Upon watching young superstar Kylian Mbappe singlehandedly tear this Barcelona defence to shreds, and yet another capitulation from the club in football’s biggest stage at the hands of PSG, many emotions will have been going through Barca fans’ minds. Surprise, though, was not one of them.
As much momentum as the team had built, as good as Messi was playing lately, and as much as we didn’t want to believe it, we all saw this coming. After all, what else could we anticipate seeing from a team that has delivered consistently woeful performances in the Champions League for the past five years?
The harsh reality is that results like this, as inconceivable as it would’ve been ten years ago, have become expected. I can’t be the only one who was wishing “please, not another humiliation” before this game kicked off, and it’s a clear indication of just how much Barcelona have fallen in such a short time.
This result is embarrassing, but what’s even more embarrassing is the fact that we all saw this coming from a mile away. After all, just how different is this team from the team that lost 8-2 six months ago?
Following that game, “total rebuild” was the conclusion the club came to, or at least should’ve come to. Yes, promising youngsters like Pedri, Ronald Araujo, Sergiño Dest and Francisco Trincao are now first-team regulars. But of the team that suffered the humiliation against Bayern, only Dest and Pedri are new.
Of the defence that conceded eight goals, the only change was Dest for Semedo at right-back. Jordi Alba is still there, Gerard Pique is still there, and criminally, Clement Lenglet is still there.
How he was preferred to Mingueza today after the season he’s had is inexcusable. If the “two right-footed center-backs” excuse pops into your head (cough cough Ronald Koeman), think about how Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano are both right-footed, and it looks like they got along with Pique just fine.
Alba wasn’t at fault defensively today, although he was lethargic going forward, and for his first game in three months after what was supposed to be a career-ending injury at 34, Pique was about as good as can be expected. His leadership will be important in the coming weeks. Dest showed that he still has a long way to go defensively, and at just 20 years old, he will improve.
Sergio Busquets once again showed that he no longer has the legs to keep up with quick opposition attackers, as good as he is in possession. A midfield of Frenkie de Jong, Pedri and Riqui Puig is the future of Barcelona, and Koeman has to realize that soon enough.
Ousmane Dembele had one of his worst performances in a Barca shirt, being wasteful and arrogant in possession, as well as consistently failing to track back defensively. As for Antoine Griezmann, he wasn’t terrible and worked hard, but he missed good opportunities in front of goal, which has been the story of his Barcelona career.
Joan Laporta reportedly wants to get rid of the “French contingent” at the club if/when he becomes president, and after this showing, you really can’t blame him. It may be harsh on Griezmann, but he is simply not a good fit for Barca, and sadly never will be.
And from Messi, it was a similar story. He was behind everything that the team did well, but he was let down by a very poor team performance. Granted, it was not his best match by his standards, but the system and players around him clearly did not help, nor did the shocking defending.
Despite his promising showings of late, it’s clear that in order to get the best of Messi, he needs to have a good system around him. Valverde didn’t have it, Setien didn’t have it, and at least for now, it looks like Koeman doesn’t have it working well enough to compete with the best teams.
Of course, Koeman himself didn’t help either. He does know he can make attacking substitutions before the 75th minute, right?
In all seriousness, bringing on Mingueza, a defensive-minded right-back, for Dest as his first sub after going behind is appalling. As was subbing off Pedri, one of the few bright spots, for Trincao while keeping Dembele on, who may have taken his French allegiance too seriously today. Of course, the lively, in-form Trincao had less than 15 minutes to make an impact, already two goals down. And to top it all off, after selling Luis Suarez to a direct title rival because “his services weren’t required”, who does he bring on for the last five minutes of the match? Martin Braithwaite.
As poor of a managerial showing as it was from Koeman today, though, and it was poor, can this continued string of humiliations really be solely blamed on the managers? Absolutely not, and it cannot be solely blamed on the players either. It’s silly to single out Lenglet or Dembele, as bad as they were today, as the reason for Barcelona’s recent downfall, and the same goes for Koeman.
Unfortunately, the problems at Barca lie much deeper. This is simply a broken club at the moment, politically, economically, and on the pitch. There is no plan, and there hasn’t been for years, and it is mainly down to former president Josep Maria Bartomeu. He led the club into ruin, and it will take years to recover.
However, we have already taken the first step, which was to get him out. The interim president, Carles Tusquets, is no better, but he has only delayed the eventual rebuild. Barring some incredible circumstances, Laporta will win the next election on March 8th, and the work begins from there.
He has what it takes to bring Barcelona to the top, simply because he already has. In the past 15 years, just like we have seen how a president can run this club into the ground, we’ve also seen how one can lead it to success. If anyone has a good chance of reviving Barca, it’s Laporta.
Laporta can convince Messi to stay, Laporta can revert to trusting La Masia again, and Laporta can build a sustainable economic project at Barcelona. But it will take time.
There are certainly positive signs already, though, with a number of very promising youngsters in the first team. More signings are definitely required, and some definitely need to be shipped out, but the situation could certainly be worse for Laporta.
A young core of Dest, Araujo, Mingueza, Eric Garcia, De Jong, Pedri, Puig, Ilaix Moriba, Ansu Fati, and Trincao really isn’t something to be sniffed at. And there are more in La Masia coming up every single day. One way or another, Barca have assembled some incredible young talents, and the club certainly has a bright future.
However, we need to accept the harsh reality that this team still has a ways to go before it can compete for the Champions League again, and yet another brutal loss has reminded us of that. This may very well be our second-straight trophyless season, the first time in a long time that we have come up empty two years in a row.
But even in a time of such pain and turmoil, we are Futbol Club Barcelona, and we will rise again. One day, this Groundhog Day-like routine of Champions League humiliations will be broken, and we will be the best team in the world once more. It’s only a matter of time.
As Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed”. This past year has been rock-bottom for Barcelona, but if we don’t fail, we can’t succeed.
So remember these moments. Remember the pain, the agony, and the hopelessness of defeat. Because in time, all these moments will serve to do is make our eventual victory even sweeter.