FC Barcelona remains, to quote its motto, “Més que un club”: More than a club. It stands on top of the Spanish league standings. Its record at home this season is near perfection — played 10, won 10. Yet Barça is in turmoil. Its president, Sandro Rosell, stepped down last week after a Spanish court accepted a lawsuit accusing him of misappropriating funds and he cited unspecified “threats” against himself and his family.
And the club’s key players, Lionel Messi and Neymar, have become vulnerable to injury and susceptible to legal investigations over their money.
Still, Barça keeps on winning. And still the disaffection festers over Tata Martino, the Argentine brought in last summer to replace Tito Vilanova as coach after Vilanova’s cancer returned.
Martino’s team wins, but not in the Barça way. He is trying to shield the star players, trying to ensure as much as possible that they do not arrive in March as worn and wounded as they did last season. But, again, there is reluctance by some in Catalonia to warm to Martino, reluctance because he is “not one of us.”
In any other club, it might be enough to say, “we are winning; judge us by trophies at the end of the season.”
In any other place, Tata’s rotation policy — leaving out and resting star players when he thinks they need it – would be regarded as in the best interest of the nation. For Barça, remember, provides the lungs and the style of the Spanish side that must very soon defend the World Cup in Brazil.
Central to all of this is Xavi Hernández. He is the core of the team, even more important to the club than Messi’s magic or Neymar’s promise.
He wears the captain’s armband with increasing regularity now that Carles Puyol is succumbing to a lifetime of wear and tear. Before kickoff Sunday night, the crowd at the Camp Nou honoured him for playing in his 700th game with the club earlier this month.
On Saturday, Xavi, who started at the club’s La Masia academy when he was 11, turned 34. He still, when he is on the field, dictates the rhythm and flow, the tiki-taka style, that is synonymous with the club, and the national team.
He was at the heart of Sunday’s dismantling of Málaga, a relatively low-key 3-0 win in the Camp Nou stadium that holds just short of 100,000 when full.
What is the source of the disaffection that leaves so many empty seats in a place that is “home” to its 166,000 paid members? Is it the dirty laundry being displayed in the courts? Is it the internecine bickering, the power struggle between Rosell and his predecessor, Joan Laporta? Might it be the direction the club has taken, selling the front of its shirt to the Qatar Foundation and relegating to the back the Unicef symbol that Barcelona had previously paid money to be associated with?
Maybe it is all those things, woven into the fabric of a club that calls itself “more than a club.”
Maybe it is exacerbated by all the talk of Barça selling its home, the Camp Nou, and moving to a newer, bigger, more commercially viable arena that would be built near the city’s famous Diagonal Avenue?
The latest on that is Barcelona may now abandon the $1.65 billion plan to move and build a new stadium. Instead, it may spend half of that sum to renovate the Camp Nou, add luxury suites and sell naming rights to the stadium to add to its already impressive revenue stream.
In all of this, the essence of Barça suffers.