Barcelona — the city, like the club — is a victim of its own success.
About a decade ago, still reeling from the global recession and high unemployment, Catalonia’s capital threw open its doors and a whole world of tourists poured in. Even if you weren’t there, you probably saw enough of the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell on Instagram to feel like you were.
The open doors weren’t just a figure of speech: thanks to the app economy, millions of visitors spilt out of Barcelona’s hotels and into its chamfered apartment blocks, renting rooms and whole homes through companies such as Airbnb. At first, locals welcomed the supplemental income, but when investors started snapping up properties in the heart of the city to turn them into vacation rentals, the mood turned.
“If you put a tourist apartment there, you can rent it quite easily,” one resident told the New Yorker on a walk through El Raval in 2019. “And once there is one, or two, or three, or four, it changes the street.”
Airbnb promised to let visitors “experience a place like you live there”, sleeping in real bedrooms in residential neighbourhoods. On the inside, though, the increasingly professional listings converged on a global millennial aesthetic that the critic Kyle Chayka dubbed “AirSpace” — think upscale Ikea for people who own a lot of Apple products. If the tulip tables and wire lamps felt familiar, that was partly because it was getting harder to tell if you were waking up in Barcelona, San Francisco or Shanghai.
This is also pretty much the story of what happened during the same years to FC Barcelona’s style of play, once so dazzlingly unique, now tasteful but generic.
Once upon a time, Barcelona were different from every other club. They played