So much for the whole "Happy New Year" thing, right? We’re less than a week into 2015 and already FC Barcelona in deep in the midst of its first crisis of the year and goodness, it’s a big one. In the space of a few short days this week, FC Barcelona have...
- Lost at the Anoeta;
- Sacked their Sporting Director Andoni Zubizarreta;
- Watched the departure of a former club legend in Zubi’s assistant, Carles Puyol; and
- Declared early presidential elections for 2015
All that, and we haven’t even mentioned the distinct possibility of a growing feud between our head coach, Luis Enrique and our star player, Lionel Messi yet. Yes, it’s been quite a week so far in Catalunya although, mercifully, tomorrow may bring an intermission to the soap opera/tragedy that is this week’s FC Barcelona, and a temporary return of the FC Barcelona we all know and love. You know the one, the actual football part of the club, as our beloved Blaugrana prepare to return to Copa del Rey action when they host Elche CF at the Camp Nou.
Last month, a match like this against such lowly opposition at the Camp Nou would have barely registered as a threat on the mind of Culés; yet after the past few days, this could be the match that ended it all. A defeat in light of recent developments regarding his reported relationship with Lionel Messi would likely spell the premature end of Luis Enrique’s reign as head coach, while it might also end Barça’s dreams of silverware this season.
With the club in turmoil, this squad seems ill-equipped to cope with the demands of a 38-game domestic league campaign, particularly against two such impressive rivals in Atletico and Real Madrid. The UEFA Champions League can only be considered but a distant pipedream given our lacklustre form as of late, meaning that the Copa del Rey might be the only realistic chance we have at lifting a trophy.
Even then, do we really think we could eliminate either Real or Atletico Madrid over two legs later this month? Whether it’s the relentless criticism from the press, or just the reality of our scenario, things are looking very bleak indeed but they don’t have to remain that way. A good performance tomorrow night against Elche might go some way to alleviating the tension and pressure at the club; after all, if we’ve hit the bottom, the only way left to go is up.
Logically however, if we take this quite literally there are other options: we could equally head in a horizontal direction. It wouldn’t herald some improvement, nor would it be proof of a further decline – it would simply be FC Barcelona finding a new way to remain at the same disappointing level, perhaps through the introduction of a new starting line-up...something that seems to have defined Luis Enrique’s current reign as Barça coach.
Whether his rotations will benefit the players later in the season remains to be seen; at present the debate is whether his constant tinkering has affected player morale, confidence and subsequently, our results. Personally, I’m a fan of rotating your squad; it keeps key players fresh throughout the season, and helps prolong their careers, yet at the same time it is painfully clear that there has to be some method and reason behind the madness.
Resting players after an international break is reasonable; benching key players who have returned from long vacations is less. Indeed, rotation like all good things is best enjoyed in moderation; when used excessively it merely serves as a self-critique – an acknowledgement you, the manager, were wrong with your last selection. Indeed, with each passing week and each subsequent change, it gets harder and harder to provide solid reasoning for each decision as and when they are made. In the end, it just seems random, or the real reasoning at least is far too complex for anyone to feasibly understand.
Why for example was Martin Montoya exiled for months at the start of the season to the extent that his agent declared his intention to leave Catalunya, only to be recalled from the wilderness in recent weeks by the same manager? As he was pushed into the heart of defense on Sunday, it was difficult to believe that this was the same Martin Montoya and Luis Enrique that had seemingly fell out earlier in the campaign.
A common misconception is that football is won on the field by a physical battle between 22 players; rather it is actually one that is contested mentally. Tactics and motivation are the key cornerstones, and at present, Luis Enrique is failing to deliver in either respect.
The introduction of self-doubt has been creeping into the Barça squad for a while now, replacing the lingering traces of complacency that characterised the end of the Guardiola era. At first, we got bored of being the best; then, when we wished to rekindle that bygone era, we realised we simply weren’t good enough anymore. A tough psychological blow, typified by Barcelona’s performance in this season’s premier Clasico.
Even from my spot in the highest tier of the pantheon that is the Santiago Bernabeu, I could see the fear and doubt in the minds of the Barça players. Compared to that fabled night on the 29th November 2011, when Los Blancos made an unforgettable trip to the Camp Nou, this was a complete role reversal. How the mighty had fallen, and naturally, Enrique has received criticism for his role in this decline.
Still, in spite of everything, I wonder whether he is unfairly being singled out when there were many contributing factors in our fall from grace; indeed is there a single individual involved with the club that isn’t in some way accountable? Enrique for his tactical blunders and unorthodox to non-existent man-management skills. Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu for their mistakes at boardroom level. Andoni Zubizarreta for his as Sporting Director.
But also the players: Lionel Messi contributes much and is the primary source of our success and happiness as Barça fans, yet his attitude has worsened considerably over the years. Political powerplays on one hand, a near-total abstinence from defensive duties on the other – my point being that no-one is coming out this episode smelling of roses.
Be that as it may, the path to atonement for everyone at FC Barcelona begins tomorrow and the length of that journey may be shortened considerably, provided that we can put all these politics, agendas and negativity behind us, instead focusing our efforts on the one thing that matters most: football.
FC Barcelona 3-0 Elche CF – 24th August 2014 – Copa del Rey
Fitting really; the road to redemption begins where our journey under Luis Enrique started: at the Camp Nou, against Elche CF. On the opening night of the La Liga season, a brace from Lionel Messi and a debut goal for Munir El Haddadi secured the three points and an encouraging start for the Blaugrana. Oh if only we knew what was to follow a few months later...
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Adriano; Mascherano, Rakitić, Rafinha; Pedro, Messi, Neymar
Elche (4-2-3-1): Tyton; Suarez, Lomban, Pelegrin, Cisma; Pasalic, Adrian; Victor, Fajr, Rodrigues; Jonathas
Predicting what’s going to happen at FC Barcelona? If ever there was an impossible task, that might be it...I’m going with an entirely random 4-0 home win.