The Champions League draw on 1st October saw the one true dream of football fans worldwide come true: Messi vs Ronaldo, one more time, and possibly, one last time. The universe works in mysterious ways, the one time Messi and Ronaldo’s teams were eligible to be drawn in the same group, they were in fact, drawn in the same group. FC Barcelona and Juventus will face off against each other in the Champions League, and with such an enticing match-up comes many exciting storylines.
Ronald Koeman vs Andrea Pirlo
Both Barcelona and Juventus are coming out of relatively disappointing seasons, with ex-managers Quique Setien & Maurizio Sarri failing to deliver in the Champions League, the European giants have turned to corresponding club legends, Ronald Koeman & Andrea Pirlo. Koeman, a seasoned manager, and Pirlo, who is stepping into the world of management for the first time, both hope to mark the turn of the tide at their respective clubs. Having been given promising squads, one led by Lionel Messi and the other by Cristiano Ronaldo, the Dutchman, and the Italian have been entrusted with bringing about a revolution. In this matchup between two managers who have something to prove, who will prove triumphant?
Frenkie de Jong vs Matthijs de Ligt
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images
In 2018/19, Ajax took the footballing world by storm when they made a commendable, and an unforeseen run in the Champions League. The Dutch team led by Erik Ten Hag made it all the way to the Champions League semi-final, and if not for a 96th minute, Lucas Moura moment of magic, Ajax would have been playing in the UCL Finals. At the heart of the team, were Dutch duo Frenkie de Jong & Matthijs de Ligt. de Jong, then 21, was Ajax’s beating heart in the midfield, and de Ligt, then 19, was the team’s captain. The duo’s exquisite performances meant that scouts from every top club in Europe were watching like vultures. Two, long transfer sagas emerged, and they ended with Frenkie de Jong moving to FC Barcelona for 75 million euros + variables, and Matthijs de Ligt, moving to Juventus for 70 million euros + variables. de Jong & de Ligt both had decent debut seasons, and in their second season, the two will be hoping to take their game to the next level. Barcelona’s fixture against Juventus will see the Dutch duo return to the same pitch but on opposite sides.
Miralem Pjanic vs Arthur Melo
The summer transfer window saw Barcelona & Juventus exchanging midfield generals Miralem Pjanic & Arthur Melo. Barcelona brought in Pjanic to inject experience in a team consisting of young midfielders (with Vidal and Rakitic leaving), while Juventus purchased Arthur for the polar opposite reason, to introduce youth and a sense of excitement to the squad. The Spanish media reported that Arthur did not want to leave the Catalan club, with the Brazilian’s mother suggesting the same on Twitter. In the matchup between the Blaugrana & Bianconeri clubs, Arthur will want to show the Catalans why they were wrong to sell him, while Pjanic will play to show the world why the Catalans were right to sign him.
Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Photo via Imago
Messi vs Ronaldo. Simply iconic. Ronaldo’s departure from the Spanish capital in 2018, planted seeds of doubt in the minds of football fans, as to whether the world will get to witness a matchup between the two greatest players of all time, ever again. Well, it’s 2020, and here we are. In a rather gloomy year, the last dance between the two legends is sure to be a beacon of light. Messi, 33, and Ronaldo, 35, in the twilight years of their careers, are hungrier than ever to prove that they have still got it, that in spite of the rise of new players, they are still the gods of the game. So when the kick-off whistle blows, make sure to savour and live every moment, because this might be your last chance to do so.
FC Barcelona will travel to Turin to face Juventus on the 29th of October, while Juventus will visit Catalonia to play in the Camp Nou on the 9th of December.
Barcelona’s rebirth is inevitable, but it will take time
Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner. In early March, the club will finally get their long-awaited new president following the tyranny that was Josep Maria Bartomeu’s tenure. And perhaps ‘tyranny’ may be a bit too harsh of a verdict, but how else would you call years of systematically destroying the club, consciously or subconsciously, plunging it deeper and deeper into the abyss? On second thoughts, ‘tyranny‘ will just have to do.
But all of that is firmly behind us now. In just weeks’ time, the Catalan giant will rise once more, reborn from the ashes of its fallen self to conquer the world anew. But things in football are never really that easy, are they? Everyone knows you can’t win all the time.
Even the greatest of teams such as Pep Guardiola’s very own Barcelona had their rise, peak and subsequent downfall. And there are not many clubs out there who have faced the harsh reality of building new dynasties from scratch as much as Barcelona have.
So if history is any indication at all, change takes time and the upcoming presidential tenure at the club will be no different. But let’s get one thing clear right away – this is not meant to bash any of the three candidates nor promote them either. All three of Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Antoni Freixa have their own visions of the direction in which to take their beloved club.
However, to think everything will suddenly and immediately change upon their appointment would be foolish. No, in March, we’re not getting the rebirth; we’re only getting the very beginning of one. With a new president sitting in that chair and appointing a new board, Barcelona will once again lay the groundwork for future success.
The immediate appointment of the new upper hierarchy might boost the morale, of course. And that in itself could then translate to a boost on the pitch as well. But a new president can only do as much in such a short amount of time. The real battles are always fought on the pitches and there, Barcelona are still looking like a broken team.
This too, of course, can be fixed over time. With the appropriate staff behind the scenes, a much better scouting department, physios, psychologists and a step-by-step tactical and squad overhaul, we can start hoping for result. But those are all long-term goals that require patience both from us the fans and the team itself.
Unfortunately, years of failure in the market, chasing ghosts of our pasts and blind picks, have resulted in a financially distorted club. Where once was wealth and prosperity now we only have crumbs of former glory. Yes, Barcelona are still a powerful outfit that can and should be aiming to attract only the very best.
But we also have to remember that each of the three candidates is seemingly putting a lot of emphasis on going back to the roots. ‘The roots‘ here mean La Masia, the academy and the youth. But just as is the case with any sporting project, especially the ones founded on the strength coming from within, this takes time to develop. Rome wasn’t built overnight. Nor was La Masia or Barcelona’s legacy, for that matter.
The Azulgranas really do have incredible talent in their youth ranks and this is definitely a pool of players that should be utilised in the future. We shouldn’t, however, expect to find the new Golden Generation right around the corner.
We have been fooled into thinking the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi are the standard and the rule. Unfortunately, as much as we like to keep telling ourselves otherwise, they are very much the exception to the rule; the standout and likely a one-in-a-million crop of players that flourished under a brilliant manager.
So many things had to be in the right place for them to make it, and somehow, the stars had aligned back then to ensure their development into footballing giants. It would be foolish to expect the same thing to happen again, or rather, to happen that quickly.
But with the right foundations, the right personnel, trust and hope, why shouldn’t we believe in it happening once more? After all, we have the secret recipe for success but are too afraid to use it. Why? Well, the times have changed since Barcelona last ruled the world.
Back in 2009, success was not guaranteed nor was is so expected and the fans were nowhere near as spoilt as they are now. Back then, the coach actually had the time to build a squad, groom them and mould them in his image. That’s what Pep did and miraculously enough, it didn’t take him years, not even months, to start making something truly incredible.
And in so many ways, 2021 mirrors that exact same situation. Before Pep’s time, Frank Rijkaard had been struggling for a while and his team, despite having some big names, was in a need of an overhaul. In that regard, Barcelona were entering their transitional period, the same one they are experiencing now.
Rijkaard bowed out from the stage having finished third in La Liga and having exited both Copa del Rey and the Champions League in the semi-finals. It was a valiant effort for a broken team but ultimately, he finished his tenure with a trophyless season. But in so many ways, that 2007/08 campaign was a start of a new story; one that promoted trust in the youth, power from within and confidence in the beginning of a rise to glory.
So what can we learn from that? We must accept that change is sometimes necessary but that it can cost a lot. In football, results and trophies matter, that’s in the nature of the sport. But sometimes you have to take a step back before you jump two steps forward. 2020 wasn’t easy and 2021 is looking equally as exhausting and challenging. But it’s also necessary.
Already, in a season that may seem full of pain, anger and disappointment, we’ve seen glimpses of what’s to come. Players like Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ronald Araújo rising to the occasion to guide us to a better future. That future may also be without Lionel Messi, the one player who embodies this club the most.
But we should also remember Pep had to lose, or rather let go of Ronaldinho to kickstart his great overhaul. Both players were and still are icons of the club but a new era requires new heroes and new leaders. So even if Messi leaves this coming summer, the world won’t suddenly stop, nor should Barcelona’s strive for greatness.
In March, a new president will get elected and the foundation for a better future will finally be set. It will take time and it won’t suddenly solve all of our problems.
But it will give us a push that we oh so need. Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner.
Don’t give up hope in the moment of our greatest triumph.