By Christian Evans.
Their season rested on their Champions League clash with Bayern Munich. The defeat not only signals a season without silverware but yet another managerial change.
Former boss Ernesto Valverde received his marching orders midway through the season. Quique Setien, who was only appointed in January, has recently been sacked. This means Barcelona are in search of their third manager in a matter of months.
Changing managers won’t immediately solve the problems Barca have faced over the past few seasons. The club also have to think about which manager would even consider taking a one year job. That is if rumours about former legend Xavi being interested in a return to the Camp Nou in 2021 are true.
Ronald Koeman has been appointed as the club’s next manager, but it may not be a long-term move. The club’s presidential elections will take place in March 2021 and likely winner, Victor Font, wants to appoint Xavi.
Barcelona and Messi Papering Over Cracks
Managerial issues aren’t the only concern. The cracks Lionel Messi has papered over in recent years have become ever more noticeable.
Messi’s stats over the last three to four years combined powered Barcelona to multiple La Liga titles. Real Madrid prioritizing the Champions League and Atletico Madrid going through a rebuild, were partly the reason the La Liga title stayed in Catalonia, but Real won the league this season and looked miles ahead of their Clásico rivals.
This situation in the Champions League this season has parallels with the Barcelona side of 2012/13 who crashed out of the competition to eventual champions Bayern.
The Bavarians crushed Barca 7-0 across the two legs in a year of dominance similar to that which they’re experiencing this time around. It was a sign for things to come as Barcelona endured a trophy-less season in 2013/14 under Gerardo Martino, and the Argentine was dismissed not long after.
Barcelona spent huge money to contend again under Luis Enrique as the combination of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar powered them to a La Liga, Copa Del Rey, and Champions League title in his first year.
Since Enrique departed, the cracks began to emerge again as Valverde struggled to compete in Europe.
This was despite the £875m in transfer fees that had been spent. Barca’s three most expensive signings — the fourth, fifth and sixth most expensive signings in history — were on the bench in Lisbon. Antoine Griezmann was introduced at half-time and was virtually anonymous in 45 minutes of action. Ousmane Dembélé wasn’t even given a chance.
Philippe Coutinho did make an impact, though, in a sterling 16-minute cameo, supplying two goals and an assist. Unfortunately for Barcelona, he was wearing the white shirt of Bayern Munich, having been loaned to the German champions in order to cut the wage bill last summer.
Prior to lockdown, it was reportedly announced that the Catalonians were willing to sell all bar six players, with Lionel Messi, Ansu Fati, Antoine Griezmann, Frankie De Jong, Gerard Pique and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen being those chosen to stay on. Regardless of the investment, the Catalans’ transfer policy has been questionable at best.
In their latest baffling move in the transfer market, Barca swapped Arthur for Miralem Pjanic — a 23-year-old for a 30-year-old, when the squad already has a number of players around their 30s. A club that once relied on developing youth is simply starting to look for a quick fix.
Since the departure of Neymar, Barcelona brought in Griezmann, Coutinho and Dembélé to replace the Brazilian, but all three have failed to hit the heights expected despite costing nearly half a billion euros.
Aside from those three, Barcelona have failed to add youth to their midfield. Only Frenkie De Jong is under the age of 30. While the core of Messi, Suarez, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique are all over that age.
The average age of the starting 11 against Bayern was 29 years and 329 days. It was interestingly the oldest team that the La Liga heavyweights have ever fielded in the Champions League, and it showed.
Since Valverde’s arrival, the club has spent significant sums on Malcom, Paulinho, Arturo Vidal, Nelson Semedo and the three players brought in to replace Neymar. Malcom and Paulinho have long since departed, Semedo’s name has repeatedly come up in transfer rumours, and Vidal is past his best.
To balance the books the club sold promising youngsters, Carlez Perez and Abel Ruiz. The club left Carles Alena, who was once touted as Andres Iniesta’s successor rotting on the bench for Real Betis.
Juan Miranda, Junior Firpo, Jean Clair-Todibo and Marc Cuccerella were others to have fallen victim to Barcelona’s bad decisions. Both Cuccerella and Miranda should have been challenging Jordi Alba’s left-back position but were sent on loan to Getafe and Schalke respectively while neither Firpo nor Miranda have been given an opportunity.
Fati and Rique Puig have been exceptions to the rule, but the fear that too much responsibility will be placed on the duo looms. Both Fati and Puig need to be given time to develop at their own speed and need stability at the club with a manager who knows how to get the best out of them.
Every day, the club continue to bring in players hoping for a quick fix instead of looking at the La Masia and attempting to retain the identity homegrown players bring. As a result, the academy players continue to look elsewhere for their future seeing no clear path to the first team, and Barca’s quick fixes continue to fall apart.