A shadow of their former selves

December 10, 2021 - 09:00

Europe’s best of the best has been decided and will begin the knock-out stages of the Champions League in February next year.


Xavi Hernandez has a lot of hard work ahead to bring Barcelona back to where they belong. — AFP Photo

Paul Kennedy

Europe’s best of the best has been decided and will begin the knock-out stages of the Champions League in February next year.

This is where the world’s best football competition gets down to business. Elite clubs battling out over two legs all desperate to make it to the final at the Gazprom Arena in St Petersburg, Russia on May 28.

This time around though, there is one glaring omission from the teams that will go into the hat on December 16 for the draw for the knock-out rounds, and that’s Barcelona.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, the Catalonians were soundly beaten 3-0 by Bayern Munich in Germany resigning them to third place in Group E.

Sure, they will still compete in the Europa League but for a team like Barca not to be slugging it out with the giants of European football is a massive kick in the teeth.

In fact, it has been 20 years since they were last knocked out at the group stages.

Coincidently, back in 2001, a young midfielder was beginning to make a name for himself at the Nou Camp by the name Xavi Hernandez. He was just 20 years old then, and now of course is the manager of Barca.

He knows the pain of not playing in the Champions League latter stages having failed way back then. Now he must motivate his side in the Europa League. It’s like ordering a Ferrari only for a Fiat to be delivered.

But let’s face facts here, Barcelona do not deserve to be anywhere near the likes of Liverpool, PSG, Real Madrid, et al, this season.

For the past few seasons, they have been a shadow of their former selves. Currently in La Liga, they are in seventh place, a whopping 16 points adrift from Real Madrid at the top. And it’s only December.

Xavi has an extremely tough task on his hands to get anything out of this season, but if he wants my advice, which he probably doesn’t, he needs to forget Europe and concentrate on salvaging a place in next year’s Champions League by finishing in the top four.

But the problems are much bigger. It’s no secret that Barca do not possess the financial clout they have had in the past.

They are no longer a team of superstars, and while they may dream of signing the likes of Mohammed Salah, truth is, they just can’t afford a player of his magnitude.

Xavi is a product of FC Barcelona's La Masia youth system, which he joined at the age of 11. Alongside the likes of Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, both also graduates of the Barca academy, they became the foundations the great sides that followed were built on.

So for Xavi, and Barcelona, they need to go back to basics.

They will not be competing for big signings when the transfer window opens, and they must rebuild from within.

And in a roundabout kind of way, playing in the Europa League could be the perfect opportunity to blood some of their younger players and see if they have what it takes to be the next Xavi’s, Iniesta’s and co.