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OPINION: Who is to blame for the fall of FC Barcelona?

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"FC Barcelona" by pietroizzo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When you hear the name FC Barcelona, what are the first things that pop into your head? I will give you a hint: winning, championships, tradition, soccer supremacy, greatness, Ronaldinho, Neymar Jr. and yes, even that Lionel Messi guy sometimes. Did I get everything?

The once Blaugrana super giant used to strike fear in every corner of the soccer world. Anytime Barca would fall onto an opponent’s calendar, the opposing team knew that the game had already been decided before it even began. Quite frankly, they never even stood a chance.

The Spanish juggernaut was at its peak during the Pep Guardiola era from 2008-2012. Guardiola ushered in a nuanced style of soccer that was so ahead of its time that it would go on to revolutionize the game forever. This unprecedented style of play was called Tiki-Taka.

Tiki-Taka was a style of play structured on maintaining and spreading possession of the ball. It involved fast movements, quick decision-making, fluid progressions and keen offensive attacks that required highly skilled players to execute effectively. 

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Not to worry, as Barcelona had no shortage of players with tremendous skill such as Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Samuel Eto’o, Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes and many more to perfect this unique style of play.

I will never forget watching my first ever FC Barcelona match back in 2009. They were pitted against Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League Final in Rome, Italy. This game introduced the rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, establishing them as the top-two perennial talents in the game. 

Barcelona would go on to edge Manchester United 2-0 and capture its third Champions League title in club history. The match also saw this Barcelona team ingrained as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, club soccer team of all-time. From that day on, Barcelona would set the golden standard of winning soccer and how beautiful the game could really look on the pitch.

Now, let's try this again. Today, when you hear the name FC Barcelona, what are the first things that appear in your head? Let me take a wild guess: mediocrity, disgrace, overrated, corrupt, rock bottom, a shell of their former selves and “Origi!” to name a few. 

I will admit, that last one still breaks my heart to this day. 

All these negatives beg the question: How on earth did a once great club find itself in a never-ending downward spiral that will soon see its greatest player in history leave for greener pastures?

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Let the ranting begin. 

No longer is FC Barcelona the pinnacle of soccer supremacy. They are now a far cry from what they once were. A team of mediocrity, a harsh reality that the Catalonian faithful still cannot come to amends with.

An identity crisis first reared its ugly head when Barcelona blew a 4-1 lead to AS Roma in the quarterfinals of the Champions League in 2018. 

How do you blow a 4-1 lead on aggregate? I’m looking at you, Ernesto Valverde. 

Wait, what’s this? You’re telling me he would go on to blow another Champions League lead for the second year in a row?

Blow the lead he did as Barcelona would go on to suffer yet another heartbreaking collapse in the Champions League in 2019. This time, in the semifinal round to the hands of a great Liverpool team on the road in Anfield stadium. A game that will forever echo the phrase “Origi!” in my nightmares and Barcelona fans alike. 

Liverpool forward Divock Origi will never have to pay for another pint in Liverpool again as he scored the decisive goal off a quick corner kick from teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold to complete the epic comeback and win 4-3 on aggregate. A day for FC Barcelona that will forever live in infamy and officially landed them in rock bottom.

Right when it couldn’t get any worse for the club, it got worse.

Barcelona’s epic fall from grace came to full fruition thanks to the hands of a far superior Bayern Munich team in last year’s Champions League quarterfinals. Messi and the gang would go on to get utterly humiliated 8-2 by a team that reinvented the phrase “speed kills.” 

Bayern’s wingers and midfielders were too fast and quick for Barcelona as this allowed them to dictate their own terms for the entire game and ultimately led them to coast to an easy victory.

Now you’re probably thinking: How could things possibly get even worse from here? Well put it this way, if 2020 had a face, it would look like the FC Barcelona logo. The truth hurts.

Not only did Barcelona lose in embarrassing fashion on a grand stage, but to deepen the wound even more, they allowed two goals and an assist to one of their own. That player was Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho, who was loaned to Bayern Munich from Barcelona a year before the Champions League quarterfinals match between the two clubs.

What has led to these putrid meltdowns in the Champions League exactly?

In the past five years, Barcelona has made some very head-scratching coaching changes. Club president Josep Bartomeu sacked manager Luis Enrique in favor of one of their former players in Ernesto Valverde in 2017. Valverde was the product of those two Champions League collapses against AS Roma and Liverpool. His uninspiring coaching style and ineffective tactics quickly made him public enemy No. 1 in Barcelona. As a result, none of the players wanted to play for him, especially Messi.

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Seriously, if Messi doesn’t want to play for you, then you might as well pack up and get out of Dodge.

After Valverde’s dismissal in early 2020, the Blaugrana made the decision to hire former Real Betis manager, Quique Setien. He proved, like Valverde, he was never fit to be the manager for a club like Barcelona’s caliber. He didn’t know how to control the locker room, tolerated a lot of nonsense and his game plans were an absolute joke.

It’s one thing to hire the wrong coaches. Signing the wrong personnel to lucrative contracts is another.

Since the beginning of Bartomeu’s tenure in 2014, he has consistently signed players to overpaid contracts that never fit the team’s identity. Some of these players include Malcom Silva, Martin Braithwaite, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann to name a few. 

Between both Dembele and Griezmann, they cost 225 million euros combined. Two players that still haven’t lived up to their contracts. 

Let's not forget when he swapped promising young midfielder Arthur Melo for 30-year-old Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic who was already at the twilight of his career.

Oh yes, I almost forgot, Bartomeu allowed superstar forward Neymar Jr. to depart for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2017. How do you allow a top-flight talent and one of the most recognizable names in all of soccer to leave like that? 

Sometimes I wonder if Bartomeu is a secret informant for Real Madrid that was sent on a mission to be appointed Barcelona president and destroy the club’s infrastructure.

Now, the theory of Bartomeu being a secret informant is definitely a stretch. However, I’m starting to sense a pattern here. Bartomeu is the problem. 

This is the same man that allowed Barcelona’s prestigious development ground, La Masia, to crumble to the ground. This is a big contributor to why the club has struggled to produce homegrown talent as of late, Ansu Fati being an exception. Even when they do manage to produce their own talent, the majority end up getting sold by Bartomeu to other top European clubs.

I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “children are a reflection of their parents.” In this case, Barcelona’s players and personnel are a poor reflection of Bartomeu’s leadership style. He has made the Barca front office and environment too political. 

He cares more about investing resources within the club instead of utilizing those resources to put a respectable product on the pitch. His authoritarian leadership style has rubbed players and board members the wrong way.

I pray that after Bartomeu’s term as president of Barcelona concludes next month that they will hire the right candidate who can offset all of Bartomeu’s deficiencies and bring the club back to its glory days as a soccer supergiant. 

If not, they will see the greatest soccer player to ever grace the pitch, Lionel Messi, head for the exits and join another club. Even worse, Barcelona may never make a full recovery and get a sip of glory ever again. 


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