What was strange was that the club was warned a year before and did nothing to change its practices, as if it felt it was untouchable. Whispers have long circulated that UEFA has a soft spot for Barça, yet blaugrana aficionados have countered with the theory that Real Vice-President Pedro Lopez Jimenez was the driving force behind the ban, abusing his position on FIFA’s Player Status Committee.
Yet unless an appeal succeeds, Barça will have to go through all of next season without reinforcement from outside the club at a time when the youth system is not producing superstars. On and off the pitch, this season has been one of anguish.
While in theory boardroom activities should not leak onto on-field actions, the bad headlines and press attention for the wrong reasons cannot have helped the squad’s morale as they registered disappointing results.
Surely a side boasting the world’s greatest player should not be moaning one might think, but Messi has not been sensational this season. He was injured for a total of almost three months and found the changing system means he has less influence in attack than before.
There are murmurs that he is keeping something in reserve for the World Cup Finals in June, a suspicion not helped by the permanent presence at the Camp Nou of an Argentine F.A. physiotherapist. The FIFA World Cup would of course be the jewel in Messi’s crown and put him on an even footing in the annals with his nation’s hero Diego Maradona.
Perhaps the malaise is largely a prolonged hangover from the wondrous era of Guardiola which ended two seasons ago. It was almost impossible for that golden age to be replicated or topped, and a radical transformation of the situs domino online club is required instead of producing perennially pale imitations.
Tito Vilanova was unlucky to be diagnosed with cancer barely a season into his job, meaning Gerardo Martino was handed the poisoned chalice of a great side having peaked and needing overhaul, while bearing the psychological imprint of its former leader, an unenviable task much like David Moyes’ at Manchester United.
What Guardiola honed of course was a system everyone understood, a playing style based on short diagonal passing triangles creating an attacking force which advanced up the middle until it crashed like a wave on the edge of the opposition’s penalty box.
Understanding the system came from having being schooled in La Masia and having played together for so many years that it became telepathic. Yet Martino & Neymar are newly arrived from another continent and other clubs. Martino has tried to install a more direct approach than before, but without the time to procure the players necessary for a new system, a muddle has ensued.
The Argentine’s appointment looks decidedly like a stop-gap until the club land their intended fish, in much the same way it callously used Bobby Robson for a season until Louis Van Gaal became available. Yet who that special one is we will have to see.
The club probably should have reinforced the defence given Puyol’s recurrent knee problems and found a quality partner for Piqué instead of making midfielder Javier Mascherano play at centre-back. It could also have invested in genuine wide men if that was the system to be used, but instead went for the marquee signing of Neymar.
Scoring more goals than the opposition is one way to win games, but a club neglects its defence at its peril and it appears Barcelona are less interested in backline recruitment. If Bayern are the leaders in world soccer right now it seems sensible to learn from them.
The Bavarians press like the Barça of old, have recognizable strikers and in Frank Ribéry and Arjen Robben two world-class widemen. But they are also physically impressive and perhaps Barcelona should improve their speed and strength to compete with the likes of Bale, Ronaldo and Guardiola’s new boys.
At the end of the day however, Barcelona, as its motto reminds us, remains ‘more than a club’ and its star will rise again. Soccer success comes in waves and there is no guarantee of sustaining it. Golden generations never occur on a regular basis and when a crop of several top players arrives at once but is not replicated for years, the reasons are never clear.
The competition across Europe is also fierce with millions being invested by arriviste oligarchs and sheikhs in new powers like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain to add to the existing powers in England, Germany and Italy. With the rise of Atletico Madrid, Spain itself is now hosting a three-horse dynasty for the first time in years.
The blaugrana will rise again, there is no doubt. With a vast sold-out stadium about to be expanded to 105,000 seats, a long history of being run by its members and its greater symbolism in Catalan folklore, there is no prospect of F.C. Barcelona continuing to decline as a football power.
But this is one season they will want to airbrush out of the official history.