The moment came. Cules Rejoiced, fireworks lit up all across Catalonia. In Turin, Messi and Pique silently exchanged grimaces. It was after all not an outcome of a days effort. Josep Maria Bartomeu had resigned after years of being at the wrong end of criticism.
It was a victory not just of Messi and Pique but so many people around the world. It was a victory of democracy and the fall of Monarchy. A victory for Victor Font, Joan Laporta and so many others looking to take over the presidency. It was a victory of the Socis, and one of the fans too. Most importantly, it was a victory for FC Barcelona and one for Football.
The reign of terror came to a screeching halt on Tuesday. It marked the end of a tumultuous era that stemmed from Sandro Rosell. The period had seen Barcelona transition from their peak to the lowest they had ever been.
The fans who arrived at the Camp Nou to protest will have cause for celebration now. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)
From a team that toyed with the biggest sides in Europe as if they were toys to a side that has become synonymous with ‘bottling’. Moreover, from a side that showed beautiful football on the field to one that had to advertise that they play colourful football. The fall has been steep.
Why do well, sir?
Now, all eyes are finally on a fresh start. The options on the horizon are promising. Whether it is Victor Font, Joan Laporta or Augusti Benedito, it will certainly not be Bartomeu or his troop again. His term would indeed have ended in just six months either way. However, plugging the hole six months in advance serves a lot to the club’s benefit.
It not only provides six more months for good decision making but eliminates 180 days of bad decision making. With elections just 90 days from now, Culés breathe a sigh of relief. However, one must not forget that the damage inflicted by the previous board is not to be taken lightly. A stitch in time would have saved nine. Barcelona now, however, need all nine and probably even more stitches.
Bartomeu’s days were always numbered once Messi threatned to leave. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)
In an ideal world, bureaucratic issues should have little to no effect on the sporting results of a team. The world, however, is far from ideal. It is well known that a lot of the senior players were against Bartomeu & co. The management ill-treated them on multiple occasions, hiring agencies to spoil senior players names, and used them as scapegoats to plug their mistakes.
The first task for the new board will start with convincing the existing players about the project in hand. Lionel Messi, for instance, has reiterated multiple times that all he wants to see is a project. Providing a blueprint of what is planned for the coming years will be inevitable and crucial for those taking over. After all, transparency goes a long way.
However, sporting results do not depend solely on the existing players. With the amount of money laundering and the innumerable scams pulled off by the previous board, those coming in will find themselves at an acute shortage of funds.
The transfer budget will be curtailed; a new project undoubtedly requires a lot of economic investment which may not be available immediately.
A rebuild requires going back to the fundamentals, and the new personnel will have to start from the grassroots. Right from the way the academy is handled, to the opportunities provided to the graduates.
The scouting, the transfers, sensible contracts that keep players on their toes are all factors affecting a long term objective. After all, it is the youth that will constitute the next golden generation. All this drinks in a lot of revenue. Especially after the global pandemic and consequent absence of stadium revenue, things seem uphill.
In the managerial department, too, changes threaten to arrive hard and fast. Though Koeman has just got started, there is no guarantee that the new board will be supportive of him. In the event of it being Victor Font, it seems almost certain that another club legend in Xavi Hernandez will replace the Dutchman. This again requires time, money and patience.
A project is a like a tree. If mildly injured, it can recuperate. However, once brought down, it cannot be salvaged.
Similarly, it is wrong to expect a project like Barcelona’s that has been so recklessly handled in the recent past to be “fixed”. Very much like the tree, the only way to relive the past will be to plant a new sapling. And that demands patience, time and effort. The sapling will take time to flourish; however, it is the only way to get back the nostalgic lushness of the tree that one craves.
Bartomeu and his men have ruthlessly felled Barcelona’s tree. With 488 million euros just as openly admitted debt, the damage is truly unfathomable. Taking over the presidency at this stage is nothing short of self-sabotage. Yet, we have the men who are ready to take over and see the club through this obstinate period.
The Camp Nou will scream in joy once more. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
That nostalgic Barcelona that promised beautiful dominating football every week is a part of our golden history. Undoubtedly, we may not see that magic again. Nevertheless, all Culés ask for is a competitive team that can compete dominantly on all fronts.
With Bartomeu finally out, and a new board, that will surely come. We must remember, though, that Rome was not built in a day. Success will take its time to arrive, but when it does, it is going to last. The fans must not be hasty. A lengthy wait may be ahead, but one that is worth it.
Glass half empty: Is the season already over for Barcelona?
If the objective for Barcelona for the present season was to make up for what was lost in its predecessor, then they have gotten off to the possible start. In nine matchdays in the current campaign, the Catalans have garnered up a measly eleven points from a possible 24, and even with 30 matchdays yet to play, doubts have been cast over their title credentials.
Leagues are lost in the first eight games
In his book Pep Confidential, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said that leagues are lost in the first eight and won in the last eight games of any given campaign. One need only look at the Barcelona and tumultuous end to the 2019/20 season for evidence of the same.
Despite heading into the lockdown holding a two-point advantage over nearest challengers Real Madrid, Barcelona proved to be the perfect test subject for what Pep Guardiola’s experiment. In the final eight games of the season, Los Blancos won 22 points while the men in Garnet and Blue garnered up just seventeen. Why so?
Well, a panoply of systemic issues ranging from the incompetent management of Quique Setién to the atrocious defending from the back four as well as unexpected injuries were enough for the Blaugrana to concede the title.
A pattern all too similar — if not worse — is repeating itself in the current campaign. As mentioned before, the former champions have won just eleven points from a possible 24 and are on their worst start to a season since 1991-92 under Johan Cruyff. Some conspiracy theorists would argue that because it happened then, history might repeat itself, however, the context today is significantly different from that of the 90s.
With 23 points and sitting atop of the pile is Real Sociedad and they show no intention of slowing down. Not right now, anyway. Ten games into the season, the Txuri-Urdin have emerged victorious seven times, drawn twice and conceded defeat just once. They have hit the back of the net 21 times (best in the league), and have picked the ball from theirs on just four occasions.
📊 — Barcelona are currently placed 13th on the La Liga table. They are 12 points away from the league leaders (Real Sociedad), and are 4 points away from relegation zone. pic.twitter.com/DuECLJT0jt— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) November 23, 2020
Barcelona meanwhile are on one of their worst scoring seasons in recent history, averaging just below two a game while conceding just over one in each. To put into perspective just how disastrous a campaign this is turning out to be, the Catalans would need to taste defeat just once more to equal their record from the 2014-15 treble-winning season.
Much from this point on will depend on La Erreala’s form in the future. Based on expected goals and points, a dip might be on the cards, however, how drastic it will be, or if it will even come around in the first place, is uncertain.
A lack of tactical ingenuity
Koeman’s stubbornness has left the season in the dust for Barcelona. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
A handful of the matches played during the Ronald Koeman era that have shown glimpses of how his ideal Barça side should play, however, these sorts of performances have often been sandwiched between games that were, to say it lightly, deplorable to watch.
The Dutch manager does not seem to have a set plan of action for whenever the team finds itself a goal down. In moments where his critical thinking ability is put to the test, he seldom passes. Rather than insist on maintaining control of the ball by adding a midfielder or two, he completely drains the team of them, perhaps believing in the logical fallacy that more attacking players equal to a higher chance of winning.
Not only is he inept at making proper changes to the side when in a losing position, but his willful ignorance at the failures of his favoured 4-2-3-1 also massively contribute to the team’s inability to win.
Riqui Puig should be the symbol of everything Barcelona should strive to be, however, due to his preference of one formation and one only, arguably the Catalans’ best midfielder finds himself cast into the shadows.
Everyone loves Riqui Puig…everyone but Koeman apparently. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
If a system in which the midfielder that embodies the Barça way of playing is not playing, and the arrangement itself is barely living up to its expectations, then a continuation of the same will serve not only to widen the gap between the Blaugrana and the rest of Europe’s elites but also stray further and further away from what made them great, to begin with.
A crisis in the clinic
As if it were an epidemic within the dressing room, injuries have once again proven to be the incurable seasonal plague that Barcelona simply can not find a way around.
It would by no means be logical to place blame on the manager for these unforeseen and uncontrollable happenings, however in light of their title challenge, the more injuries come, the slimmer Barça’s chances are of surmounting a challenge worthy of being crowned the best in Spain, let alone Europe.
In attack, the Blaugrana are just one injury away from being forced into playing with three attackers upfront. It might force Barcelona to go back to using the 4-3-3, but it will stem from a position of compulsion rather than by design.
On the contrary, given the fact that Ansu Fati will be out for another three months, any lesion on either one of Ousmane Dembélé or Lionel Messi, the two most productive members of the current attack, could signal the end of any title challenge the Catalans, if there is one to begin with.
The absence of Fati and Pique will hurt Barcelona massively this season. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
In defence, following the long term injuries sustained by Gerard Piqué and Sergi Roberto, the same horrid storyline repeats itself. The two-time treble winners find themselves just two injuries away from having just neither a centre-back nor a left-back. The shallowness the defence faces today, in comparison to the depth it nearly boasted just two months ago shows to what extent football’s hand can be as unpredictable as it is cruel.
Given the trend, Barcelona have found themselves victim to over the past two seasons, another wound might be somewhere around the corner. Of course, no one in the Barça camp wishes this upon their players, however, the odds seem firmly stacked against their favour.
Any scope left for Barcelona in this season?
Barcelona is by no means a club known to surrender, in any season — in the La Liga at least —, but finding themselves a whopping twelve points behind this early on makes the task seem almost unsurmountable. As unlikely as it sounds, the Blaugrana still do have a chance to clinch the title for the 27th time.
For this to happen, however, Barcelona will not only have to weed out some of its core systemic problems but also pray that fate’s cruel hand will not strike them another blow. The problems Barcelona face are not set in stone, fortunately. They will need plenty of mental strength, tactical ingenuity and luck to go the extra mile and do the impossible.