How Barcelona fell from their perch

Barcelona have started to look like just every other European club of late, here Football Weeks attempts to explain why the Catalan giants fell from their perch.[spacer height=”20px”]

There was a time in the not so distant past when opposition side started quaking in their boots days before their match against Barca, they were so dominant, the team was a fully oiled machine, every parts functioning to perfection, the squad was littered with world class players in all positions, the likes of Dani Alves, Carles Puyol in defence; Xavi, Iniesta in midfield and right through to the attack, which had then perennial Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi, in its ranks.[spacer height=”20px”]

How Barcelona miss Pep Guardiola[spacer height=”20px”]

The man behind Barca’s dominance was the current Manchester City boss, a man who changed the way football was being played in the Iberian Peninsula with his fast-paced passing and pressing style leading the way to a La Liga giant’s revolution which is still obvious till date in the way La Liga clubs play and the way they’ve been able to assume a stronghold over Europe’s biggest trophies.[spacer height=”20px”]

Guardiola brought a change of mentality to the Nou Camp, trusted in youth and was rewarded with the most trophy laden 4 years the club has ever seen throughout its memorable history, winning the treble in his debut season and laying foundation for more success. He had in his ranks in Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, the men who were in charge of the sporting operations that trusted in his work, bought into his vision and backed him to a halt.[spacer height=”20px”]

They always preferred players from La Masia academy to stand in as bench options rather than bring in players from elsewhere. This was in keeping with his team’s style as he felt those ‘other’ players wouldn’t be able to get his method of play immediately. Little wonder Pep the coach, not the player, is more revered in Catalonia.[spacer height=”20px”]

Well, like the saying goes, all good things though must come to an end, so after four highly successful stints, the Spaniard thought it wise to step down and ply his trade elsewhere. Since then, one cannot hide the fact that Barcelona has not gotten to those dizzying heights ever since.[spacer height=”20px”]

The post-Guardiola era[spacer height=”20px”]

Tito Vilanova, Pep’s assistant took over from him and even though he led them to a record equaling 100 points in 2013 winning the La Liga along the way, what the season was more remembered for was the 7-0 aggregate mauling they received at Bayern Munich’s hands in the Champions League.[spacer height=”20px”]

Tito had to step down due to his lingering health issues and Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino took over, he endured a trophyless season, losing in the quarter finals of the Champions League and losing the Copa Del Rey final. A trophyless season had not been Barcelona for six year, the pressure was on so he just had to resign, Luis Enrique then took over in 2014.[spacer height=”20px”]

He led Barcelona to a treble in his debut season as well winning in a more direct style than his predecessor did but just as successful, Luis Enrique brought in key players like Luis Suarez, Marc ter Stegen, Ivan Rakitic, worked the team well and created the MSN trio that conquered all before them. He worked with the club sporting director, Andoni Zubizaretta, who brought in brilliant players but had to relinquish his position when he didn’t get along with the board anymore.[spacer height=”20px”]

The Spaniard’s decision not to trust the academy players as his squad options was one that was imprudent as it was demeaning, preferring to bring in established players rather than use the talent from the academy going against Pep’s ethos. Enrique also switched the focus from midfield to attack – any boss who had Messi, Suarez and Neymar would do same – but this is Barcelona, a club that has always loved their possession of the ball.[spacer height=”20px”]

This was always going to be his undoing as the midfield holds the key to winning the big games and he was duly found out in the Champions League when Atletico Madrid stocked their midfield with players who stop out passing lanes, reducing Barça’s ability to get the ball to the front three and when they managed to do so, found the trio tightly marked, they fell at the quarter final stage, this marked the beginning of the end for the team.[spacer height=”20px”]

The unravelling of Barça[spacer height=”20px”]

The new season saw an entirely different Barcelona. This team didn’t press like they used to, never played in the middle of the park and never enjoy long possession of the ball. All Barca did was get the ball to the front three as fast as possible. The talent of MSN made sure they proved threat for most teams, but when cohesion and clear strategy was needed, the Catalan giants faltered badly as in the case of their losses in Paris and Turin.[spacer height=”20px”]

In those games, Barca were also not able to do anything purposeful whenever a member of the front three was missing, as the new style of dependent on their presence. Losses against minnows like Deportivo, Alaves et al. proved that, as one of the trio was always missing in those matches.[spacer height=”20px”]

Barca also had problems with players on the bench who were not of the required quality to perform for the club. This made rotations a lot harder to follow through as the players on the fringes were not up to speed and never had any influence on deciding the match. Transfer decisions also went badly.[spacer height=”20px”]

Tragic transfers[spacer height=”20px”]

The decision to let Zubizaretta go was one that has proven catastrophic in hindsight as his replacement, Robert Fernandez, has overseen a dire period in the club’s transfers. He didn’t bring in players who fit with the Barcelona template. Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer, Arda Turan etc. have not set the Nou Camp alight, for example.[spacer height=”20px”]

He never brought in preferred transfer targets and always overpaid for players. Paulinho is the latest example of this, he was brought in for €40m after saying they were never going to pay more than €25m for him.[spacer height=”20px”]

The board has not helped matters either, their series of wrong decisions laid bare as Dani Alves was flying high in Turin while Sergi Roberto, a midfielder, was used at right back. They never treated the Brazilian well and he left on a free, another Brazilian whose departure has started to shake the club, Neymar, recently criticised the board as well.[spacer height=”20px”]

The fans have started an online campaign for Josep Bartomeu to resign, with Joan Laporta calling for his head as well, the players and the board are pulling in separate directions.[spacer height=”20px”]

All of these issues have contributed to their recent spate of problems but with a little more luck in the transfer window alongside the presence of Lionel Messi, they should be back where they belong.[spacer height=”20px”]

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About the Author

Bertrand Francois

Bertrand Francois is the editor of Football Weeks. An experienced online and print journalist, Jamie has worked for IRAIW, Arsenal Presser, Soccerlens and countless other media sources over the years. He is from Republic Du Benin and lives in the busiest town Cotonou. - Facebook and Twitter