Categorized | Analysis

FYI: Article 19 and FC Barcelona

My attempt at a disclaimer: While I am a barrister, Europe is not my home jurisdiction. I’ve spent limited time getting familiar with the applicable law and it’s entirely possible for me to have missed something. Corrections from those who know better are more than welcome.

A few resources to start us off:

What does Article 19 say?

Article 19 – Protection of minors

1. International transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18.

2. The following three exceptions to this rule apply:

a) The player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located for reasons not linked to football.

b) The transfer takes place within the territory of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) and the player is aged between 16 and 18. In this case, the new club must fulfil the following minimum obligations:

i. It shall provide the player with an adequate football education and/or training in line with the highest national standards.

ii. It shall guarantee the player an academic and/or school and/or vocational education and/or training, in addition to his football education and/or training, which will allow the player to pursue a career other than football should he cease playing professional football.

iii. It shall make all necessary arrangements to ensure that the player is looked after in the best possible way (optimum living standards with a host family or in club accommodation, appointment of a mentor at the club, etc.).

iv. It shall, on registration of such a player, provide the relevant association with proof that it is complying with the aforementioned obligations.

c) The player lives no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered in the neighbouring association is also within 50km of that border. The maximum distance between the player’s domicile and the club’s headquarters shall be 100km. In such cases, the player must continue to live at home and the two associations concerned must give their explicit consent.

3. The conditions of this article shall also apply to any player who has never previously been registered with a club and is not a national of the country in which he wishes to be registered for the first time.

4. Every international transfer according to paragraph 2 and every first registration according to paragraph 3 is subject to the approval of the sub-committee appointed by the Players’ Status Committee for that purpose. The application for approval shall be submitted by the association that wishes to register the player. The former association shall be given the opportunity to submit its position. The sub-committee’s approval shall be obtained prior to any request from an association for an International Transfer Certificate and/or a first registration. Any violations of this provision will be sanctioned by the Disciplinary Committee in accordance with the FIFA Disciplinary Code. In addition to the association that failed to apply to the sub-committee, sanctions may also be imposed on the former association for issuing an International Transfer Certificate without the approval of the sub-committee, as well as on the clubs that reached an agreement for the transfer of a minor.

5. The procedures for applying to the sub-committee for a first registration and an international transfer of a minor are contained in Annexe 2 of these regulations.

So far, so straight-forward. International transfers of players under 18 are not permitted unless the player’s situation falls into one of three narrow exceptions. (As for how narrow those exceptions are, hold that thought.)

The process for any transfers that might fall under the exception seems to be the following:

1. The ‘destination’ FA (the FA of the club seeking to register the player) submits the proposed transfer for the approval of a FIFA sub-committee;

2. FIFA sub-committee examines the transfer and approves it under one of the exceptions;

3. ‘Destination’ FA requests an International Transfer Certificate (ITC) from the ‘home’ FA.

Any violations of this process could lead to sanctions not only for the club and the ‘destination’ FA, but also 1) the ‘home’ FA if they issue an ITC without sub-committee approval and 2) the transferring club.

Did Barca breach Article 19?

In short: yes. Undoubtedly. The Disciplinary Committee ruling implicates players signed between 2009 and 2013. Out of the players we know about, most are non-European, and quite a few moved to Barcelona without their parents. There’s simply no way they can fit within the exceptions.

However, Barca’s situation seems to be even more clear-cut than that.

We already covered how the approval process is supposed to work. This process became mandatory on 1 October 2009. One year after that, FIFA implemented the Transfer Matching System, and all applications for sub-committee approval went through the system.

From various bits and pieces in the Catalan press, it seems likely that Barca simply registered the players with the Catalan Federation, and the matter went no further. How this is possible, I’m not sure. But what we can infer from this is that Barca may have breached Article 19 as a result of not bothering with the process at all.

As for the defense put up by the club to the effect that Barca aren’t the intended target of Article 19 and are in fact an example for good youth development, forget it. Every club that gets pulled up for rule infringements says the same thing. We’re the good guys, you’re ruining kids’ lives, everybody else is doing it and you should go bother them instead, etc. This simply doesn’t fly.

Notably, in Midtjylland v FIFA, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) examined the question of whether the alleged inconsistent approach of FIFA in the application of Art 19 was a breach of the non-discrimination principle. It held that the Danish club could only assert its right to be treated in a way that was contrary to the Regulations where it could prove that FIFA had a constant practice of treating other clubs in a way contrary to the Regulations.

Without the legalese: Midtjylland can ask to be exempt from Article 19 if it can prove that FIFA makes constant exceptions for other clubs. Easy, right? We can all think of cases off the top of our heads.

Not so much. In that case, no such evidence was produced. FIFA’s response to the case of the Bayern player Midtjylland used as an example – as it would probably be if Barca complained about other clubs – was to shrug its shoulders and claim not to have examined the situation. If they don’t know about it, how could they have a constant practice of making exceptions?

Here we see Barca’s problem. The argument the club has to make is essentially this: ‘yes, we broke the rules, but everybody’s been doing it for years’. The necessary implication of such an argument is that Barca behaved the way it did in reliance on FIFA’s unspoken policy of letting infringements go, and for FIFA to suddenly change its policy of indulgence is unfair. But that’s just an unspoken expectation of not being disciplined – the expectation doesn’t trump the rule itself. And Barca broke the rule.

Finally: the club’s statement doesn’t even deny the breach.

What could we have done differently to avoid this outcome?

I have a certain amount of sympathy for those in charge of Barca, faced with this complex and difficult situation. Having said that, I don’t believe their response to this fiasco meets a minimal standard of executive competence, a pattern which has sadly manifested itself over and over in the past few years.

The Midtjylland decision tells us that the 3 exceptions provided for in Article 19 are not exhaustive. This was confirmed in Bordeaux v FIFA, which also tells us something else that is very important. It’s possibly the most important fact in this whole stupid situation, and I’ve not seen anybody bring it up.

Here it is: the CAS found that if a club believed special circumstances justified the making of an exception in a certain case for reasons beyond those defined in Article 19, it may engage its FA to make an application in writing on its behalf to the FIFA sub-committee for the transfer to be approved.

I don’t work in sports law. It took me five minutes of Googling and a bit of help from a few French speakers to find that out. This, to me, raises three questions: 1) did the club know about this avenue? 2) if so, why didn’t they take it up? 3) if not, what were the people in charge doing?

This failure is concrete. The second is a bit more arguable, but bear with me. In or around February 2013, FIFA ordered Barca to stop selecting six of their youth players for breaches of Article 19.

If, for some godforsaken reason, Barca hadn’t known that they were in breach of Article 19 before that, they had to know after February 2013. They must also have known that there was no plausible denial of their breach. The question then becomes: what’s to be done about that?

The club did one thing that’s absolutely beyond reproach – they stopped selecting the players in question for official matches, as they had been told to do.

But a past breach doesn’t disappear when the infringement stops in the present. Someone who stops polluting a river when charged with illegally discharging waste still illegally discharged the waste.

Barca responded to its prior breach in the following way:

“On March 1 2013, President Rosell sent a letter to the FIFA Secretary General to propose substantial modifications to Article 19 of the Protection of Underage Players to make it more effective.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is not the smartest approach. (If what I’ve read online is true, and the legal department weren’t even involved at this stage, that is simply inexcusable incompetence.) Quite aside from the dubious wisdom of lecturing FIFA on the greatness of La Masia, think of the best outcome from this letter – not just the best plausible outcome, but the best, period. That outcome is FIFA agreeing to maybe think about making some changes to its rules. Which, in fact, seems to have been the general gist of FIFA’s reply. Again: the damage was already done. A prospective amendment to the rules sometime in the future isn’t going to change that.

I can only hope that the club were in without prejudice communications with FIFA behind the scenes at the same time. By which I mean letters drafted by lawyers that took a more conciliatory tone and aimed to minimize the coming sanction. Because that’s what happens when you’re being investigated for a rule you broke – a sanction’s coming. Sensible commercial decision-makers manage risk. The best way to minimise the risk of a FIFA sanction would have been to reach some sort of compromise. Take a strong warning, a fine, something that won’t impact as heavily on the sporting project, and then figure out how to face the future.

Is the year long transfer ban an appropriate sanction?

Probably not. Here’s the ray of light Barca fans are looking for. It seems likely that Barca’s legal team will argue that the year-long transfer ban is a disproportionate sanction. And I’d say they’ve got a pretty good case.

The Midtjylland case is the only precedent I’m aware of. The Danish club were ‘issued with a strong warning’ for their infringement of Article 19, namely, registering 3 minor Nigerian players and applying for permits for a further 3. Yes, Barca’s breach was more severe, but there’s little justification for the punishment to be so much worse.

On the contrary, Barca could argue that there are mitigating circumstances in favour of a lesser sanction. Here’s where all the arguments about the merits of La Masia come in. The academy prides itself on an emphasis on welfare and personal development. If the rule is aimed at addressing exploitation, those arguments should have some weight.

What does all this mean in immediate, practical terms?

The reporting on this aspect of the case has been hilariously ineffectual and confusing. So let’s go back to the FIFA rules.

FIFA Disciplinary Code Art 124(2)

The appeal does not have a suspensive effect except with regard to orders to pay a sum of money.

The sanction will not be suspended when Barca lodges its appeal before the FIFA Appeal Committee. Let’s assume the hearing happens reasonably promptly. Here are the possibilities at this stage:

  1. Barca win at the Appeal Committee (where ‘win’ is defined as having the sanction reduced to a fine and/or a warning) and are able to sign players this summer. Predicting judgments is a fool’s game, but let’s just say I don’t think the odds are in our favour here.
  2. Barca lose at the Appeal Committee and immediately file an appeal before the CAS, along with an interim application to stay (delay) the sanction pending resolution of the appeal.

Here’s the relevant FIFA rule for appeals to CAS:

FIFA Statutes Art 67(4)

The appeal shall not have a suspensive effect. The appropriate FIFA body or, alternatively, CAS may order the appeal to have a suspensive effect.

Keep in mind that it takes about four months from the lodging of an appeal at CAS to the decision being handed down. If Barca fail at the FIFA Appeal Committee, the club probably needs to succeed in its application to CAS for stay if any transfers are going to be happening this summer.

In order to succeed in such an application, Barca need to demonstrate that 1) irreparable harm will be done to Barca if the ban is not stayed; 2) the ultimate appeal is likely to succeed and that 3) the interests of Barca in having the ban stayed outweigh the interests of FIFA in having the ban in place.

There are a few precedents for CAS granting such applications to clubs like Roma and Chelsea. On balance, looking at the criteria, I think Barca have a very good chance of having the ban stayed before the CAS appeal is decided. Which would at least solve the immediate problem and allow the crucial process of team rebuilding to begin.

What’s the likely outcome on appeal?

“The Panel stresses, first, that the task of the CAS is not to revise the content of the applicable rules but only to apply them. Second, it must be ascribed to the Appellants, especially the Club, the responsibility for not having taken into consideration the clear rules, however strict, set by FIFA with regard to the protection of minors…” – Cadiz v FIFA

As previously stated, I don’t see Barca winning the argument on breach. It will be very difficult for a judicial body to buy Barca’s argument, if Barca’s argument is that it broke the rules but should be exempt from them because it is an exemplary institution.

If you’re tempted to throw EU law at me at this point, hold your fire. I’ll address the point fully in the next section, but for now just note that CAS has consistently rejected arguments against Article 19 based on EU law.

On the other hand, I can easily see Barca winning the disproportionate punishment argument and having the sanction reduced to either a lesser ban or just a fine/warning.

What can we do to preserve the current youth system?

Even the best case scenario leaves Barca with problems for the future. If the rules don’t change, the club faces the prospect of changing its vision for La Masia. A system based on educating players from a very young age would necessarily have to exclude non-Spanish players under the current rules. (I assume this would also apply to other European clubs with similar practices, especially if Barca isn’t successful in getting the ban lifted.) Personally, I think that’s a shame for talented kids from countries with fewer resources for player development.

One of the suggestions I’ve seen in the past week is that a challenge could be mounted against Article 19 under EU law. Let’s go back to the FIFA rules for this one:

FIFA Statutes Art 68(2)

Recourse to ordinary courts of law is prohibited unless specifically provided for in the FIFA regulations. Recourse to ordinary courts of law for all types of provisional measures is also prohibited.

What this means is that Barca can’t go anywhere but CAS, and that body has been dismissive of any attempts to use international law against Article 19. For example, in the Cadiz case, CAS came to the conclusion that FIFA rules governing the transfer of youth players did not violate any mandatory principle of public policy under Swiss or international law, as the rules were in pursuit of a legitimate objective and proportionate to the objective sought. This ruling was endorsed in Midtjylland.

Without the legalese: Article 19 is fine because it exists to protect young players from exploitation, and the restrictions are tempered by providing reasonable exceptions to the rule. (For another example of how the legitimate/proportional test works, I wrote an article about the Bernard case that covers it.)

By the way, just in case you think this rule exists only to persecute Barca, regulation of the youth player market is actually pretty important. Read this and this and this.

The other possibility I’ve seen mentioned is one of the kids suing in the European courts, which takes the matter outside sporting justice entirely.

In 1995, the Bosman case before the European Court of Justice established that sport was subject to EU law only so far as it constituted an economic activity, including the activities of professional footballers in gainful employment. The right being invoked here and by the appellants in the Cadiz and Midtjylland cases is the right of freedom of movement for workers.

Keep in mind that Article 19 was drafted to comply with EU law. The second exception in Article 19 was actually added by FIFA pursuant to an agreement with the European Commission in 2001 so as to not run afoul of the right of freedom of movement. That exception only applies to players over the age of 16.

There’s an obvious problem with applying this right to very young players. They’re not workers. (Midtjyjlland touches on this.) La Masia players are not legally employed by Barcelona. In fact, they’re not allowed to sign professional contracts until they’re 16. So the right is an awkward fit at best.

Even if an European court ruled that the right of freedom of movement did apply to young players, it could still find Article 19 to be a valid restriction on the right because the rule exists in pursuit of a legitimate objective and is proportionate to the objective sought, just as CAS did.

So if legal avenues are unlikely to work, what can the club do?

Here are two ideas off the top of my head. One, in Midtjylland FIFA told CAS that a further limited exception to Article 19 existed for the purposes of development programs agreed between a national FA and a club. For example, Barca could sign an agreement with, say, the Korean FA to bring kids over. They would have to make guarantees as to education, but that shouldn’t be a problem at La Masia. I’m sure there would be pitfalls, but it’s a possibility worth exploring.

Two, Barca needs to get together with other clubs who run similar academy programs and lobby FIFA in an organised fashion. Maybe through the European Club Association, if there’s enough interest. It would be a lot more effective than being a lone voice in the wilderness, complaining about the dark hand of conspiracies.

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88 Responses to “FYI: Article 19 and FC Barcelona”

  1. FCBblaug says:

    Sorry for being offtopic. I just saw this on zonal marking and i though it is necessary for people to have a good read
    http://www.zonalmarking.net/2014/04/11/atletico-1-0-barcelona-gabi-v-busquets-and-pressing-the-opposition-keeper/

  2. Kxevin says:

    Magnificent, Linda. Just a question: given the reality that FIFA screwed up in the cases of two of the youth players in question, is that likely to have an effect on the success of the appeal?

    Obviously there are still 8 players in whose cases the club committed violations, but I do wonder about the likelihood of a non-FIFA arbitrator looking a bit more favorably on the club’s request for a lifting or abeyance because of that, as well as the club’s compliance with not using the players in question, once notified of the violation.

    • ciaran says:

      Fifa screwed up in those cases and also in the delay in delivering the verdict.
      That’s why I believe that while we were definitely wrong, the transfer ban will certainly be delayed and potentially suspended pending further violations.

    • Linda says:

      Thank you. There are two parts to this. I have very little faith in anything helpful to us coming out of the FIFA appeal – in part because it’s a FIFA body and thus much more likely to stick to the party line (which is currently a hard line stance). I could be wrong – judges are just people, and unpredictable as a result – but that’s how I see it.

      At CAS, however, it’s entirely possible for something like that to have an impact. Ultimately, if I had to call it now, I’d go for Barca having the sanction reduced on appeal at CAS.

  3. Peter says:

    Hi, Linda, what is the normal procedure in civil law when there is evidence of, for lack of better words, sloppiness.

    Here’s what I mean:

    1. The decision to impose the ban being communicated with four months delay(literally sub-human speed) and continued further information requests after the decision to impose the ban has been made, which conveniently lengthens the ban from two to three transfer windows, thus making a disproportionate penalty longer still.
    2. One player cited as grounds for the ban(Abdoul) has been included in the group due to erroneous reading of FIFA’s own clause and failure to investigate the facts(Abdoul’s father had relocated to Barcelona five years prior to the birth of his son; his mother went back to their homeland to give birth and came back; at the time of the regulations coming into effect, the kids father had been residing in Spain for a decade and the kid itself for five years)
    3. This is alleged, but according to some rumours some of the players had been enrolled before the regulations became effective.
    4. It imposes a restriction on EU-wide freedom of movement by demanding that the player’s family has relocated previously for non-football reasons(since there are no guidelines, interpretation of that clause can be arbitrary, entirely subject to mercy of FIFA)
    5. FIFA itself considers player’s education to start from the ages of 12. There is no provision that takes into account that the youth players enrol in a private football school for education, since the regulations regulate formal work contracts, which can be terminated unilaterally with corresponding compensation.

    Granted, it is an exceptional case and could very well become a milestone and precedent… unless it becomes a tombstone.

    • Linda says:

      Hi Peter. Sloppiness as such isn’t relevant – but what we have here is

      1) possible procedural unfairness, although I wouldn’t rest my case on this for the simple reason that if a court doesn’t like your argument on substance, arguments on procedure will just annoy them.
      2) this unfortunately doesn’t matter. Barca failed to pursue these transfers through the correct system. That’s where the breach is.
      3) Pre-2009 regulations said very similar things (see the Cadiz case for example). We’d still have been in breach.
      4) I addressed the freedom of movement issue up there – it’s a lot more complicated to claim the right than has been made out. Note that Article 19 was basically drafted in consultation with the relevant EU bodies to be in compliance with EU law.
      5) The education/work dilemma is a real problem. I don’t know what the answer is, especially since we can’t pin down what the true status of academy-enrolled kids should be.

      • Peter says:

        2) Actually that kid’s signing does not breach any regulation – he was erroneously considered, since he was born outside of Spain, but has spent his entire life in Spain, plus his family has been residing in Spain from before the kid was born. His case is covered either in the national regulations(since the kid has been a legal resident of Spain since before it could walk, forget about aspiring to be a footballer), or the exception of the family moving for non-football reasons to Spain. FIFA’s commission just screwed up by the numbers on that one.

        4)Here’s the contradiction – the original regulations are drawn in line with EU labour laws and regulations concerning the protection of minors. The problem is that the same FIFA regulation imposes unilateral restrictions on the freedom of movement of the youth’s family. Here’s the real problem – the kid is not getting a work contract, but relocates for education – which La Masia and every top private football academy really are. While a regular football contract can be terminated by either party with due compensation, a student cannot be expelled from a school just for not getting top marks.

        The real reason for the regularisation of these rules is the fact that youths and kids were being given contracts worth less than the margin of error in the annual accounts of the club in question, and when they did not cut it, they were dropped, often with compensations clauses that don’t cover the expenses of going back to the kid’s homeland.

  4. Levon says:

    Very comprehensive, Linda. Thank you.

    I do think that we tend to lose sight of what Article 19 is actually about. Protecting children. And when it comes to protecting children we are asking all the wrong questions. It is obvious that La Masía provides excellent care for its young charges, care that extends beyond football training. This, however, is not all that relevant. We need to protect the ones that aspire to make it through La Masía but don’t.

    What I would like to have answers to are the following:

    Where do these kids come from, as in where and how do they get scouted? In their respective countries? At international youth tournaments? At (gulp) try-outs?

    Also, what happens to whose of whom after one or two years at La Masia Barcelona decides they are not good enough?

    A lot of people point to the success stories to justify Barcelona breaking article 19. What I want to know are the stories of those who don’t make it. The Messis, Xavis and Iniestas of this world need little protection. Plenty of other children do.

    • Peter says:

      Just like in a normal sport school, I suppose:

      To get in the prospective candidates are evaluated and then accepted. Then it’s like a normal boarding school, where unless you are expelled for serious reasons, you graduate. If not good enough the graduates won’t be offered a position, but they still finish a very good school.

      Lots of those who don’t get in Barcelona B and/or first team end up in a club somewhere. The only club you can be absolutely sure of having no La Masia graduates is Athletic Bilbao for obvious reasons. :D

    • Linda says:

      You’re welcome! Those are really good points and I would hope that Barca’s submissions to the Appeal Committee and (if needed) CAS address them properly.

  5. ooga aga says:

    Pinto, Montoya, Sergio, Mascherano, Adriano, Song, Iniesta, Cesc, Pedro, Messi y Neymar

  6. Jafri says:

    Woof, what is happening in the Bayern-Dortmund match??

  7. deckardcain says:

    I feel so… powerless.

  8. georgjorge says:

    Well at least this game it isn’t for lack of wanting and midfield control that we can’t score, just for the absymal abilities of our forwards and midfielders to actually hit the goal when they stand in front of it.

  9. G6O says:

    Against a parked bus these are chances you MUST convert…

  10. psalmuel says:

    Ok. Thats enough! My poor heart can’t take this anymore

  11. ciaran says:

    Well there’s always the Copa…
    There was effort but no where near enough quality.
    The goal we conceded was very simple and pretty much how we concede every goal, a ball in behind our poorly positioned centre backs.

    I’d rather not go into personal attacks and just say that there are a lot of players that could see the door if we are making transfers in the summer.

    Bayern v Dortmund was a great match. Bayern played a full team but didn’t run nearly as much as they normally would. That being said, Dortmund were really impressive and Hummels was a beast in defence, intercepting or clearing everything. Reus was magic in attack again.

    Here’s to hoping Real Madrid drop points against Almeria now and Atletico to win the league

  12. y2k156 says:

    An punch in the gut result. Most probably the match that does for the title chances for this year. I am not giving up home. The team fought as hard as it could. I saw everyone trying their best out there. Sometimes things do not work out. Granada has been a tough opponent to break down even in the past so no great surprise this.

    In terms of bigger picture, it becomes clear that giving the flanks and possession to us, packing the box and hoping for goal on counter is best strategy for opposing teams. In a sense, Granada did same as Atletico did. Their keeper was straightaway giving the ball with us. Even without the quality and the pressing of Atleti, we still struggled mightily.

    I was just looking at Rosell’s signings. Neymar; Cesc Fàbregas; Alexis Sánchez; Javier Mascherano; Alex Song; Jordi Alba; Adriano. And none of them have really worked out. Masch has done excellent as centre back but i honestly cannot say that he is one of the best centre half’s in world. Some of the others simply did not work out yet, Cesc n Neymar while some like Alba have made us into worse team. The club members chose Rosell and i think that the club is paying a heavy price because of it.

    On other hand, all cycles end so ending of this cycle is sad but inevitable. What is important is to keep philosophy and hopefully buy players that team needs and not for other reasons.

    • Peter says:

      Yeah, blame it all on the ex-president, cuz the coach who requested the signing damn straight had nothing to do with it, right?

      Barcelona really need more height and physicality, I’ll give you that, but the fact is that this time the chances didn’t work out – not even one.

      That’s not to say that this team needs at least one strong striker with good aerial ability – and probably two CBs with the same attributes(one of them left-footed). If Barcelona start scoring from corners, opposing teams would be forced to play wider and cover more space, which would open up more lanes.

      • Peter says:

        *That’s not to say that Barcelona doesn’t need at least…* dammit :(

      • mazimi says:

        Maybe you are right. But I believe Neymar was Rosell’s signing.

      • I am not sure you remember the season we had Ibra. He was pretty good in the air, but the basic take off from that season was, even though we had a alternative plan that season, it took a lot out of our A-game.

        The season after that without the aerial threat we were pretty good.

        For me yesterday’s result was that we struggled to open well in the begining.

        • Peter says:

          I don’t disagree, but I am talking not just about yesterday, and I’m not talking about a star striker, but a spare striker. As a matter of fact a big tall Nr 9 is the last thing on the list – because most of his relevant functions can be provided by CBs and DMs.

          During the 2010-2011 season Barcelona had Abidal, Pique, Puyol, Milito, Keita. Even after the transfer of Toure Yaya there was enough aerial threat. Unfortunately last night all three CBs were out injured.

          Anyway, it’s not just height, it’s also physical presence. There was a moment last night when Song moved with the ball just outside of the box and held off two or three separate attempts to dispossess him – through sheer physical power.

  13. deckardcain says:

    I just want to cry. These footballers are all immensely talented, but in games like these and against Atléti I would like a more limited striker, physical who can take the punches in the box and get a toe or a skull on the ball when it comes his way. Sure we created enough chances in this game to win it, but it’s not always that way, and as many have said a thousand times before, we need a plan B, and substituting one small technical gifter winger for another is not always the answer. I repeat, I feel so, powerless.

    Their goal came through a number of mistakes, but ONE goal should not be enough for Granada to win a game against FC Barcelona, in this stage of the liga. The problem in defence is well discussed and must be resolved this summer, if we are going to have any chance winning a title in the coming years, the feat of going this far in every competition with the limited versatility in this squad is nothing short of a miracle, and further evidence of just how good our players are, but they can’t do it all, no matter what we tell ourselves.

    Sorry for the exhausted comment, but I just had to ventilate. Maybe my thoughts will have cleared themselves after a walk, I think I’ll try that. Yeah, I will.

    Visca el Barça!

  14. Huckleberry says:

    There is still individual brilliance but no ideas how to play together. Again and again they tried to pass or dribble through a packed centre of the box.
    there is still the Copa. But with the current form I can’t see us beating Real.

  15. psalmuel says:

    We are doomed! I see a trophy-less barca looming come ending of season

  16. Ahsan says:

    Whatever the opposite of “circle jerk” is, is about to happen here on BFB.

  17. Valdemar II says:

    That was not a bad performance. Cut through their lines at will, how about we finish two of the ten some chances and go home with a V? Aptly timed, this loss…

  18. Cule says:

    wow, even a draw would have kept the title in our hands. Now we need both the Madrid teams to drop points, and RM have a fairly easy league schedule. This is looking like it’s over.

  19. G6O says:

    barcastuff @barcastuff · 1h ago
    Barcelona had 86% possession today, most in a Liga game since possession is being measured #fcblive [via @infostradalive]

    barcastuff @barcastuff · 48m ago
    Barcelona had 29 shots against Granada tonight, more than in any other of their Liga games this season #fcblive [via opta]

    ================================================

    No comment…

  20. flyzowee says:

    Hey lets look at the bright side. These losses may be the only thing capable of waking up some sleeping Socis. The boards got nowhere to hide if we go trophy-less and their gross squad mismanagement will (hopefully) come into sharp focus. This is the only silver lining that makes all this heart ache worth it.

  21. Cule says:

    you’d think, but then again the response to our fragile defense was to buy Neymar. Barca will go on a steady decline, it will be years before we are a top team again.

  22. mom4 says:

    And the board fiddled around with stadium proposals and legacy destruction while Barça burned.

  23. Jafri says:

    This was the first match in nearly four years which I didn’t watch despite having the time to do so. It’s difficult watching a once-great team become… ordinary.

  24. IamXavi6 says:

    In 2 weeks gone from controlling our own destiny to this.

    Comical..just comical now.

  25. KEVINO17 says:

    We were brilliant – and lost! Who invented this game!
    I really enjoyed watching us play today, despite the score line.
    A few points:
    1. Song was magnificent in CM today (even if he did lose the ball that led to the first goal). Moved the ball around quickly and really contributed to the press. Please, bench Xavi (who is slower on the ball and just leaves a big hole in the bucket) and play Song. Song is the main reason the press was back today. Every time they got the ball, he stepped into the right zone to slow it down or steal the ball.
    2. Montoya IS better than Alba.
    3. When Alexis came on, he showed just how vital he is to this team. Not everything he did worked, but he has such great vision. Certainly, against a defensive team, he is much better than Pedro, who needs more space. Grenada played with a high line and we desperately needed someone who would go in behind.
    4. I repeat: how did we lose that one.

  26. Kxevin says:

    For the second time this week, our collection of individuals lost to a team that played its hearts out. Simple as that.

    The board has been crap. Insufferable crap. But our team should be able to beat freakin’ Granada. But to do it, it has to be a team. That didn’t happen. You succeed as a collective, or fail as individuals.

    — Some supporters were at the Camp Nou today to “greet” the team, i.e. hurling racist insults at Neymar, screaming at other players and demanding to speak to the captains. Sounds like Boixos to me.

    • KEVINO17 says:

      I didn’t see a lack of effort. I just saw the difficulty that teams face when they have to break down a well organised “shell” in front of goal. 9 times out of ten, we would have won or drawn. Just didn’t happen.

      • scribblez says:

        I agree. In the last match we didn’t have the intensity. But no lack of effort in this match. Just a very very bad day following a string of matches with no form.

        For once I agree with the official narrative by the player and the coaches that we tried everything. We tried short quick passes, long diagonal balls, long range shots, individual dribbles, heading crosses! In my opinion, we played as a team today especially at the second half. Any other day, that Messi free kick goes in. 9 shots on target, 29 shots total, whatever we did we were create a lot of chances (even if you think there was a lack of positional play in the MF), just couldn’t finish them. We played much worse with Espanyol and Betis.

        If this was another game at a different stage of the liga, our perspectives would be different, our analyses would be different.

        Anyways, the truth is we lost the league today. Quite unbelievable. Also the changes need to be made and I do believe some of our key players have won it all and lacks motivation in general and need fresh challenges.

        • KEVINO17 says:

          Plus, you have to remember this is a team that had an incredibly intense game mid-week, which they lost. Pretty impressive the way them motivated themselves for this game.

    • scribblez says:

      However, @Kxevin, in this debate between collection of individuals vs. team collective, do you think we stopped playing as a ‘team’ after Messi coming back from injury?

      In the previous years, we had one Messi, earlier this season we had Neymar only, now we have Messi and Neymar, two greatly individualistic players having the same type of tendencies and qualities in terms of taking players one on one.

      With both Neymar and Messi in the same team, are we really well-suited to play a proper collective game and still playing to their strengths?

      One big failure at then of the season that is getting buried under all the political mayhem is that we haven’t incorporated Messi and Neymar together playing the Barca game.

      • G6O says:

        I hate to say it because I really wanted it to work out better, but so far Cruyff has been right – the two of them have not played at a level greater than the sum of the parts, in fact it has been the opposite. And not because they cannot combine well – we saw it in the Classico, we’ve seen it on other occasions too – but because of the impact on the system as a whole.

        It has not at all helped that Messi has been so consistently passive. As heretic as it may sound, I will still say it – if this trend (playing no defense, but unlike before, not making up for it by scoring tons of goals from open play) continues developing in the same direction, the point where what he contributes to the team is outweighed by what we lose by not being able to press as a team is going to come very soon (if it has not already).

        We have been there before with other players and we know how that ends unless decisive measures are taken. Which means not awarding a new megacontract but rather having a serious conversation about his playing style, the tactical system, and the future. He does not want to play on the wing, but playing in the middle as CF is at this point really ineffective (this is also negatively impacting Neymar’s game – when he plays for Brazil, there is always a true CF in the middle who serves both as a reference point and as a way to open up space for him, but when he plays for us the only outlet is Messi and that requires extremely precise passes to thread the ball through the forest of legs, no surprise it often fails). So the only solution is to have him play as a traditional 10 in midfield behind a real striker. But if he still insists on playing the CF role, we have a serious problem.

      • Kxevin says:

        Good question, scribblez. Short answer is yes. When Messi was gone, a lot of different players found freedom. Fabregas was as good as he has been, Sanchez was raising hell and Neymar was at his associative best.

        When Messi returned, everyone immediately started saying “Messi is back, now we’re REALLY going to kick ass.” But in fact, we already were kicking ass, with diversified scoring and attacks from everywhere. And no offense meant to Messi, but you also had 10 players tracking back, rather than 9.

        Messi returned and right away, the concern was would he resume scoring at his “normal” abnormal pace, and how is the team going to integrate Messi, etc, etc. Then when he didn’t start scoring in bunches right away, it was “What’s wrong with Messi.”

        This is a Messi-centric team, to its detriment. Messi and Neymar will start playing well together when they get a coach who makes them understand that they are part of a TEAM. Messi can’t run at 4 defenders, lose the ball then stand there and shrug. If that makes me a hater, I will wear the hat. But he can’t.

        Barça has to be a team. Guardiola made those brilliant individual players into a team, and that team was unstoppable because everyone subsumed their individual talents for the team. That isn’t happening now. Neymar and Messi have to do 1v1 stuff because runs aren’t coming, triangles aren’t forming, there isn’t movement to dictate passing.

        Barça will be stronger as a team, as strange as it sounds, when Messi takes a step back, and isn’t the team focus. It’s no coincidence that the most successful seasons that the team had, this was the case. He was the star and most dangerous player, but he wasn’t the focus. As Messi scored more and more goals, the diminution in team attacking began.

        • KEVINO17 says:

          Kxevin – I totally agree with all that. Which is why I think Messi has to be brought back further into the midfield. Maybe Tata should announce that messi is, from now, going to be a midfielder and we won’t be relying on his goals, etc etc. I think that, the team also has to designate a traditional CF in front of Messi (even if it’s Alexis) to make it clear Messi isn’t the scoring focus. But telling Messi that he shouldn’t press because we want him upfield in one-on-ones is just flat-out nuts.
          I thought Messi had a lot more licence to drop deep against Grenada and even got himself a yellow card for dissent after he harried his opponent.

          • G6O says:

            Messi in midfield would have to do a lot of pressing – is there a realistic chance of this happening at this point?

          • KEVINO17 says:

            Actually, I do, because Messi won’t have much choice. I think he is a team player. It’s just that his roles have got confused. I’d also try to give him a bodyguard in midfield (e.g. Song). Worth a try, anyway.

        • scribblez says:

          Yes very well put. But are we still a Messi centric team now? On the paper yes. But in the field no. Because it feels like we are in a state where we are neither focused on Messi (not in the heart of the game, plays are not designed around him) nor we are a collective unit. It feels like a team in transition state where we are still searching for an identity and way to get the best of Messi and Neymar together.

          Guardiola got rid of prima donnas in the dressing room and got a team hungry to win everything, players at the prime. This is team of players that have won everything and some past their prime. Is Messi ready to take a step back and yet not pout on the field? Will we have a coach that can do that?

          In terms of coaching, I want to give Martino another year. This year he was a caretaker coach with no transfers of his choice and a proper preseason. Give him one more year, let him buy the player he want and build the team he wants. He needs that freedom to built that identity. All successful coaches have that.

        • bedhead says:

          Tata has obviously tinkered with the system if Messi and Neymar are relegated to so many 1v1’s because triangles aren’t being formed and there isn’t movement to dictate passing back and forth. Long are the days of slow buildup to the box with a change in speed and give and go’s to break through the parked bus. Now, we’re about verticality where keeper sends it to defense who then launch it to yhe two wings. With that kind of tactics we’re playing into our opponents hands because not only have they parked the bus, but our team has parked themselves there as well! We need some space behind the ball but we screw it up by launching that long ball into the corner and eating up any available space to wirk the ball in. Tactics are all wrong for a team with our attributes and skill. I believe our B team could have a more decent chance to beat a Malaga at the moment because they are still training and playing “the system”. We no longer are and that’s the readon it’s all falling apart.

    • barca96 says:

      Some supporters were at the Camp Nou today to “greet” the team, i.e. hurling racist insults at Neymar, screaming at other players and demanding to speak to the captains. Sounds like Boixos to me.

      They need to get a kick or two in their nuts!

  27. PrinceYuvi says:

    Thanks for all the hardwork, linda.

  28. KEVINO17 says:

    The big problem is that against RM, Xavi will DEMAND to play which means we will be soft as butter up the middle again. Let’s face it, all he does these days his shuffle the ball around from side to side and then leave us exposed to the counter-attack.
    Pep clearly knew after the second CL win that the old guard had to be cleaned out. That’s why he quit.

    • I disagree. I think Xavi is still the best team player on our squad. Even in the Atletico match, he was there, ready to try a through ball, but to who? The “to who” is the problem. As much as I hate to say it, Messi’s lack of movement is killing us. I think it’s more noticeable this year because he isn’t finishing.

      • KEVINO17 says:

        It’s not Xavi’s passing that is the problem (although it is usually far from adventurous – east/west rather than north/south), it’s his lack of defence in the middle of the park (which puts a big hole in our press) and lack of goal scoring threat. Even though we lost to grenada, I thought our press was excellent because we had Song in the middle (with Busquets just behind him). The possession side of Barca’s game is useless (indeed, dangerous) if we don’t press properly. Barca will not win a CL final again with Xavi at CM. So it’s time for him to move on.

    • barca96 says:

      By clearing the old guard, do you include Xavi?

      I too have been complaining at the lack of Xavi tracking back and recovering the ball for over a season now but the statistics prove me wrong.

      In any case, I find that the upside he brings is more important than my supposed view of his not tracking back enough which stats prove me wrong.

      Xavi is not even close to part of the problem. I am a CM too so I know it is really hard when there is little movement in front of me. I look below average :lol:. But seriously, when there is little movement, what can you expect a midfielder besides passing sideways or back trying to pull the opposition out? I can try to dribble my way through but there’s no way Xavi should even try that because he’s a professional and if he is dispossessed in our, he will leave a big gap and a counter attack will come which due to our system means a high chance of goal conceded.

      • KEVINO17 says:

        Yup, I would ship Xavi out. He’s had a fantastic innings, but it’s time for Barca to move on. I don’t feel cruel saying that, because he’s had a career others could only dream about.
        The point is that against a packed defence you’re rarely going to get to play a killer ball (which really isn’t Xavi’s style anyway – he is more a “tempo” man). That’s why I keep coming back incessantly to the press. To cash in on its possession game, Barca has to win cheap and dangerous ball close to their opponent’s goal. That gives them a chance to “counter-attack” from very close and throttle their opponent’s attacks before they develop. When Barca is at their best, the midfielders press like wolves. But I sense that with Xavi there, there is a big hole in the bucket. It’s not a question of tracking back. He often does that. But stopping situations which force you to track back. Busquets/Song always get themselves in the right place to throttle attacks. Don’t think Xavi does that. Not mobile enough, and it’s just not his game.
        Without the press, Barca are just a lot of little guys who’ve ventured much too far into enemy territory.
        I’d also ship out Pedro. I love him because of his commitment. He is also a great player when the game is open. But Barca don’t need him when the game is open. They should win those games anyway. They need him when they are playing against a packed defence, and then Alexis is better. Ditto Tello.
        I know many disagree, but I think Song has the same game as Xavi (neither do much fancy) but more mobility and much better defence.
        Now, of course, against RM, Xavi will prove me horribly wrong.

        • Jim says:

          No, I don’t Barca96. Not a great fan of having my expression curbed by number of characters. :)

          Not been active last few days as I’m on holiday in Nice and the good lady has promised to chop off my wrists if she catches me on the iPad !

          Lovely part of the world, btw. Much better public transport than we have in the UK. Went to Monaco yesterday and took in preparations for the Grand Prix and even won in the Casino. (A pittance) Got tickets for the Monte Carlo Masters tennis tomorrow and apparently there is a scheduled helicopter service from Nice to Monaco which isn’t horrendously expensive. Hmmm…

          Don’t even want to think about the game other than to say I’m glad I missed it. However, a few fanciful over exaggerations seem to be flying about. Given the hits we’ve taken this year ( Tito, Puyol, Messi injury, Neymargate, the ban news and now Pique’s injury at the height of the busy matches) it’s difficult to say the team hasn’t done it’s best. Work to be done in the summer but more in thinking than buying other than GK and a couple of positions for me.

          • barca96 says:

            Haha no. I was wondering where you are. 2 matches has passed and still no sight of you. Been waiting to listen/read your thoughts for a while now. I thought you prefer to do Twitter now like the other seniors from the past.

          • barca96 says:

            The Granada match wasn’t bad at all to me. We were dominating, creating chance after chance. Lively. Just one of those days where the ball just wouldn’t go in.

            The Atletico match was one of the worst from this season which there were a couple, but if you consider the importance of the match and the season, the Atletico horror show would probably take the cake.

            Well, enjoy your holiday.

            ps. I know you’re not a big fan of Abidal, but if you see him, please show him the way back to Barcelona :)

  29. barca96 says:

    Does anybody know if Jim has a Twitter account?

  30. Looks like all defeat belongs to Messi and Xavi(even if he doesn’t play). In last two matches we are deliberately making sure that the game is not run through Messi. But still Messi gets all the blame. The suggestion that without Messi we were playing as a team and was successful and once he back we are a collection of individuals.

    • Jim says:

      I’ve just read the comment about Xavi not playing and had a double take, not having seen the match. I was sure from the comments that he had had a stinker. So, he didn’t play, we lost and in the last game which we also lost he ran more than anyone else in the team, completed all his passes but he has to be dropped / go because of lack of mobility ?

      A bit of perspective needed, methinks. We do have an issue in that teams have worked out how to play us. It takes a couple of seasons to do so ( a bit like promoted teams in the EPL). The same will happen with Bayern – I have no idea why teams don’t defend in depth against RM as they have trouble breaking down buses as well.

      When we play our best midfield good things tend to happen ; when we can’t or don’t, we struggle. For any faults Tata may have, he has improved our defending this year, imo, with no better personnel than before. We badly need a left footed, tall pacy CB to play alongside Pique and the FBs to keep their discipline. If we do that we don’t lose the first goal and we have a platform to strangle the opponents. If we end up chasing a game against two banks of five forget it. There is no through ball in the world for that situation. It’s quick combos with players who can take a hard hit ball on the run and we have more of them than any other team I’ve seen.

  31. barca96 says:

    Two, Barca needs to get together with other clubs who run similar academy programs and lobby FIFA in an organised fashion. Maybe through the European Club Association, if there’s enough interest. It would be a lot more effective than being a lone voice in the wilderness, complaining about the dark hand of conspiracies.

    That is so true. We’re fighting a lone battle out here. However I doubt the Madrid clubs would want to work hand in hand with us since we’re all rivals on senior level and to sign the youngsters and I’m sure they are happy that this is happening to us and some of our youngsters aren’t even eligible to play.

    To get support from the clubs in England is even tougher as they have an advantage where they can give a 16 year a professional contract. That’s their main advantage over the Spanish clubs and I doubt they would want to change that.

  32. barca96 says:

    We have a lawyer, journalist who’s already at the editor level, Euler who’s probably a football coach. With these 3 alone, we can lay the foundation to start a new football club. BFB anyone? :lol:

  33. justdoit94 says:

    I have a question.
    What if come wednesday, we lose out on CDR too and end up with nothing this season ..
    Who has the power to kick this board out of here and what kind of procedures would the club go through and how long would it take to get a new board?
    Will we have a new president perhaps before next season ?

    Forgive my ignorance

    • barca96 says:

      Losing is part of the sport. Do you see anywhere else where the board gets kicked out after the team has had a bad year? It’s the players and managers who are the ones to be blamed with the manager being the first to be blamed.

      I don’t see why the board has to go. I wouldn’t mind them going but as long as there is no better candidate or no confidence voting then there is nothing we can do.

      I see many fans here blaming the board when we lose. But I didn’t see the same people applauding the board when we were winning.

      • justdoit94 says:

        Team has been in a steady downfall ever since guardiola left and the board’s insistence that everything is okay and that our players are the best in the world is the reason why ..
        Zubizaretta came out at the beginning of the season and said we dont need a cb , now we fielded two midfielders in defence. That should never have happened..
        Now we are actually getting overrun in the midfield because of the aging maestro and the exact same story as last year
        The team has so many positions to reinforce because the situation became worse by the minute as the board’s answer was to sign Song and Neymar.. Oh ya great but what about cb’s ? ” well song can ..umm …play cb i guess” .
        I am sorry if my expectations are that high for a team that includes the best players in the world.

      • Kxevin says:

        Just because it doesn’t happen, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t. As a long-suffering Chicago Bears fan, I can tell you that I would love to find a way to kick our management the hell out, for the ineptitude that has for years and years, wasted talent and bred adequacy.

        Being in effect member owned, a unique situation among the world’s top sporting entities, Barça is just about the only club where the members can vote a president in AND out of office.

        • dl says:

          Very rare, but not unique. Green Bay Packers come to mind…

          • Kxevin says:

            The Packers are publicly owned, for sure. But I don’t think, in a bit of fast research, that they have elections for president, or that the fans can gather and remove a sitting president.

            I’d be curious to know if there is another club aside from Barça, that works that way. Many clubs have members. I just don’t know of any that function in the same fashion as regards management changeover.

            Anyone?

    • Kxevin says:

      @justdoit94: What will have to happen is that 15% of the current socis will need to lend their support to a motion of censure. In case you don’t recall, the number used to be 5%, but the current board decided to hew to Spanish law after lo these many years, which effectively derailed the most recent censure motion, earlier this season.

      To my view, we will not have a new president/board before next season, simply because there is no reason for them to leave to their minds, and nobody can force them out.

      The last censure motion was brought against Joan Laporta, and he survived by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin. He then went on to hire Guardiola, and a just a couple of good things happened after that, right?

  34. TITO says:

    Liverpooooooooooooooooooooooooooool.

    Sorry, but it made my day :D

  35. Ultraculé says:

    Been away for a bit.

    1. Levon, that personal experience of yours for that Atleti 2nd leg was good to read. Just to chime in, I must say that I was feeling the bad vibes ever since Figo pulled out that dreaded ball. When Diego scored that wondrous goal, those sensations were further strengthened. Then to top it all off, I didn’t do my typical pre game ritual which eventually led to our loss at the calderon. Yes, I blame myself. Even though we were probably always headed out.

    2. I didn’t watch this granada game. Looks like the league is all but gone eh? Again. Hmmph. I don’t know if I can invest anymore emotionally in this season.

    3. Linda, this is such a great article. I might have to go back and read this again. Klopp is for real eh?

  36. ibbe says:

    Awesome article Linda. Thanks!

    Now that I calmed down after the game I’m not really that upset anymore. If we go back to the start of the season, what were our expectations? We knew our squad was too small and many players were aging. We knew our defence was going to let us down because we dont have any depth. IMO our defence has far exceeded my expectations, so kudos to TATA for that.

    I think one of the things that really needs fixing is the amount of info the media is getting. Why the hell is our starting XI always accuratelly predicted 2 days before every game? Wether Martino stays or a new coach comes, this issue has to be resolved. With all the disadvantages we have, why should our opponents have the addvantage of knowing exactly who we’re going to field come match day?

    Also, what’s up with all these rumors about Reus? I admire the guy but isn’t he a LW/LF? He shouldn’t be competing with Neymar for a starting place, and he should definitely not change his position just to play for us. We have to go after players we need, not players we fancy.

    • ciaran says:

      Reus is a world class forward capable of playing in any role up front so I understand why we would be looking for him but for me, he is not the player we need.
      Seeing the way he dismantled Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in the past couple of games would make anyone want to have him.

      For me, he should be taking Pedro’s place in the squad. I like Pedro but he is expendable.

      • ibbe says:

        Well if he is that versatile then I would of course welcome him with open arms. But then again, we have to get what we need before going after what we want. Seeing Pedro in a shirt other than barcas would be painful though.

        There were rumors about Laporte from Athletic, I haven’t followed him really so anybody knows if he’s as good they say?

  37. Seyi38 says:

    Personally I’ll gladly accept a trophy-less season if that guarantees Messi a WC medal. I don’t care how much distance he covered in the last CL game and others. Non of those trumps what he’s done for this club and the fact that he’s given his all countless of times. I wouldn’t mind the club going trophyless for one season if that guarantees Messi’s individual success in Brazil. I love Barcelona more than I love Messi but I appreciate even more what he’s done and will be willing to cut him some slack for one season especially since I know he’s even capable of producing better in the next 3-4years.

    • Levon says:

      I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think you might be right. And knowing Holland has no chance in tropical hell this World Cup year, I am adopting Argentina as my team to win it all.

  38. Nick says:

    Linda, doesn’t freedom of movement under the EU Treaty apply only to EU citizens? None of the international youth players would be eligible then.

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