Standing tall with the sense of conviction on his face, no longer does Philippe Coutinho sulk and mope around like a dejected outsider. The Brazilian is finally looking the part at Barcelona, and slowly but surely, he’s living up to his immense price tag. While Barça in total made 4 signings this summer, the unanticipated resurgence of Coutinho– after returning from loan—feels like the biggest recruitment for the club this season.
At one stage last campaign, it became increasingly plausible that Philippe would never represent the Blaugrana colors ever again, with loan moves to the Premier League looking ever so imminent, but it appears that the fickle finger of fate might have finally done the club some good this time around as Phill proceeds to prove doubters wrong, making huge strides with the Barça emblem gleaming on his chest. The 28 year old’s emphatic display against Barcelona in the Champions League, which saw his side seal a colossal 8-2 victory, was the most brutal, yet ideal declaration to his disbelievers.
Ronald Koeman, in particular, deserves endless praise for helping Coutinho find his niche because truth be told, as talented as he may be, Phill is a lost cause once placed in unnatural positions. Even so, that goes without saying, the Brazilian maestro has worked his socks off to accommodate Barça’s proficient pressing system. He’s undoubtedly been reborn after his successful stint at Bayern, where he wasn’t awarded with much playtime, but the ideologies preached by the Bavarians were successfully instilled in him.
As opposed to Coutinho’s previous season at Barcelona, the former Liverpool man has been performing consistently, producing a man of the match display on a far more frequent basis. His work rate is higher, his self-esteem has elevated and he seems to fit Koeman’s intricate 4-2-3-1 system like a glove. The biggest, most prominent change in the 28-year-old’s gameplay seems to be his flexibility and loss in stiffness. In his earlier campaign, Coutinho wasn’t open to enduring numerous roles as his tendency to wander around and operate in a very specified manner brought him results very scarcely. However, looking at the current version of Phill, it’s safe to assume he’s positionally adaptable and fluid. Operating alongside Messi and Griezmann doesn’t seem to be hindering him, although the Frenchman has proven to not be sustainable in the attacking department.
The 28-year-old was deservedly awarded as the man of the match in the Azulgranas‘ last two outings, against Villarreal and Celta Vigo, racking up an assist a goal. Nevertheless, above all, it was his intensity and positional maturity that led to him being oh-so vital in his favored mediapunta role, where he’s managed to take off a considerable amount of burden from Leo Messi.
It’s a relief knowing the South American looks so full of life. Working under an elite manager such as Hansi Flick has certainly done him some good. Coutinho is finally measuring up to the high expectations fans had from him back in 2018, and if he continues his red hot form into the crucial stages of the season, the Catalans might actually be a force to reckon with.
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.