There was a time in the not so distant past when opponents were quaking in their boots days before their match against Barcelona, the Catalans were that dominant, the team was a fully oiled machine, all parts functioning to perfection, the team was littered with world class players in all positions, the likes of Dani Alves, Carles Puyol in defence; Xavi, Iniesta in midfield and right through to the attack, which had then perennial Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi, in its ranks.
How they miss Pep…
The man who was responsible for this dominance was Pep Guardiola, a man who changed the way football was being played in the Iberian peninsula with his fast-paced passing and pressing style leading the way to a Spanish revolution which is still obvious to date in the way Spanish teams play and the way they’ve been able to assume a stronghold over Europe’s biggest trophies.
He brought a change of mentality to the Catalan club, trusted in youth and was rewarded with the most trophy laden 4 years the club has ever seen throughout its illustrious history, winning the treble in his debut season and laying the foundations for more success. He had able allies in Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, the men who were in charge of the sporting operations, that trusted in his work, bought into his vision and backed him to a halt.
They always preferred players from La Masia to stand in as bench options rather than bring in players from elsewhere. This was in keeping with his team’s style as he felt those ‘other’ players wouldn’t be able to get his method of play immediately. Little wonder Pep the coach, not the player, is more revered in Catalonia.
All good things though must come to an end, so after four highly successful years, Pep thought it wise to step down. Since then, the club has not reached those dizzying heights again.
The post-Guardiola era
Tito Vilanova, Pep’s assistant took over from him and even though he led the club to a record equalling 100 points in 2013 winning the league along the way, the season was more remembered for the 7-0 aggregate mauling they received at Bayern Munich’s hands in the Champions League.
Tito had to step down due to his lingering health issues and Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino took over, he endured a trophyless campaign, losing in the quarter finals of the Champions League and losing the Copa Del Rey final. A trophyless season had not been seen on these shores for six years, the pressure was on so he had to resign, Luis Enrique then took over in 2014.
He led the team to a treble in his debut campaign as well winning in a more direct style than Pep did but just as successfully, he brought in key players like Luis Suarez, Marc ter Stegen, Ivan Rakitic, worked the team well and created the MSN triumvirate that conquered all before them. Enrique worked with the sporting director, Andoni Zubizarreta, who brought in excellent players but had to relinquish his position when he no longer got along with the board.
Enrique’s decision not to trust the academy players, preferring to bring in established players rather than utilise the talent from the academy going against Pep’s (and Barca’s) ethos. He also switched the focus from midfield to attack – anyone who had Messi, Suarez and Neymar would do likewise – but this is Barcelona, a club that has always loved their possession of the ball.
This would always be his undoing as the midfield holds the key to winning big games and he was found out in the Champions League when Atlético stocked their midfield with players who cut out passing lanes, reducing Barça’s ability to get the ball to the front three and when they managed to do so, found the trio tightly marked, they fell at the quarter final stage, this marked the beginning of the end for the team.
The unravelling of Barça
The new season saw a much-changed Barcelona side. This team didn’t press, never played in the middle of the park and never enjoyed sustained moments of possession. All they did was get the ball to the front three as fast as possible. The talent of MSN made sure they still had too much for most teams, but when team cohesion and clear strategy was needed, they faltered badly as heavy losses in Paris and Turin showed.
In those games, they were unable to do anything purposeful whenever a member of the front three was missing, as their style was dependent on their presence. Losses against minnows like Deportivo, Alaves et al. proved that, as one of the trio was always missing in those matches.
Barcelona also had problems with players on the bench who were not of the required quality to perform for the club. This made rotations a lot harder to follow through as the players on the fringes were not up to speed and never had any influence on deciding the match. Transfer decisions also went badly.
The decision to let Zubizarreta go was one that has proven catastrophic in hindsight as his replacement, Robert Fernandez, has overseen a dire period in the club’s transfers. He didn’t bring in players who fit with the Barcelona template and DNA. Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer, Arda Turan etc. have not set the Nou Camp alight, for example.
He never brought in preferred transfer targets and always overpaid for players. Paulinho is the latest example of this, he was brought in for €40m after saying they were never going to pay more than €25m for him.
The board has not helped matters either, their series of wrong decisions laid bare as Dani Alves was flying high in Turin while Sergi Roberto, a midfielder, was used at right back. They never treated the Brazilian well and he left on a free. Another Brazilian whose departure has shaken the club, Neymar, recently criticised the board too,
The fans have started an online campaign for Josep Bartomeu to resign, with Joan Laporta calling for his head as well, the players and the board are pulling in separate directions.
All of these issues have contributed to their recent spate of problems but with a little more luck in the transfer window alongside the presence of Lionel Messi, they should be back where they belong.
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