Barcelona’s risky bet to mortgage the club’s future paid off — in the short term at least — when a team led by newcomer Robert Lewandowski clinched their first Spanish league title in four years.
Barcelona won their 27th league title, second to Real Madrid’s 35, with four rounds remaining after a 4-2 win at Espanyol with a pair of goals by Lewandowski.
Now the club can finally start a new chapter after winning their first major title since the painful exit of Lionel Messi two years ago.
Barcelona led the league since the 13th round, brushing aside an arguably more talented Real Madrid side and giving Atletico Madrid no chance of catching up.
Win now, pay later
When club president Joan Laporta, the man who first hired Pep Guardiola nearly 15 years ago, returned for a second stint in charge near the end of the 2019-2020 season, he found a club in ruins.
The financial situation of the club with $1.4 billion of debt meant Laporta could not honour his pledge to convince Messi to stay. Instead, Laporta told Barcelona’s greatest player that he had to leave because the club could not afford him.
So last season, after seeing the team win zero titles, Laporta and his board decided it was time for drastic action. They sold off 25 per cent of the Spanish league TV rights for the next 25 years for $725 million along with otherassets.
That cash was used to revamp the squad with the transfers of Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Raphinha and signing free agents Franck Kessie, Andreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso.
Even though Barcelona once again flopped in the Champions League group phase, in addition to losing to Manchester United early in the Europa League playoffs, it did put Barcelona back in contention in the Spanish league.
Lewandowski showed that the former Bayern Munich star still has the ability to regularly find the holes in rival defences when given just a sliver of space.
The 34-year-old Lewandowski had no trouble at all adapting to his new team after eight highly successful seasons with Bayern. The Poland striker leads the Spanish league with 21 goals.
After a couple of years where the German appeared to have lost his best form, Marc-Andre ter Stegen was back to playing like the goalkeeper that helped Barcelona win their last Champions League title back in 2015.
While Madrid lead the league in scoring with 70 goals, Barcelona needed just 64 goals to win the title thanks to their great defence that conceded a competition-low 13 goals. Ter Stegen kept 25 clean sheets.
The backline was led by Ronald Araujo, who ensured that Barcelona did not miss the midseason retirement of Gerard Pique. Araújo was Barcelona’s best one-on-one defender, especially against Madrid’s Vinicius Junior in their clasico matches.
The best news for Barcelona is that their future seems secure after the continued growth of their youngest starters. Midfielders Gavi (18) and Pedri Gonzalez (20) have won the past two Golden Boy awards for Europe’s best under-21 players, while Alejandro Balde (19) displaced long-time starter Jordi Alba as Xavi’s preferred option at left-back this season.
What’s in store?
Barcelona face an uncertain off-season, even without considering the possibility that Messi turns down more lucrative offers and returns from Paris Saint-Germain.
The club was barely able to meet the Spanish league’s strict financial control rules last season in time to register all its players, and some more long nights loom for Barcelona’s bookkeepers.
Barca still need to reduce their salary burden, and that means they may have to sell players.