Watching FC Barcelona crashing to defeat in Paris last night gave me a distinct feeling of déjà vu.
This was no ordinary defeat, but an abject surrender by a team with some of the best players in the world and Messi representing a club that prides and markets itself on the basis of its integrity.
Not since the Allianz Arena in April 2013 had Barca been more humiliated by a better European team and its own total lack of moral fibre.
There is a justifiable sense of desolation if not betrayal among Barca fans around the world this morning. The fact that last night’s match saw a Qatar owned PSG easily beat Qatar sponsored Barca left many happy bunnies captivated by the moral desert of football business.
Last night as then, this was not defeat, at the hands of the home team (in this case PSG not Bayern) , suffered through poor referee decisions or fluke opposition goals. This was a comprehensive thrashing by a team that on the night showed themselves superior across positions and in every aspect of the game with only Neymar last night seemingly trying to the best he could in the circumstances. For those with longer memories, there was a sense of having been there before-back in 1994, when Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ were beaten by AC Milan in the Champions League final in Athens.But then that threw Barca into the doldrums for several years.
This season Barca has reached the final of the Copa del Rey, a tournament that increasingly means nothing in football terms to nationalist Catalan Barca fans other than an excuse to make a political protest against the Spanish state. Meanwhile it is trailing Real Madrid badly in La Liga, and the men in white now looker stronger contenders in the Champions League. Certainly there is a sense today, as there was back in April 2013 , that, barring a miracle in the second-leg at the Nou Camp, FC Barcelona may have reached the end of an era of unrivalled international supremacy.
And yet even if this may turn out to be a disastrous fall for Barca- it may recover next season with a change of manager and players as it has done before. Let’s not forget that after Munich, Barca won the triple in 2014-2015 and the Copa del Rey and la Liga last year, after being beaten in the quarter finals of the Champions League by Atletico de Madrid.
The trophies achieved since Munich had Barca managed by Luis Enrique and its three star trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, clocking up record of goals between them. But Barca we have always been told is a club that believes passionately in its identity and style and it’s not just about silver ware.
That explains why Enrique has never managed to win the hearts and minds of purist Barca fans . He stands accused of over dependence on his star trio while foregoing any Plan B or development of creative team work. Personally I have felt total underwhelmed by the spectacle of Barca for most of the time since Guardiola took over. I’ve taken to reading Cryuff’s memoirs and watching old videos of the Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola era , to remind myself of what I used to call poetry in motion as opposed to the unattractiveness disjointed style which all too often bypasses midfield and relies exclusively on the talents of three players.
Messi and Suarez were generally nonexistent last night. Because of his status as the best player in the world and possibly history, Messi’s culpability was the most striking. He looked and played like someone who couldn’t care whether Barca won or lost. He failed to register a single touch in the opposite box in a Champions League game for the first time in the season, and gave a goal away after losing a ball and walking away. There was no flowing posession football in any area of Barca’s play and not one memorable strike at goal.
Messi and Suarez have hit this kind of form before and bounced back. They will do so again. But other players show that they simply have not got the quality to meet the demands and expectations of a club as big as FC Barcelona. And here I would list Samuel Umtiti, Rafinha , and Andre Gomes. Meanwhile on a good day Iniesta and Busquets remain invaluable as play makers. Last night was not one of them.
As for Luis Enrique he must take responsibility for the broader collective lackluster performance, and for seemingly lacking any ideas of how to correct it during a game during which Barca came nowhere near to clinching the away goal that might have given them a better chance of recovery in three weeks. The knives will be out if Barca lose La Liga after , as seems likely now, they crash out of the Champions at the Nou Camp.