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fine Messi Why Barcelona are in the midst of a financial storm and what might happen next

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Barcelona's Riqui Puig, Memphis Depay, Luuk de Jong and Clement Lenglet during training - Barcelona's ability to recruit players has been massively hit. Photo: Reuters

Barcelona's Riqui Puig, Memphis Depay, Luuk de Jong and Clement Lenglet during training - Barcelona's ability to recruit players has been massively hit. Photo: Reuters

Barcelona's Riqui Puig, Memphis Depay, Luuk de Jong and Clement Lenglet during training - Barcelona's ability to recruit players has been massively hit. Photo: Reuters

IT started as a smouldering financial fire and exploded into an inferno that heralded the tearful exit of Lionel Messi, yet Barcelona's meltdown shows no sign of abating.

A 3-0 Champions League hammering at the hands of Benfica last Wednesday left the club staring into an abyss that appears to offer few rays of light.

A crisis primarily driven by Barca's reckless overspending on wages and transfer fees for a decade and more has crippled an institution that appeared to have the perfect business model, with 140,000 fans owning a controlling share in the club and dictating its fate.

Yet that has not stopped the Catalan giants running up staggering debts totalling €1.35 billion, with Barcelona's president Joan Laporta confirming that grim figure as he reneged on his vow to keep Messi at all costs.

Laporta insists his predecessor in the role, Josep Bartomeu, should be blamed for their current plight and the exit of Messi, but the blame game is not helping right now.

The debt includes almost €390million related to player salaries, more than €670million is owed to banks, while an additional €40million was linked to membership losses.

In addition, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic meant another €91million in revenue was lost.

It is a grim balance sheet that explains why the multi-million euro contract that had been agreed with Messi to extend his stay at Barca had to be withdrawn at the last.

"Our salaries represent 103 per-cent of the club's total income," confirmed Laporta. "That's 20 per cent to 25 per cent more than our competitors. We have found ourselves in a difficult situation to renegotiate the players' contracts.

"It is a big challenge, but it is one we will embrace. We are highly motivated and this is a challenge we have to overcome."

Positive words from Laporta are just about all Barcelona have to cling on to right now after a few months that brought the trauma of Messi's exit to Paris Saint-Germain and a disastrous start to the season under beleaguered coach Ronald Koeman.

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Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman looks down during the La Liga Santander draw with Granada CF at the Nou Camp. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman looks down during the La Liga Santander draw with Granada CF at the Nou Camp. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman looks down during the La Liga Santander draw with Granada CF at the Nou Camp. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Gerard Pique is among the star names who have taken a pay cut to try to help Barca through this period of uncertainty, with Barca's stated aim to reduce their wage bill by €200million suggesting a quick-fix solution in the transfer market will not be forthcoming.

Too many clubs have spent too much in the pursuit of glory down the years and Derby's current plight, after they fell into the hands of administrators, is evidence of another club that gambled their future on success that has not arrived.

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Yet Barcelona are no Derby County and as their former striker Gary Lineker suggests, their crisis highlights why football clubs of all dimensions need to work with realistic budgets that can be sustained.

"It is a tough time for Barca and we probably never believed it would come to this for them," said Lineker, who played for Barcelona between 1986 and 1989.

"Clearly the departure of Lionel Messi has left a huge hole and that was always going to be the case when his time there was up as he is such a special footballer.

"Yet it is the financial side that bemuses everyone in football. How can a club like Barcelona, with the huge revenues and sponsorships they have, get into such a mess? It makes no sense.

"They are in a transitional phase now and will rely on their youth team set-up more than ever and we are in for a time of suffering for Barcelona fans."

Barca's record-breaking €150million-a-year kit deal with Nike runs until 2023 and that income is now vital to the club's annual budgets.

Remarkably, there has to be a danger that their annual windfall from the Champions League may be missing next season if they fail to qualify with a top four finish in LaLiga.

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Steve McManaman.

Steve McManaman.

Steve McManaman.

Yet former Real Madrid winger Steve McManaman told the Sunday World that the slide in fortunes for his former club and Barcelona will only be temporary due to their enduring global appeal that has been built up over many decades.

"We look at Real Madrid and Barcelona and think that they are struggling at the moment, but clubs like that won't be down for long," McManaman told us, in a week that saw Real Madrid suffer a humiliating home Champions League defeat against Moldovan minnows Sheriff Tiraspol.

"They will always bring in more money than PSG and Man City because of what they are and what they stand for.

"The fact that there is now a couple of teams that are richer than everyone else is not a major problem because football has always been like this.

"At the moment, PSG and City have all the money, but they are not as big as Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona and they probably never will be in terms of global appeal. They never will be."

McManaman's optimism may well be justified when referring to Real Madrid, but the cure for Barcelona's biggest hangover in generations is unlikely to be solved quickly.

Reports in recent days suggest a Dubai-based company have offered Barca a €1.2billion loan to stabilise things, but Laporta has gone on record to state he is determined not to mortgage their long-term future.

That explains why he recently rejected a proposed multi-billion euro investment and revenue-sharing deal between LaLiga and private equity firm CVC. Laporta believed it would hamper Barca's income from TV rights for decades to come.

If mighty Barcelona can get into a mess of this magnitude, any club can and it remains to be seen how long it will take for their remedy to arrive.

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