In soccer-rich Spain and Italy, club football often means seeing the same names at or near the top of the table. Barcelona and Juventus, two clubs that don iconic striped jerseys, have won domestic titles at such a high rate that at times it seemed their path to glory was a mundane and forgone conclusion.

But as the pandemic has gripped Europe, both clubs found themselves facing serious financial woes. Juventus saw losses of over $135 million for the first six months of the 2020-21 season, compared to losses of $47.9 million from the 2019-20 season.

Debt is an even bigger problem for Barcelona. As of March 21, the club was saddled with $1.59 billion, according to team president Joan Laporta.

A casualty of the financial problems has been the departures of arguably the two best footballers of the past 15 years. Lionel Messi left Camp Nou for Paris, while Cristiano Ronaldo walked away from Turin after three seasons to return to Manchester United. 

Both sides appear to know the other's financial dilemma. Juventus sent Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic to Barcelona for a fee of about $70 million. Barcelona then sold Brazilian midfielder Arthur Melo to Juventus for about $84 million in what was basically a swap. Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper noted that the payments weren't actually made and were for bookkeeping purposes.

Debt is an issue for several of Europe's top clubs and likely was a big reason for the proposed Super League, which immediately faced backlash and controversy. To little surprise, Barcelona and Juventus were among the 12 founding members of the league.

On April 19, shares of Juventus (JUVE.MI) surged by 18% to $0.9195 on the Milan exchange after JP Morgan announced a "welcome bonus" for the founding member clubs. On Friday, shares of Juventus closed at $0.7155.

Debt issues for Juventus and Barcelona may seem a bit more alarming than for other top clubs, particularly for Barcelona after bizarre and criminal circumstances revealed in March that included the arrest of former president Josep Maria Bartomeu and other top brass on allegations of misuse of funds and corruption in a social media scandal. The club had reportedly paid a marketing consulting company about $1 million to smear current and former players as well as club presidential candidates.

Yet Barcelona and Juventus are not expected to see a huge dropoff on the field due to their strong infrastructure and despite how they are devoid of the deep superstar talent they once boasted. Juventus have loaned out dozens of players, and, along with Ronaldo, moved on from four players for relatively low transfer fees without adding any major names. In the recent transfer window, Barcelona mostly added players on free transfers and received about $70 million from players they sent to other clubs.

The decline from top-rated status can be unsettling for those who follow top European clubs, as Barcelona and Juventus dominating competition was considered routine and so were their casts of elite and burgeoning talent. In World Cup qualifying, Spain had only one player from the Barcelona roster who was under the age of 32. In the Guardian's annual Top 100 players, the highest-rated current Juventus player was No. 39 Paulo Dybala.

Both clubs are off to a slow start to the 2021-22 season. Barcelona are in sixth place in La Liga, while Juve are in ninth place in Serie A.

There is a proud track record for the two clubs that don't involve capturing silverware.

It doesn't seem that long ago that Barcelona had the likes of Luis Suarez, Neymar, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. The Catalans would infuriate opponents with exhaustive ball possession. Juventus have boasted the best playmakers in the world. When it wasn't Michel Platini, it was other French legends like Zinedine Zidane and then Paul Pogba. Pavel Nedved and Andrea Pirlo kept the zebras' motor running for years. 

Can the two titans return to their dominant status despite the need to clean up their books? Can the clubs improve their finances and compete for top talent? Other clubs have faced the same challenge but the lingering pandemic could make things that much tougher.