The football world watched on with surprise, and in some quarters, disdain, as Barcelona spent big this summer, bringing in Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Raphinha and others.
Despite crippling debts of over 1.3 billion euros (1.27 billion dollars), the club attacked the market and beat other sides to sign a host of world-class players, after activating a series of “palancas” – financial leverage.
The Catalans sold 10 percent of their La Liga television rights to American investment firm Sixth Street Partners for the next 25 years in June, then another 15 percent in July, for a total of 400 million euros.
They also sold 24.5 percent of Barca studios to Fan Token platform Socios.com for 100 million euros, and another equivalent stake to production company Orpheus Media for the same.
President Joan Laporta was keen to give coach Xavi Hernandez the players he asked for, and apart from Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva, he delivered.
However, on the pitch, in the Champions League, Barcelona have not. Defeats on the road against Bayern Munich and Inter Milan, followed by a home draw against the Italian side, leave them about to suffer a second consecutive group stage elimination.
“Last year we were not good enough, this year it was our own fault, it hurts more, even,” admitted Xavi.
Still reeling from their 3-3 draw with Inter on Wednesday, Barcelona head into Sunday’s Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu against Real Madrid searching for a victory that will in some way vindicate their high summer expenditure.
The new signings and momentum behind the project brought the fans back in droves, with over 92,000 at Camp Nou for the Inter game, offering a fiery atmosphere – not always a given in Barcelona.
The Catalans currently top La Liga ahead of Real Madrid but only on goal difference, so defeat on Sunday would be another body blow and arguably their lowest moment in Laporta’s second stint.
The president, in charge during a golden era of success between 2003-2010, had hoped to bring the good times back to a club which has not won the Champions League since 2015.
Despite running on a campaign that pledged to keep Lionel Messi at the club, Laporta failed. The Argentine left at the end of his contract to sign for Paris Saint-Germain in August 2021.
Now, for the first time, questions are being asked of Xavi, who did well after arriving in November 2021 to pull Barcelona up the league table after a bad start under Ronald Koeman, and qualify for this season’s Champions League.
A 4-0 victory at the Bernabeu was the highlight of the season for Barcelona, but this time they arrive at their lowest ebb.
“There are other competitions, La Liga, the Copa, the Super Copa, we have to insist, persist, believe,” urged Xavi.
Defeat against their arch-rivals on Sunday would turn a bad week into a wretched one, ripping off the lid of the can of worms surrounding their summer spree which the Inter draw prised open.
Staying unbeaten, on the other hand, could stave off doubts and offer a signal to the watching world that the Laporta project may have suffered a damaging set-back, but is still standing.