Barcelona's banter era: 2017 until… today?

FT Desk
FT Desk
  • Updated: 27 Sept 2022 08:43 BST
  • 5 min read
Lionel Messi's image was removed from Camp Nou after he left Barcelona for PSG.
© ProShots - Lionel Messi's image was removed from Camp Nou after he left Barcelona for PSG.

Barcelona are one of the greatest clubs in football history, winning La Liga 26 times and the Champions League five times, four of those European triumphs coming since the turn of the century…

From Johan Cruyff through Ronaldinho to Lionel Messi, some of the greatest players of all time have graced the Camp Nou, and the Blaugrana won the continental treble as recently as 2015.

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MSN discontinued

But the "MSN" attack of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar that fired them to those triumphs began to unravel two years later. Neymar's €222m release clause was designed to ward off potential suitors. Instead, it invited a world record bid from PSG. The Brazilian left for Paris, and Barca have never been the same since.

Barca, under the leadership of Josep Maria Bartomeu, panicked when Neymar left, agreeing to pay Borussia Dortmund a total of €145m to secure the services of an admittedly promising 20-year-old Ousmane Dembele.

When the Frenchman struggled to adapt, playing video games deep into the night, turning up late for training and contributing just a single assist in his first half season, Barca dipped back into the transfer market, paying Liverpool €158m for Philippe Coutinho in January 2018.

His start was more promising, with nine goals and seven assists in all competitions in the second half of that season, but in his first full campaign he took up the same positions as Messi and only managed 11 and five in each column from 54 - FIFTY-FOUR - matches, and was allowed to leave on loan to Bayern Munich.

We 8-2 mention it, Barca fans

Fast-forward one short year and Coutinho was scoring twice for Bayern as they thrashed his parent club Barcelona 8-2 in that year's Champions League quarter-finals. Barca recouped just €20m of the Brazilian's €158m fee when Aston Villa made a subsequent loan deal permanent this summer.

If spending more than €300m on two players to step on Messi's toes wasn't bad enough, Barca then dropped €42m on Malcom off the back of a couple of wondergoals for Bordeaux in 2018, and then a further €120m on Atletico Madrid talisman Antoine Griezmann the following year.

Recently a dominant force in Europe, Barcelona's unravelling against Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals in 2018/19 - losing 4-0 at Anfield having won the first leg 3-0 at Camp Nou - felt like a changing of the guard, and Barca haven't made it past the quarters since.

Pjanic panic

Barca spent €65m on Juventus's Miralem Pjanic in the summer of 2020 with Arthur Melo going to other way for €82m in what amounted to an accounting trick for both clubs - although Arthur is now on loan at Liverpool while Pjanic is at the mighty Sharjah in the UAE after a fruitless loan with Besiktas.

Perhaps the most disastrous set of transfer decisions in footballing history helped plunge Barca into a €1.35 billion debt, and a tearful Messi followed Neymar to PSG last summer with the Catalan giants unable to afford the Argentine's contract.

Joan Laporta replaced Bartomeu as president last March, returning to the club he led to 12 major honours between 2003 and 2010, and immediately set about activating "financial levers" - selling a percentage of future revenues in return for liquid capital now - and Barca have a projected €274m profit for next season.

Shoots of promise?

They may be out of the woods - the €50m Robert Lewandowski has started the season with 11 goals from eight games in all competitions - but there are still remnants of their Banter Era.

Griezmann is now back on loan at Atletico, largely restricted to 30-minute cameos as the Madrid club try and get out of making the deal he returned on last summer permanent for €40m.

As one commentator put it on Twitter at the time: "Barcelona bought Antoine Griezmann for €120m, Lionel Messi, and Antoine Griezmann."

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