The lack of selflessness and cohesion has led Barça to disaster, but their lack of leadership has also been very evident in the most recent and painful defeats.
“We still have some unfinished business in the Champions League –– more than anything –– because of the way we were knocked out of the competition”. That is what Lionel Messi said in August 2018 after the Joan Gamper Trophy match between Barça and Boca Juniors. Fast forward two years, “we have reached rock bottom” from a visibly upset Gerard Piqué expressed after Barcelona’s shameful loss against Bayern Munich.
How can a team belonging to one of the most legendary clubs ever, including the best player to ever play the game, after spending more than €1 billion in the last six years, still lose and lose in such a shameful way after conceding eight goals? The reasons are plenty, but there is something that no tactic or technical advancement can fix: the lack of character this team has shown.
For Barcelona, the Champions League was a priority this season. After winning La Liga four times in five seasons, the significance of being Spanish kings might have faded slightly for the blaugranas. Similarly, the dominance they have exhibited in the Copa del Rey might have diminished the importance of the trophy in the squad. However, Barcelona were very hungry for the coveted Champions League. Since the 2014/15 season, the Spanish side has been unable to win the trophy.
Apart from this, the fact that eternal rivals Real Madrid won the competition thrice in a row just made the Catalans hungrier for this special victory. That’s why Messi’s words in August 2018 were so significant. A god-like figure in Barcelona, yet the Argentine genius seldom speaks publicly and almost never this passionately. The culés hung onto Messi’s words, everyone hoped for a Champions League in the last two seasons, or at least an indication that it could soon if not immediately return to Barcelona. That’s why this loss against Bayern Munich was much worse for the club than people all over the world think.
Now, Barça are in a state of chaos after the loss –– even more so than what has been the recent norm. Two managers have been sacked this season, technical director Éric Abidal has been sacked, the fans have completely turned against the current board and worst of all, it no longer seems impossible that Messi may leave. The loss has shaken the club to its core, but it has affected the fans incredibly as well.
People who spend their life supporting this club, people whose lives have always revolved around football and those who cling to the current Barcelona squad to replicate even a small portion of the golden days they grew up seeing, all of them had to watch as the eleven players in claret and blue conceded eight goals and they had to watch as their captain, the best player they have ever seen, helplessly looked on, almost as much a spectator as them.
Barcelona’s problem leading to the loss isn’t just the rigidity solely, neither is it only the lack of directness or the sluggish play they have exhibited. It is a problem at the psychological level. The players look as if they are afraid of the Champions League and as if they don’t possess the character that winners do.
As the match against the Bavarians went on, there came a point around six goals in when the Barça players were all still and static. Nobody was even making the crucial runs, nobody was hungry for the ball and looking to create. Nobody was telling their teammates not to lose hope or to keep trying. Even the manager was standing with his arms crossed, looking rightfully worried. This lack of character was further emphasised when the team apart from Barça B midfielder Monchu departed from the back entrance of the training facilities to avoid the fans.
Barça seems to be lacking the leadership that captain Carles Puyol would provide | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
Messi is the kind of leader who leads by example. But when his magical performances fail, he may not be the best captain. Gerard Piqué does try but he is not enough alone. Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto don’t have that fiery spirit that Barcelona’s captains need. Barça need a person like Carles Puyol. Not because of his superb defending or great ball-playing ability, but because of his character.
Can anybody even imagine Puyol standing still the way the entire team did when they were down by five or six goals? Does it seem like Puyol would leave from the backdoor to avoid the fans? The blaugranas desperately need a leader like Carles Puyol. Even against Liverpool or Roma, Barcelona seemed like a team without character towards the end. The players needed a player who can lead them into battle the way their old captains did.
“Does he want to spend his time left in that shirt given the performances and the way the squad is looking at the moment in comparison to other teams around Europe. Has he got the time to sit there and wait?”Rio Ferdinand on Lionel Messi to BT Sport
These problems with character are the most dangerous. Even with the best players in the world, if you have 11 players who are scared of taking risks and who keep remembering their past mistakes, it won’t work out. This dismantling of Barcelona by Bayern raises further questions. The most worrying one is: could this defeat be something that along with the terrible administration tips over Messi towards leaving the club? Will this specific squad even have the belief that they can win the Champions League? After the current loss, who is going to stop Barcelona from spiraling out of control? It seems like Barça will have to make every decision perfectly now to avoid becoming fallen giants.
Messi looks far from his best but continues to break records
Lionel Messi continues to break records despite coming close to the twilight of his career, making fans jump in the match against Ferencvaros. Every football fan knows that for the Argentine, team performance is more pivotal than personal acclamation. However, lately, Barcelona’s talisman was struggling a lot in the new system. Just when the fans were about to believe that the alien magic might never happen as part of Ronald Koeman’s Barca – it happened.
The abysmal start of this season showed a lack of thrill in Barcelona’s captain under Barcelona’s new boss. The speculations had already begun that the relatively cold Messi-Koeman relationship will affect both the captain and the overall team’s performance. These conjectures got more hype when Messi magic failed in La Liga’s four matches so far.
Slow start of the season
While struggling in a new role, Lionel Messi was able to score only one goal, which too was from a penalty. It is needless to say that the key caveat behind this was Argentine staying at Camp Nou against his will.
His performance in the league raised questions over his passion, and his keenness to be a part of the team anymore. Fans predicted that Messi would not be able to blossom under the new coach’s tactics. It was not about physical and technical challenges the talisman was mentally struggling too.
Messi looked to struggle initially. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)
During this chaos, things got worse when the forward failed to save Barcelona from Getafe as they fell 1-0 to the Madrid outfit in La Liga on Saturday. This defeat was the final nail in the coffin full of opinions that the best ever is not dedicated enough to save the Catalans anymore.
When the Blaugrana’s savior is constantly struggling in new positions and the overall team’s atmosphere is woeful, it is natural to lose hope. However, whenever the world doubted the king, he has proven it wrong. Thus, the talisman’s loyalists kept praying for the miracle.
Tuesday night came with that long-awaited miracle. Barcelona’s superstar continues to break records, stealing the headlines. He once again managed to prove the world wrong in a 5-1 victory game against Ferencvaros in the Champions League.
3 Records in 90 minutes
Lionel Messi had the fans and the opposition both left in eye-gazing awe, as he broke three records in a single game against Ferencvaros.
Barcelona’s captain opened the scoring from a penalty while leading the team on the four other occasions. Back in 2005, at the age of 18, Messi scored his first goal in the Champions League, and as now equalled Ryan Giggs’ record for scoringi in 16 seasons straight.
Messi also further pushed his own record of scoring the most goals in the Champions League group stages by scoring his 69th goal yesterday, pushing him six ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, who is second in this list.
Additionally, with his goal, Ferencvaros became Messi’s 36th victim team in Champions League. He was previously the record holder at 35 games, which makes it even more bizarre.
Three records down in one game – just Leo Messi things. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
Barca boss admitted before the game that their superstar is struggling and could do better. However, Koeman’s prediction came true when he was full of praise for the Argentine after the game.
All these records add to the impressive Champions League collection of Lionel Messi. Putting the records aside, his performance during this match was pleasing to see. This game came as a signal that the curse has been broken and good things are on their way. Now, this can be further strengthened against Real Madrid this weekend.