laporta was not interested in bringing in Barca's legendary midfielder Xavi at that time and had no chance of getting Julian Nagelsmann. Laporta admires Nagelsmann for his attention to detail and modern methods. He had already agreed with the Bavarians and was not going to choose Bayern Munich over Barcelona.

Instead, we have a marriage of incontinence - and it is fair to say that the two have not exactly walked hand-in-hand into the sunset to live a life of blissful wedlock.

The club is now in a difficult spot because of the situation they inherited from the previous administration. Koeman would prefer a one-year contract. Josep Maria Bartomeu, the previous president, offered Koeman two years. It was bad enough, but it was only for starters.

The Dutch manager was on a permanent contract to coach the Netherlands. This meant that Barcelona had to pay 6 million euros to get him out. But they didn't have it so Koeman agreed to pay the fee in August 2020. However, he would only be reimbursed for the entire amount if he was not offered a third season at Barcelona.

It gets worse. If he is fired, Barcelona will be required to pay more. TV3 reported last week that a large severance payment, amounting to about 12m Euros in total, was on the table.

Koeman is paid handsomely (and almost the same amount) for his job. He also gets fired or has his contract renewed. Another horrible legacy of the Bartomeu era.

Logistically, it would seem that this is the right time to put aside all worries and make the most of a difficult job. Barcelona FC is an ego-fueled world. Normal rules don't apply.

Although he knew that Koeman would have to be thrown out, Laporta decided to change his mind a few weeks ago and summoned journalists to give an off-the record briefing on what was happening with the coach.

He said that he was willing to renew Koeman’s contract, but only on condition that he play possession-based Barcelona football again. He also used a 4-3-3 formation more often and selected Riqui Puig and Samuel Umtiti more often in his starting line-up.

Laporta's attempts to be seen as not only the financial manager but also as the person responsible for the football philosophy and future of the manager are a sign that the club is in chaos.

While it is true that Barcelona must play Cruyff, the club hasn't decided what this means. Football is more fast and physical. Koeman is a troubleshooter, but he is not an ideology-spy and has no desire to get into that debate.

The manager heard about the briefing quickly. This was due to the fact that a group of Barcelona journalists would never keep such a bombshell to themselves simply because the president had said it was not public record. Laporta would have known.

It's difficult to imagine Laporta treating Koeman with more disrespect or demeaning him in a situation like this. The manager was not happy.

Joan Laporta, president of Barcelona, revealed that 1.35 billion euros (1.15bn USD) was owed to the Spanish club in August.

Koeman took every opportunity he could to remind everyone that he believes he is the one who is trying to rescue Barcelona from their current predicament.

He is the one who has done all the club asked him to do since his arrival. Luis Suarez was also thrown out in a telephone call that, according to all accounts, lasted less then 90 seconds.

Koeman was the one who was told he would have the task of dealing with the departures of Lionel Messi (a departure that was completed on the final day of the transfer window). It was also Koeman who followed the club's wishes by placing a huge importance on the development of young players.

Koeman quickly pointed out that he had four teens on the pitch last week after the Champions League defeat to Bayern. Yusuf Demir (18), Alex Balde (both 17), and Gavi (both 18) had joined the 18-year old Pedri on pitch. El Mundo Deportivo said at the end of the game that the Barcelona side looked like a nursery.

The average age of the 11 players against Granada, La Liga was 24, with seven minors.

He forgets to mention that his actions were the result of necessity and not inspired innovation.

Although the youth were praised loudly for their performance against Bayern, it is not clear that they came on at a time when the game was effectively lost. This would not suggest that Koeman believes that a policy of faith and youth can solve his problems.

Koeman insists that he will use his youth, despite having eight senior players hurt, including Ousmane Dembele and Sergio Aguero (himself just 18). The fans seem to be open to that idea, even though the players are not ready to lead a team such as Barcelona. They represent a brighter future than the faces we see every day.

The situation is tensionful and the rope is being stretched beyond its limits. There are varying degrees of hypocrisy on both sides. Laporta is tired of trying to put out the flames around the club each time Koeman opens his mouth. The Dutchman, who is protected by a bulletproof agreement, is likely thinking 'as much as you sow, so will you reap' and adding the phrase "Come on, then, sack moi!"

He will continue doing his own thing for the moment.

Laporta met with two key directors after the Bayern game to talk about what could be done. Koeman chose to win with a team that would avoid defeating badly, rather than go for it. Barcelona failed to score a single goal for the first time ever in Champions League history.

Koeman did not try to conceal that fact after the match. He said, "If we were more open, the loss might have been greater."

It's this lack of fight and acceptance from people like Gerard Pique and Koeman, who shrug their shoulders while saying phrases like "it it what it is," that drives Laporta mad. This is why they will never be able sing from the same songsheet.

Limiting damage at home in Champions League against any club, even Bayern, is anathema. Laporta will be embarrassed by this humiliating white flag.

Koeman will tell you that you can't make silk purses out of sow's ears and that he's doing his best with what he has. With two wins and two draws, his side is unbeaten in league play, which places them seventh in the table, six points behind reigning champions Atletico Madrid, who have two games left.

However, they managed to draw a 1-1 match against Granada on Monday. A side that boasted the creative talents Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto, as well as Frenkie De Jong in midfield, putting in 54 crosses, is proof positive that Koeman at Barcelona does not believe in the club's way of doing business.

Both men will likely be compelled by their shared passion to continue working together, despite their differences on football philosophy and the fact that they are not getting along.

However, it is clear that the Dutchman would not be able to survive if Laporta didn't have the money and anyone willing and able replace Koeman.

It's hard to imagine how this could have a happy ending in this fight between Barcelona's ideal (Laporta’s dream) and life's realities (Koeman).