Barcelona v Real Madrid: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even Copa del Rey final victory will make season a success
Barcelona's success has been followed by failures in the transfer market among others
Wednesday 16 April 2014
Barcelona have won 21 trophies so far this century. Number 22 could be lifted on Wednesday night at Mestalla when they meet Real Madrid in the Spanish Cup final.
But it says everything about the way complacency has taken them from the sublime, of the 2009-2011 period, to the ridiculous, of this year's catalogue of embarrassments, that the Copa del Rey will not be enough to save their season.
Susceptibility to the kick up the backside always peaks the moment you lean forward to receive the medal and Barcelona should have known that far from making them immune to criticism, success would put them more than ever in the line of fire - being everyone's favourite was always going to make them everyone's favourite target sooner or later.
But complacency has taken hold. They have gone from having three home-grown players on the Ballon d'Or podium in 2010 to having their Masia youth academy investigated for illegal signings of under-18s in 2014; and from receiving praise at having signed Neymar for only €57m to the revelation that because of numerous add-on contracts, the final price was closer to €100m.
The Neymar deal maybe no murkier than countless other transfers involving a player with third-party ownership; and third-party ownership is not banned by Fifa. If it transpires that income taxes have been avoided by paying companies related to Neymar, rather than directly to the player himself, then it will not be first time such a tactic has been used either.
The club are also right to point out the contradiction inherent in rules that are supposed to guard against the abuse of children in football, being used to punish the club with one of the most exemplary youth academy systems in the world.
Barcelona say it makes no sense that a teenager can move to a different country to study but not be able to do so at a football club - with, as is the case at Barcelona's La Masia, a rounded education thrown in.
But complacency has again done for them. The simple relocation of a young players' parents under the pretence that there has been an unrelated change in their work situation has been enough to keep Fifa happy in the past.
Tonight Barcelona face Europe's most prolific forward line with an inexperienced 23-year-old defender Marc Bartra partnering Javier Mascherano in the centre of defence. Real Madrid will be without top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo but Barcelona will feel the absence of the injured Gerard Pique far more.
Ronaldo will be missing from the final
Nowhere has the complacency running through the club been more apparent than in the transfer market from which they are now banned. The failure to sign a single central defender since 2009 when Pep Guardiola brought in Dmytro Chygrynskiy has felt more and more ill-advised with every passing summer.
In subsequent seasons the club failed to move for Javi Martinez and Thiago Silva while saving up for Neymar. Between times Alex Song was signed and presented as someone who "could also play in the centre of defence" - news to everyone, Song included.
This year the failure to bring in a long-term replacement for Carles Puyol has hit them even harder with Pique's fractured pelvis keeping him out of Wednesday's final.
Xavi like Puyol has not been replaced with the in-house solution - 21-year-old Thiago Alcantara - inexplicably allowed to leave and join Bayern Munich.
The reaction to the meltdown of the last week - being knocked out of the Champions League and slipping out of the title race - has been as surreal as some of the behaviour that has caused it.
The local sports media keeps pumping out the message that the squad will be renewed at great expense at the end of the season displaying exactly the kind of 'Fifa does not exist' attitude that got the club in trouble in the first place.
And after the defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League attention focused on Lionel Messi's post-match stats with it pointed it that he had run only twice as far as goalkeeper Pinto during the game - supporters reduced to blaming a defeat on the fact that Messi wasn't running about enough.
He looked a little non-plussed in training on Tuesday as the team worked out with a rugby ball in their last session before travelling to Valenica - another surreal touch to an at times bizarre season.
After the weekend defeat to Granada passing statistics actually showed Barcelona had enjoyed 86 per cent of possession: a new high beating the previous benchmark of 84 per cent set under Guardiola.
No-one at the club now has their head so far in the sand that they see that as a sign nothing is wrong. And most believe, even if they win the Copa del Rey, it will change nothing. It will be their third win over Madrid this season - but it's not the treble they had in mind at the start of the season.
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