Barcelona is one of the greatest teams in the world. They are 5 times European cup holders, 26 times La Liga winners, 3 times Club world cup winners, 2 times treble winners, one of only 2 teams that won all 6 trophies in 1 season, and many, many more. Some of the greatest ever players have worn their colors: Maradona, Ronaldinho, Stoichkov, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Messi etc… But season 2016/17 in the Champions League was a turning point for them.
Firstly they produced one of the greatest comebacks in the tournament’s history. After they lost 4-0 at “Parc de Princes” they made “La Remontada” three weeks later. In a stunning game at “Nou Camp,” the Catalonian giants won 6-1 and with an aggregate score of 6-5, they went through to the quarter-finals. And that’s probably the last bit of joy Barcelona supporters had in Europe ever since. They lost the quarter-final against Juventus after a 0-3 loss in Turin and 0-0 at home. The following summer brought us probably the biggest transfer saga ever. PSG activated Neymar’s buy-out clause of 222m €. Luis Enrique left the club in May after his contract expired and after an argument with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu he decided not to renew it.
Then Ernesto Velverde took over the club. Everything was looking good, Barcelona beat Chelsea 4:1 on aggregate to reach the ¼ quarterfinals and faced Roma. Great display in the first game and a 4:1 win at “Camp Nou.” But the second leg was terrible, Roma won 3:0 at “Olimpico” and eliminated the Catalonian giants from the tournament. Lack of leadership, disorganization at the back, and Barcelona were out.
Fast forward a year, Champions league 2018/2019. Barcelona cruised through the group stage. Beat Lyon at the round of 16, eliminated Manchester United at the ¼ finals, and arranged themselves a meeting with another 5-time European champion (Liverpool). After a breathtaking game at “Camp Nou,” Barcelona won 3:0. And then a week later the nightmare from Rome returned. Barcelona showed the same weaknesses and got ran over at Anfield. A corner taken quickly, 4:0 Liverpool and Barcelona were out again after a 2nd leg comeback, again.
2019/2020 season started with new hope for Barca. They face no problems winning the group. Won against Napoli at the round of 16. After all the uncertainty around the Corona crisis, UEFA decided to renew the Champions league with a closed 8-team tournament in Portugal. However, the draw decided to face two 5-time European champions, Bayern Munich against Barcelona. There Barcelona suffered the ultimate humiliation, 8:2 against the Bavarian giants.
It was a horrible performance and it leaves us with a terrible feeling. We have hit rock bottom. We feel embarrassed. You can’t compete as we have done tonight. This is very hard to take. And it’s not the first time, it’s not the second time, or the third time. The club need changes and I’m not talking about the coach or any one player. The club needs profound change. We have hit rock bottom. We have to reflect and do what is best for the club. I will be the first to offer to go if we need new blood.Pique, after the game
People would’ve thought that Barcelona learned their lessons. New season, new hope. Only this time Barcelona’s problems were visible in the group stages. Their last game against Juventus was to determine who’d advance as group winner and theoretically get an easier draw. They were in charge and the only thing that could take their 1st spot was a loss by more than 2 goals, at their home ground. Barcelona lost 0:3, so they finished second in the group and drew group H winners PSG. There was no derby, after Messi gave Barcelona the lead everything went PSG’s way. Kylian Mbappe scored a hat-trick, Moise Kean added one, and the French champions are with one foot into the quarter-finals.
Of course, football taught us that nothing is impossible. Barcelona is capable of coming back from this score as we saw at the beginning of this article. Above all this Barcelona team is not looking scary now, teams go out on the pitch against them with the thought of winning, that wasn’t a case 5 years ago. Let’s do a quick recap of the reasons for that fall.
Barcelona couldn’t fill the gap left by Neymar. They spent 400m € for his replacements: Dembele, Coutinho, Griezman. None of them looks like they’re capable of stepping in Neymar’s boots and leading the team. It’s not a coincidence that there are rumors about Neymar returning to Barcelona every transfer window. They couldn’t replace the leaders in the team after their retirements. Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta were the backbone of Barcelona’s greatest team. It’s a tough task to replace them, but Barcelona are paying mad money for average players and letting players like Suarez go to their rivals without having a replacement. The swap between Miralem Pjanic and Arthur is one of the strangest deals in modern football.
Lack of Leaders
This Barcelona team lacks leadership. They have probably the greatest football player in history, but that is a blessing and a curse at the same time. When Messi is on his game he is unplayable and Barca can defeat every team. But when Messi is not at his best people around him can’t help. They are hiding, trying to pass the responsibility to him. There is no other player in this team that can pull them up, especially after Suarez left.
In recent months there is word around that Barcelona have financial problems. Corona crisis, lack of fans in the stadiums, European failure, and ridiculous transfers and wages have all brought the team to be on the verge of financial collapse. All those failures play their part in the team’s communications. The culmination was a heated exchange between Pique and Griezman during the loss against PSG.
Transfers over La Masia
Barca’s success through the years was built on the talents that came through La Masia. In recent years there are only a few young players that made their way into the first team from the academy. Maybe going back to the roots is key for Barcelona’s renaissance. But will they have the balls for that? Because this rebuilding will probably mean a couple of years without a trophy. But who knows when the next prodigy will come from La Masia.
As I said he’s a blessing and a curse. His contract is expiring at the end of the season. Will Barca convince him to sign an extension or will he leave? Do they have a plan for the era post Messi? Will he be able to work his magic in the second leg against PSG? Can he drag this Barcelona team to their sixth Champions league? This will be the best way to say goodbye, but it doesn’t look very likely.