A couple of years ago, Barcelona were the living embodiment of playing the game the right way. Home-grown kids given their chance on the greatest stage playing a style of football that is so captivating in changed the way the majority looked at the game. Pep Guardiola, another homegrown talent, was at the helm, working tirelessly to unite a disjointed group with a vision he believed in.
This vision was implemented by Johan Cruyff and the world-renowned "La Masia" was born. This undying commitment to the La Masia way culminated at Wembley, a ground soaked in Barça history. Back in 1992, sport in Barcelona was at an all-time high. Barcelona had won the rights to the '92 Olympic Games and were preparing for the event when their football club made the 948 mile journey from the Camp Nou to London's Wembley.
This was no ordinary team though, this was the Dream Team. Cruyff on the sidelines, Andoni Zubizarreta in goal, a centre-back pairing of Ronald Koeman and Albert Ferrer, Guardiola as the pivote, with Barça greats Hristo Stoichkov and Michael Laudrup up front. The final, played against Italian side Sampdoria, was eventually won by a 112th minute free kick from Koeman.
Nineteen years later, the Catalan side were back at Wembley with a side that could match if not beat the '92 Dream Team. This time it was Guardiola on the sideline, Victor Valdés in-between the sticks, Sergio Busquets as pivote, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta running the game from midfield with the little genus Lionel Messi up top. Years of believing in a footballing philosophy climaxed in Barcelona simply playing Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United off the park. The Scottish great admitted that this Barcelona team was the greatest side he had ever faced in his long, trophy-filled career.
The sight of Éric Abidal, a man who had recovered from cancer, lifting the most prestigious club trophy in all of football will livelong in all football fans and not just the ones who adorn themselves in the red and blue of Barcelona.
Barcelona were on cloud nine but since the 2011 Wembley final and now, that stellar reputation has slowly disintegrated. Pep Guardiola left the club, citing mental exhaustion as his reason for leaving his boyhood club. The loss of Guardiola signalled the loss of that edge that made Barcelona one of the best teams ever to play the game. Opposition began to figure them out and their play became slow and lethargic. Managers came and went while boardroom issues that had planted their seeds during the Guardiola era began to come to fruition.
The branding of the Qatar foundation on the team' shirt, the first commercial sponsorship of it's kind, caused uproar with the fans. Johan Cruyff, the man who laid the foundation for Barcelona's success, was cast out by club President Sandro Rosell, stripped of his honorary presidency and forced to watch games on a television and not from within the stadium.
Rosell's reputation became murkier and murkier as the years went on. Allegations of corruption in countries such as Brazil, France and Qatar soured his already damaged image in the eyes of some Barcelona fans. The conversion of the shirt sponsorship from Qatar Foundation to Qatar Airways all but confirmed that the club's proud tradition of not bearing a commercial sponsorship was over. With the club's existing partnership with UNICEF reduced to a small font on the back of the shirt.
Guardiola was the first major departure of the Wembley champions but the next would've arguably hurt Blaugranes more. Éric Abidal, the man who had overcome cancer another time, was being forced to leave the club after he wasn't granted a new contract, despite Barcelona's desperate need for a defender. Instead he was granted a press conference alongside Rosell in which he used thinly veiled comments to confirm that he wasn't the one demanding he left.
Then came Neymar. A gifted player who will no doubt go on to become one of the greatest but his transfer is arguably one of the worst in football history. Filled with false figures about how much it cost and his previous club Santos see mingling getting the sharp end of the stick, it led to a court case in which Rosell was forced to resign. It took almost a year for the true figure to be revealed but by that point most fans had grown tired of the deception and Neymar's form on the field reflected the ongoing stress of the situation.
The team faltered, with Gerardo Martino adopting tactics that didn't work for Barça's best players such as Xavi and Iniesta. The team ended with only the Supercopa to their name and Martino was quickly shown the exit door.
Although times do appear to be changing. Luis Enrqiue, an ex-Barça player, is now the new manager and fans can be assured he is a believer in the philosophy that has won the club trophies. But even with the arrival of Enrique, it seems the club is moving further and further away from it's famous motto. Club captains Victor Valdés and Carles Puyol have both departed with Barça legend Xavi seemingly heading the same way. The arrival of a player such as Luis Suárez would all but seal this departure.
There is no denying, Suárez is an immensely gifted footballer but his talent does not justify his behaviour. At just 27 years of age, Suárez has seen plenty of controversy in his time. Biting Otman Bakkal, racially abusing Patrice Evra, deliberately blocking a Ghana goal with his hand that would've set the African team through in the 2010 World Cup, biting Branislav Ivanovic and his latest incident at this years World Cup. On the biggest stage of all, Suárez bit Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay's game against Italy in which the latter exited the tournament. This act of mindless violence is likely to be met with a lengthy ban for the Liverpool player from FIFA. Yet Barcelona continue their interest in him.
This is something that just wouldn't have happened a couple of years ago. After Zlatan Ibrahimović began to become discontent with his value in the team and caused tension among the group he was quickly loaned out to Milan. But even Ibrahimović at his worst didn't come close to biting a player. Ronaldinho and Deco were shipped out because of a perceived lack of effort and the idea of willing to sign a player who has bitten three players in his career and racially abused another to this club which represents so much to the people of Catalunya seemed absurd.
Yet here we are in 2014, with Barcelona willing to pay €50+ million for Suárez. If Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández and embodiments of Més Que Un Club then surely Luis Suárez is the embodiment of the reverse.