What next for dysfunctional Barcelona after Champions League humiliation?

Poor recruitment has left the Catalan club in steep decline, with a major overhaul required to recapture their ideology

Miguel Delaney
Lisbon
Saturday 15 August 2020 10:36
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Piqué: 'We have hit rock bottom'

Bayern Munich, to illustrate just how bad this was, had practically reduced Gerard Pique to tears. The Barcelona centre-half’s voice was shaking as he attempted to find the words for that debacle, in a manner that was at least more successful than his attempts to find Bayern’s forwards.

“This is the bottom,” Pique eventually said.

And yet the great problem for Barca is that, unless there’s significant change, this feels like it can get a lot worse. They are directionless. It was so bad that a scoreline of 8-2 actually felt a bit within Bayern, as if it could have been greater, and ensured the story of Barca’s decline completely overshadowed the potential rise of the new European champions. The Catalans led the headlines after the game.

Disaster, in that regard, is much more compelling as a story.

“Disaster” is also the word president Josep Bartomeu used on Spanish TV. That was another indication of how bad it was. The president felt the need to front up. He knows many of the questions – even some of the criticisms about “the need for change” articulated by Pique – will be specifically addressed to him.

Many around the club will willingly say it’s specifically Bartomeu’s disaster. Others are hoping Lionel Messi – who, to be fair, was mostly poor on the night – will leverage his power to initiate change.

These are of course all comments we’ve heard before, which also points to the problem. Barca have completely deviated from the model that made them an ideal for all Europe a decade ago, and ended up buying big ill-fitting names rather than players that fit into a principle. They became exactly the type of super-club they were supposed to stand against, only with even more dysfunction.

Barca’s decline over the last half-decade has by now been well told, and can be traced through their Champions League eliminations, and some of the line-ups involved. Each of the last four years has involved at least one individual thrashing, and some curious line-ups not befitting Barca. They’ve also cost almost a billion in transfer fees in that time.

Barcelona’s Champions League defeat

Box subheader

2017 – 3-0 against Juventus

2018 – 3-0 against Roma

2019 – 4-0 against Liverpool

2020 – 8-2 against Bayern

One figure who has worked closely with the club told The Independent that Friday night’s scoreline alone should be enough to trigger the manager quitting and early presidential elections.

That points to the bigger, more interesting question: what next? Bartomeu’s demeanour didn’t indicate a man that is considering standing down, although early murmurs from the club suggested Quique Setien would follow Maurizio Sarri at Juventus in getting sacked the morning after elimination.

Even the decision to sack the inexplicably unpopular Ernesto Valverde seems so bad now, given the stability he brought. The Basque basically covered a lot of dysfunction.

Gerard Pique reacts during Barcelona’s defeat (Getty)

From that, it’s likely Setien never had the calibre to manage a club of this size, but he was also facing a thankless task. He is a coach who had been appointed on the basis of his ideology, under the delusion Barca still applied one, when the reality was they had by then long become a mismatch of different expensive parts. So many transfer moves have worked out abysmally. The fact Philippe Coutinho was finishing off the thrashing for Bayern here added insult to Ousmane Dembele’s many injuries. They now look like they need even more transfers to solve this, despite a budget that is already tipping over. It doesn’t offer much room for manoeuvre. It means they may struggle to offload players they should sell – and one of them is maybe Pique.

The brutal reality is that Barca are in need of the kind of the reset they had in 2003 – not even 2008. It has to go that deep, like that period when the club’s whole philosophy was changed.

They need fresh energy, to reinvigorate the entire club, from top to bottom. It is possible Mauricio Pochettino could fit that.

The club clearly like him. He has also conspicuously rowed back on his comment that, as an Espanyol hero, he could never manage Barca. He pointedly referenced it in an interview last week. Sources say he is interested.

The appointment of such a figure is necessary, but would only represent the start.

The worst part is the decline may not have even finished yet.

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