While speculation about Luis Enrique and Lionel Messi drew ambulance chasers one way, a bigger story was unfolding at Barcelona. As announced by the club Monday afternoon, legendary goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta, who had served as Barcelona’s director of football after the 2010 departure of Txiki Begiristain, has had his contract abruptly terminated. Three other members of Barcelona’s technical staff have either departed or are expected to leave in the wake of president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s decision, with recently retired captain Carles Puyol resigning his position shortly after Zubizarreta’s departure was announced.
“The President, in the name of the Club, thanks Andoni Zubizarreta for his contribution, dedication and professionalism over the last four years in his role at the head of the Club’s football area,” read the announcement on the club’s website. Technical secretary Albert Valentin and football coordinator Narcís Julìa are also expected to depart, with Bartomeu scheduled to conduct a press conference on Wednesday to explain the turnover.
The move comes as Barcelona sits one point back of Real Madrid in La Liga’s standings. But with discontent continuing to muster around his position, Bartomeu appears to be acting out of desperation. In the wake of the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholding the team’s one-year transfer ban, supporters unhappy with Bartomeu, a man who came to office after the resignation of Sandro Rosell, are again voicing their displeasure. Calls for Bartomeu to face an election before his term ends in 2016 have been rejected, while the popularity of former president Joan Laporta, a likely candidate in 2016, continues to grow.
Today’s moves are likely to further polarize supporters. Zubizarreta, the most-capped player in Spanish national team history, was not only the club’s director of football but somebody who had claimed 11 trophies as a player with the club. Though Barcelona struggled to replicate the success it had under Begiristain and Pep Guardiola, replacing a legend without explanation is unlikely to convince dissenters, particularly since a popular player like Puyol followed him out the door.
Perhaps Bartomeu will offer that explanation on Wednesday. Maybe a convincing picture will be painted as to why Zubizarreta’s the cause of Barcelona’s woe. To the extent there is a woe, however, Bartomeu has been increasingly blamed. That’s unlikely to change with today’s purge.