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THE comments made by Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta this week, after reports emerged linking him with Barcelona, were as instructive as they were revealing.
When questioned on the rumours, Arteta calmly explained he was fully focused on the job at the Emirates, and that he was enjoying the role.
Not to mention the fact he was preparing for Burnley — who Arsenal play this weekend at Turf Moor — rather than Barcelona.
Arteta is a dignified presence who will always answer a question in a polite, unruffled manner. But the subtext was clear. Even as a La Masia graduate, why on Earth would he want to go to Barcelona at the moment?
Let’s just suppose even if Arteta were to leave north London this instant — he won’t of course, not now, nor in the future — he would join a club in turmoil.
Ahead of the weekend’s La Liga fixtures, Barca are a full five points behind pace-setters Atletico Madrid and still have to travel to the Bernabeu to take on Atleti’s city rivals, Real, after Easter. Next week they have to overhaul a daunting 4-1 first leg deficit against French moneybags PSG, to progress from the Champions League round of 16. A tough ask, if not an impossible job.
Then there is the thorny issue of the delayed leadership elections to decide the 41st president of the club. They had been set for late January but were postponed and moved to this Sunday, due to the increased incidence of Covid cases in Catalonia at the time.
If you think machinations at board level at Arsenal are troubling, they’re nothing compared to the Machiavellian shenanigans at Barca.
Only this week current boss Ronald Koeman admitted he was “devastated” by the arrest of former president Josep Bartomeu, while also conceding the case was hugely damaging for the reputation of the Catalonia giants who boast the motto “Mes que un club” — more than a club.
They certainly are, given the current events are more akin to a soap opera.
Bartomeu, who hired Koeman last summer, but resigned as president in the autumn to avoid facing a vote of no-confidence, was arrested on Monday along with chief executive Oscar Grau and two others for their alleged roles in “Barcagate.”
The pair were released on Tuesday although the investigation, which began in 2020, before Koeman signed as coach, remains open.
It alleged Bartomeu was involved in a covert operation to smear the reputations of influential names who spoke out against him during his time in charge.
Among those said to be targeted by negative social media posts and damaging stories were Lionel Messi, Pep Guardiola and Gerard Pique.
Barca have had to rely on an interim management committee, headed by acting president Carles Tusquets, since Bartomeu — whose arrest adds to the growing number of deep-seated, structural problems that blight the club, including a burgeoning financial crisis.
Speaking of which, the Nou Camp side is on the “verge of bankruptcy” according to Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
If you think Arsenal are facing a post-Covid reckoning, then Barca’s problems dwarf them completely.
The most recent financial report at the Nou Camp revealed they made a loss of $117 million last year — and have a staggering $1.4 billion of debt. So bad is the situation, Barca was unable to pay their players’ wages in January.
Talking of players, there is the Messi situation. The playing legend — who this correspondent once saw score four goals against Arsenal in a Champions League knock-out clash at the Nou Camp — and who has thrilled for more than a decade as one of the greatest footballers in the history of the game, is now considered by many inside the club to be more of a problem than an asset.
The world-class attacker, who will be 34 in three months, agitated to leave the club last summer and is viewed as a disruptive presence by some.
After returning from international duty for Argentina in November, a frustrated Messi gave a rare insight into his feelings when he admitted he was tired of being blamed for problems at Barcelona. The revelation came after he was accused by Antoine Griezmann’s former agent of making life difficult for the French striker at the La Liga club.
All of which makes Barca an unattractive proposition for any coach, let alone one as promising as Arteta.
And that’s without mentioning their on-field issues, such as finding a replacement for an aging Jordi Alba at left-back, as well as the 33-year-old Pique at centre-half.
They also need a recognised striker. They had planned to sign Memphis Depay from Lyon to replace Luis Suarez — who has since taken Atleti to the top of the table — until they checked their bank balance.
In their preferred 4-3-3 formation, which has been in the club’s DNA since Johan Cryuff, you need wingers. Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembele are the only wingers that Barcelona have at the moment, not counting Francisco Trincao, who has yet to prove himself at the Nou Camp. Another problem to solve.
All of which means Arteta is more than happy to continue his progress in north London rather than Catalonia.
While there is plenty of work to do at Arsenal after a challenging season, Arteta relishes the challenge, safe in the knowledge that he has a board that backs him fully.
Whatever you think of the Kroenkes — and it is no secret that this correspondent is not a fan — they deserve kudos for sticking with their man and his project, during the club’s poor run of form before Christmas.
With a raft of young, hungry players at Arteta’s disposal, along with a squad now culled of underachieving senior pros, those who called for Arteta’s head in November and December should hang their heads in shame, for this is a young manager and team on the up.
Barcelona? Nah, you’re alright, thanks.
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