To say Barça lost last night is understatement in and of itself. Barça did not lose yesterday, Barça as an institution was exposed last night, torn apart and unearthed for all to see. Each of Bayern’s eight goals felt like boulders of lead, sinking the ship that is Football Club Barcelona in the mess of its own creation. Yes, the decline of the institution has been gradual, but each knockout, each blow has been painful all the same. Anfield, Roma and now this have opened and reopened tender wounds, exposing the facade that has Bartomeu’s reign.
So, what now? What now for the massive financial/sporting institution that is FC Barcelona? Well, lots of pondering. This club is at a crossroads. It can either forsake the mistakes of the past and set out on a new road, or make the same mistakes. The club can either move back to the things that made it great or slip further into the anarcho-capitalist nightmare; the onset of which was initiated by Rosell, but hastened by Bartomeu. The question for Barcelona is existential, in and of itself. What does this institution represent? What does it want to be? And what does it stand for? Those are the questions that need answering. The petty bickering about managers and signings is entirely irrelevant.
This is a fight for the soul of an institution, the soul of an institution with a long and prestigious history; one with the highest of highs, and debilitating lows. It is a fight that reflects the future of football, and the long drawn commoditization of a working class sport.
In a strange way, this may be a moment of cleansing. A watershed years in the making. A final blow to the veneer of safety and success that has epitomised the last five years. It’s a moment to review the unbridled commitment to commercial success and the lowering moral standards, the defeatism, the arrogance and everything else. It is a moment of respite, in fact. A signal that the winds of change are coming. A sign that one way or another, the status quo is entirely broken.
What might those winds entail? Well, a spring cleaning of the roster is unlikely, although necessary. And, as controversial as this may be, this starts with Messi. This may well be the best time for both parties to part ways, to end this tryst and move to pastures anew. For Messi, he has a chance to live out the rest of his waning “prime” elsewhere, and part on good terms with an institution to which he has given his entire professional life. For Barça, the departure of Messi allows them to erase the remnants of a bygone era and get to the drawing board. His departure may well allow for an exodus of veteran deadwood, many of whom are close to Messi. The departure of Messi, in turn, would be a PR blow of epic proportions. Something Bartomeu or his cronies could not hope to weather. This could push them out too.
It’s operation clean slate. That is what is needed. Is it likely? No, absolutely not. Expect Bartomeu to sack a few suits and appease socios with marquee signings. Real change comes from within, the implosion has to be internal. That’s on the players. The fight for the soul of Barçelona lies with those that try to uphold it every week.