It’s been a nightmare season for Barcelona as their recent poor form looks to have handed Real Madrid the momentum in the race for the La Liga title.
Messi himself looks to have cut a frustrated figure on the pitch in recent times and it is not too surprising to hear that his frustrations with all that has been transpiring at the club with the boardroom shenanigans seem to be boiling over and he now seems prepared to move on.
The Barcelona superstar has reportedly decided he will leave the club when his contract expires at the end of the 2020/21 season, which would be a sledgehammer blow for Barca, as reported by Cadena SER in a tweet.
The possibility, or even likelihood this season, of missing out on the Spanish title is perhaps Barça’s smallest problem at this point in time. Decline appears to be slowly and not too quietly setting in with most key players above 30. This itself will require a considerable measure of time to sort out.
Messi was the first off the pitch immediately after the Athletico match, a forlorn figure heading down the tunnel alone as Barcelona’s anthem echoed with the undertones of a funereal fugue around a stadium as vacant as the look in the team’s eyes. The clock would soon strike midnight on the last day of the financial year and it all appeared to be over.
Whatever lingering hope of winning La Liga by this time appeared to be just that – lingering hope. Just ten days before that, Gerard Piqué had dismally pronounced it would be “very difficult”. Now, choked by a 2-2 draw with Athletico Madrid on their own home turf, making it a third draw in four, it looked virtually well nigh impossible. The word bleak comes to mind.
Sergio Busquets muttered something at the side of the pitch about mathematical possibilities, something players are know to utter in desperation on occasion when the curtain is about to descend.
Barcelona had opted to remove manager Ernesto Valverde when they sitting pretty at the top despite not having any replacement on standby. Now six months down the line, they are second, 4 clear points behind Real Madrid after the Los Blancos 2-1 victory over Getafes on Thursday night.
That may not be the worst of it. Even with defeat seemingly staring them in the face, it is still not definitive yet – decline, to reiterate the point, is an even greater worry.
After the final whistle had been blown, Quique Setién merely turned to the bench, picked up some papers and transfixed there momentarily. A long-professed disciple of the great Johan Cruyff, this was surely not how he imagined he would be managing mighty Barcelona with its lofty traditions and grand historyAnd yet neither should he have been entirely surprised too, as even the iconic Dutch legend and maestro fought battles to vanquish dragons at the Blaugrana himself. Besides, Setién was well aware he had not been Barça’s first choice. He obviously has problems of his own but but the persistent ones unsettling his team precede his as the manager tsked to shoulder the burden. Especially since they are not just the team’s problems but inevitably the club’s with the boardroom trysts.
As for the players, it’s again another quandary he’s facing. Against Atlético, Antoine Griezmann, Barça’s third most expensive player in their history, had been on the pitch four minutes. Ousmane Dembélé, their second most expensive, was again in absentia, again hampered by injuries. His career in Catalunya looks to be slipping from his control or anyone else’s. And as for their most expensive signing to date, Philippe Coutinho is in Munich on loan for the only reason that they couldn’t hock him off. No doubt he will soon be back and they will obviously try to get rid of him again. Another plan all messed up.
Coutinho was supposed to play the key role of replacing Andrés Iniesta, no small task by any means, just as Arthur Melo was supposed to replace Xavi. Yet on the past Monday Arthur Melo was confirmed joining Juventus having confirmed his medical checkup while travelling to Turin still in his Barça tracksuit. The club seemed oddly to be in a hurry to get the Arthur-Pjanic swap done pronto, which does smell a tad fishy, to say the least. Juventus paid €72m plus €10m in add-ons Barcelona said but this was effectively a swap deal with Miralem Pjanic, an act of accountancy more creative than the players and driven by finance not football. Driven, above all, by the board’s determination to escape liability for the budgetary shortfall, their short-term survival secured at the cost of deepening and postponing problems until another day. Anyway, more on this later.
The grand Barça plans for succession look all but totally in disarray. Neymar, designated successor to Messi ought to have been the player moving in to assume the lead now, with Messis’s blessings, yet his impatience for glory and greater gains prompted him to depart the Blaugrana for the greener pastures of PSG in 2017.
Since then Barça have become locked in a spiral of loss and nostalgia, flogging themselves desperately to make amends to the point where they tried to bring him back again with Messi’s repeated insistence but the finances are not permitting such a luxury of indulgence not only due to the debilitating effects of the pandemic but largely because the coffers had long since begun to run low as a result of costly, ineffective player acquisitions that were befuddling. That’s the intriguing part of the expose that will be covered in Part 2 tomorrow of this tale of Barça.
(Look out for Part 2 tomorrow …)