Although Barcelona won La Liga convincingly last season, with former player and Barça legend Xavi at the helm as first team coach, their off field problems and precarious financial situation are well documented.
Given those restrictive conditions balancing the recruitment and retention of a talented playing squad, capable of challenging for the La Liga title and the Champions League, is not easy.
Despite UEFA and La Liga’s FFP regulations and the club’s huge debts restricting what Xavi and the club’s outgoing sporting director Jordi Cruyff have been able do in the transfer market, they did manage to recruit impressively well last summer.
They signed winger Raphinha from Leeds United for €58 million, defender Jules Koundé from Sevilla FC for €50 million and striker Robert Lewandowski for €45 million. Midfielder Franck Kessié and centre-back Andreas Christensen joined on free transfers from AC Milan and Chelsea.
Those signings gelled well with the existing squad and drove Xavi’s FC Barcelona to the La Liga title, with the team playing well and defending superbly, conceding just 20 goals all season in the league. The consistently excellent Frenkie de Jong played well all season, with young stars Gavi and Pedri delighting the Culers with their performances and progression.
However, Barça made an early exit from the Champions League before the knockout stages, managing just two wins in a tough group which also featured Bayern Munich and eventual finalists Inter.
Barça were later dumped out of the Europa League by Manchester United who outplayed them over two legs. The low point of the season however was a remarkable 0-4 home defeat against arch rivals Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey.
Barcelona went into the second leg of the semi with a 1-0 advantage having triumphed in the first leg at the Santiago Bernabéu, but they were dismantled on home turf by the men from Madrid with Karim Benzema scoring a stunning hat-trick.
For the Barça fans that was a sad way for the last ever ‘Classico’ derby at the old Nou Camp to end, before the club temporarily relocates to the Olympic Stadium at Montjuïc, whilst their home stadium is completely renovated. Barça hope to be back at the Nou Camp midway through the 2024-25 season, even if the new 105,000 seater stadium is not fully complete when they return.
Barça’s woes repeatedly appear in the media as they struggle to register and reportedly even pay their players on time, but somehow they muddle through with their heritage and magnetism still driving them forward.
The last of the ‘old brigade’, a magical generation which helped the club to three Champions League titles in six years between 2009 and 2015, have now left the club. Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba left at the end of the 2022-23 season having played 481 and 313 games for Barça in a period which saw them rack up major honour after major honour. Gerard Pique had left half-way through last season, before the World Cup in December, to pursue his rapidly accelerating business career with his company Kosmos.
So Xavi and his technical team at Barça have a big job on their hands this summer, if they are to build on the 2023 La Liga title, strengthen the playing squad and win more trophies next season. It will be a difficult challenge, especially whilst playing their home games at the Olympic Stadium and with Lionel Messi finally deciding to join Inter Miami in the MLS, instead of returning to Barça as many supporters had hoped he would.
Anderson Luis de Souza, better known to soccer fans as Deco, is the new sporting director of FC Barcelona and will come in to replace the departing Jordi Cruyff at the beginning of July.
Cruyff’s departure after two years in the role was confirmed by an official club statement which stated that the Dutch director, “Will not be renewing his contract at the end of the current season due to his wish to embark on new professional endeavours.”
Deco will work alongside Director of Football Mateu Alemany, who somewhat bizarrely announced in May that he was leaving Barça to join Aston Villa in the Premier League, only to reverse that decision two weeks later having failed to reach a final agreement with Villa.
Alemany does appear to have captured the signature of German international İlkay Gündoğan on a free transfer, with the former Borussia Dortmund player looking for a new challenge after seven successful years at Manchester City which culminated in Champions League glory for the Blues.
Gündoğan will say goodbye to working with former FC Barcelona player and coach Pep Guardiola at City, with Guardiola surely wishing the 32 year-old midfielder well in his new endeavour.
The question is now, who else can Xavi, Deco, Alemany and Barça president Joan Laporta persuade to join Gündoğan in the squad as they strive to restore the Blaugrana giants to their former standing as the top dogs of Europe?