“Tenim un nom que el sap tothom” – ‘We have a name that everyone knows’.
The famous line from ‘Cant del Barça’ – FC Barcelona’s official club anthem – rings around the Camp Nou at every match, resonating deeply within the ethos of the club.
In 2021, Barcelona remains a name that everyone knows – for all the wrong reasons.
A crushing 4-1 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday was another embarrassment to add to the long list of recent Blaugrana failures. What was set to be an enticing clash proved to be one-way traffic for the visiting Parisiens, and in particular Kylian Mbappé, who stunned Barça with a thrilling hat-trick.
Barcelona are now on the verge of being knocked out of the Champions League at the round of 16 – not since 2007 has that happened in Catalonia. Third in La Liga, chasing a 2-0 deficit in the Copa del Rey and heading towards a second straight season without silverware: to say that this has been a season to forget is an understatement.
Where did it all go wrong for Barça?
While the downfall at the Camp Nou is really falling into place now, this has been a long time coming. You cannot pin Barcelona’s decline down to one key moment, but rather a series of failures on and off the pitch.
A brief glance at their recent managers speaks volumes about the management of the club. Luis Enrique was the last great manager, winning a remarkable nine trophies in three years. It was under Enrique that Barça won three consecutive Copa del Reys, as well as their last Champions League triumph in 2015.
The Enrique era – lasting from 2014 to 2017 – saw one of the finest attacks the modern game has ever seen in Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez, affectionately known as MSN. It was the combination of intelligent leadership and magnificent attacking firepower which made Enrique’s Barcelona such a feared and respected opponent.
In truth, Enrique was the last manager to have the Blaugrana’s old guard in his hands, as the midfield trio of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets began to enter its twilight.
But Enrique did what he had to do with those talents – the problem was that the club did not plan ahead.
It began with the breakup of MSN. Neymar’s €222 million move to Paris-Saint German shook the world, and the foundations of his former employers, who were shaken to their core. Barça never knew how to replace the Brazilian, where despite the big names brought in, none of them were the right fit.
That trend of failing to replace players has continued into the modern day, with none of the old guard being adequately replaced. Neymar, Xavi, Iniesta, Dani Alves, Luis Suárez. Look at the players who have filled their boots – very few have done so successfully.
Any club must plan ahead for the future, but can you truly say that Barça had a plan for a time after the departure of so many legends? Sergi Roberto has not performed consistently enough at right-back, Busquets does not have the same support in midfield and Martin Braithwaite is no match for the prowess of Suárez.
If they have not managed to replace all the icons gone by, one can only fear what they will look like without the greatest player of all time.
There is no disputing Messi’s talent and significance to Barcelona, especially since he assumed the captain’s armband after Iniesta’s farewell. But even the Argentine’s time at the club is fast approaching its conclusion, with his contract set to expire this June.
Barcelona must count their lucky stars that Messi is even playing for them this season. The fallout between him and former club president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, drove the club further into the depths of its decline, almost costing them the core of their squad. Without Messi, Barcelona look lost, broken, spineless.
Amid the current state at the Camp Nou, it would take every last drop of blood, sweat and tears for Barça to hold on to their golden boy for one more year. But time is up. Messi is surely on his way out this summer, where any team in world football would gratefully welcome the services of the 33-year-old.
Barça do not look like they are returning to the golden days any time soon, and when Messi does finally bid farewell to Catalonia, the Blaugrana will be broken.
Ansu Fati has the potential to ascend to Messi’s throne, but not for another few years. It is scary to think of how Barcelona, who are so utterly reliant on the Argentine, will cope without him leading the line. But that is an imminent reality, one which once again, has no future solution.
With every game, every defeat, every humiliation, we are reminded of how far Barcelona have fallen. Once a winning machine, securing trophy after trophy, feared by all and matched by few. Now, they are a shadow of their former selves, an embarrassment to a once fine football institution.
Barça’s fall from grace will not be slowing down any time soon. The future truly looks bleak at the Camp Nou.
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