The day was March 8, 2017. I was working at my current employer when I noticed FC Barcelona scored 2 goals against Paris Saint-Germain to make it 2-4 on aggregate. Over an hour later, history was made and Barcelona completed one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, winning 6-1 and 6-5 on aggregate thanks to Sergi Roberto connecting on Neymar’s cross into the box in the final seconds of the second leg.
When that happened, I felt compelled to write a story. I had to. It was history and after being an FC Barcelona writer since 2011, I felt I had to come out of semi-retirement and give my take on the joyful occasion.
Three years later, Aug. 14, 2020, I felt compelled to come back once again, only this time, it was to say “bona nit” to the post-Luis Enrique treble/post-Neymar era FC Barcelona.
After Barca’s win over PSG three years ago, the French team made it the club’s goal to get the man that broke their hearts at the Camp Nou. And thanks to the riches they have, PSG got their man for $263 million. Barcelona were in trouble, as they’d have to find a replacement.
What happened was a series of unfortunate events that lead to what happened in Lisbon against Bayern Munich.
8-2. The Titanic that was FC Barcelona these past few years finally sank to the bottom.
Barcelona’s board, including club president Josep Bartomeu, began to think of the now and not the future. Instead of “Més que un club,” they went “Som el un club,” (We are the club) meaning they thought about themselves, profits, and what would make a splash to the media and other clubs.
Buy Ousmane Dembele for nearly €150M? Sure. But was he scouted completely? Did we know about any muscle issues? Probably not, but hey, he’s got great potential, right?!
Buy Philippe Coutinho for nearly €160M? Umm… sure? Again, another buy to replace Neymar. There were other options, but no, Coutinho is a big name, Brazilian, and would make a “big splash” in the transfer window.
Other patchwork signings like Malcom (one-year for nothing), Yerri Mina (can you even remember one good moment he had a FCB?) and Paco Alcacer (nope) did nothing but cost the club money.
Sign Arthur? OK! Maybe he can be the “Xavi-esque” long-term midfielder Barcelona needs. Nope, can’t pay him, allegedly, and he’s gone in exchange for an older player past his prime.
How about signing Antione Griezmann? Umm… for what?! Money wasted.
And no, signing Frenkie De Jong doesn’t erase every poor decision Bartomeu and the FCB board has made. We all get luck on our side once in a while.
On top of all of this, add an inept manager like Ernesto Valverde and you have the making of a club whose success is ticking away.
Yes, losing Neymar is difficult and nearly impossible to recover from. But Bartomeu and the board did not care about how to strengthen the team. They only cared about making waves in the transfer market with expensive signings, signings that don’t fit the style of the team’s key player like Lionel Messi, or signings just to flex their financial muscle.
And Valverde? His style was never going to work at FC Barcelona. He tried to adapt, and thanks to Messi and a few others on the team, he won two Liga titles, a Supercopa, and a Copa del Rey. But let’s be honest: he was carried by Messi, Luis Suarez and others to those titles.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid was winning Champions League titles, but I digress.
Let’s bring it back to what we saw in Lisbon.
What we saw on Aug. 14 was a cocktail of failure:
- 1 serving of the failures of the Barcelona board (bad signings and all)
- 1 shot of past-their-prime play of Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez
- 1 shot of “Who is Quique Setien and what is he doing managing Barcelona?!”
- Three fingers of Messidependencia
- 1 cup of Bayern Munich greatness
Shake that together and serve in a cold glass of worldwide humiliation.
This club has hit a new low. This club was the Titanic ever since Neymar took off to PSG. Yes, this club could have survived without him, and they have done so.
Only thing is they survived and have been dragging on themselves on the floor ever since. They’ve been in pain, struggling since 2017 to stay competitive. If it wasn’t for Messi keeping them going, this club would have bled out and died in the 2017 Champions League quarterfinals when Juventus smoked Barca 3-0 on aggregate.
Messi, along with a few other bright spots (remember that Paulinho actually played well at FCB for the short time he was there) kept this team crawling for three years. Combine that with a bit of luck and you have a couple of Liga titles.
But you can’t crawl forever. At some point, you run out of energy. And maybe — just maybe — someone comes to help put you out of your misery.
Sorry to go dark, guys, but the moment calls for it. Plus, this is just an analogy, so go with it.
Bayern Munich was that someone and they showed no mercy. They saw and knew Barcelona was weak, and decided to do what they do to other teams: take them out. Just like in 2014 when a limping Messi and Barca went to Munich, Bayern destroyed FCB with their relentless attack and ability to just steal the ball whenever they wanted to. At the same time, Pique, Jordi Alba, Nelson Semedo and even Clement Lenglet couldn’t do a thing about it.
Rakitic and Auturo Vidal? Nope. No help. Again, patchwork players past their prime and ineffective. Vidal said the day before the Bayern match that the Bavarians would be facing “the best team in the world.”
Send your apology to Robert Lewandowski, “Rey Arturo.”
How about Coutinho getting two goals and an assist against the team that loaned him out? Do your thing, Philippe.
Suarez got a goal, but where has he been these past few years? Injuries haven’t helped, but even when healthy, Luis has been less “el pistolero” and more of a water gun.
I can’t say anything bad about Marc-Andre ter Stegen. He’s been tremendous these years and it’s not his fault his team’s defense and midfield are inept. I hope he re-signs, but if he decided it’s time for a new start, I wouldn’t be mad. He has the club great years and if he feels he has a better chance of winning elsewhere, then so be it. At least we might be able to get some much-needed funds for him.
Obviously, there will be a new manager at FC Barcelona. Will it be Xavi, a young manager who is a legend as a player for the club? Or maybe it will be Mauricio Pochettino, the proven manager who built up a Tottenham club from second-tier Premier League club to a competitive squad in Europe and even a Champions League Final.
Whoever the new manager is, he has a Herculean task ahead of him. And he has to bring his own style, too. Adapting to the club’s “style” isn’t working for any manager arguably since Lucho. Instead of adapting to what’s best for Messi, maybe it’s time to bring a new style that Messi can adapt to? For the betterment of the young players like De Jong and Riqui Puig.
But the real unknown for the new boss is this: Will the new manager have Leo Messi beyond the 2020-21 season?
I saved talking about Leo for last because it’s tough to talk about the possibility of the greatest player in history, let alone club history, leaving FC Barcelona. While it won’t happen this year, it’s a very real possibility next summer.
Some of you are probably asking: Why would he leave his childhood club?
You should be asking yourself: Why would he want to stay?
Unless a major overhaul unlike we’ve ever seen happens at Barcelona, I wouldn’t be mad, upset or disappointed if Leo walks away in 2021. He’d leave not because he’s a quitter, but because he realizes while he can do more for the club, the club can’t do more for him.
Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are there, with players and a familiar system. And what a challenge it’d be to join City and see if you can help the club overtake Liverpool in the Premier League, right?
There’s always going back home to Argentina and play for Newell’s, Leo’s boyhood club.
Messi has options. One is a chance to play in a new country with an old friend/mentor. The other is a chance to complete a dream and go back to your home country.
And then there’s staying at the club that helped make you a star, you helped bring titles, and became an icon. But unless the club makes the major changes needed, you will not have success there ever again.
Right now, let’s be honest: Staying at Barcelona past summer 2021 is the least attractive option. And this is not taking into account the fact that some other club could come and get Messi’s interest.
Yes, I want Leo Messi to retire at FC Barcelona. But right now, I, or anyone else, would have a hard time trying to convince him to sign a new contract. That can change if the right manager with the right style of play comes in alongside new players.
Barca have several young players like Riqui Puig, Ansu Fati, De Jong, Pedri and Francisco Trincao coming up. But other than De Jong, will Messi be patient and give the youngsters 2 or 3 years until they’re able to make a major impact in big games like the Champions League? Yes, the young players are hungry, but Leo doesn’t have years left to spend waiting.
If Lionel Messi leaves in 2021, I will be sad, but will understand. He’ll always be a legend at the club and will always be welcomed back. I hope Messi stays, but it now comes down to, unfortunately, Bartomeu’s signings/selling and a to be determined manager who will show Leo the new system at the club will lead to titles.
Of course, elections would be a major step in changing the club, but we’ll see about that.
There are a lot of unknowns for FC Barcelona. One thing I know, at least, is that an era ended in Lisbon with Bayern victorious 8-2.
We had a golden era from 2008-12 with Pep.
We had a new (short-lived but Treble-winning) era from 2014-2017 with Neymar and Lucho.
Now, we see the end of the 2017-20 “post comeback against PSG” era.
An era so inconsistent that it doesn’t even have a good name.
An era highlighted by surreal losses:
Barca 0-3 Roma
Barca 0-4 Liverpool
And now, Barca 2-8 Bayern.
And unfortunately for Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona fans, and era lost in losses.
But despite the darkness the club is in right now, I and many other Culés will be here, supporting the new era, the young players, and whoever from the past era remains.
Because this is more than a club. This is Futbol Club Barcelona.
We’ll be back.