Where has it all gone wrong?

November, 03/2022 - 20:50
Their fall from grace is an epic story of transfer mistakes, mismanagement and some serious bad luck to boot. But I do wonder will the Catalan giants ever get back to where there were before?
Barcelona players after they were knocked out of the Champions League this week. AFP Photo.

Paul Kennedy

The final 16 teams to compete in the Champions League have been decided, with the draw for the first games of the knock-out round due to take place on Monday.

But there are some glaring omissions from the group of teams trying to reach the final at Istanbul's Atatürk Olympic Stadium on 10 June 2023.

Atletico Madrid, Ajax and Juventus all failed to qualify, with the team from Spain finishing bottom of Group B, eliminating them from Europe altogether.

But the biggest of those teams who won’t be playing in the Champions League when the competition resumes in February next year is Barcelona.

Their fall from grace is an epic story of transfer mistakes, mismanagement and some serious bad luck to boot. But I do wonder will the Catalan giants ever get back to where there were before?

Rewind seven years to 2015, and Barca were at their brilliant best. They had just beaten Juventus in the Champions League final by three goals to one with a team that had a frontline of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar – probably the greatest trio of strikers to ever appear in the same team.

Dani Alves, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano were in defence, and Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta made up the midfield.

An amazing line-up that were rightly crowned Champions of Europe.

The following season, Barcelona won La Liga, but in 2017, their diamond-encrusted frontline was torn apart when Brazilian Neymar swapped Spain for France and signed for Paris Saint-Germain.

Ousmane Dembele was brought in to replace Neymar but the French international was injured in his first start for his new club and side-lined for four months.

Barca knew they had to spend so splashed the cash on Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. This should have been a no-brainer as the boy from Brazil had been ripping up the Premier League but Courinho failed miserably to repeat his form in Spain.

That year in the Champions League they were beaten by the narrowest of margins by Roma and again the following season threw away a three-goal lead to lose to Liverpool in the second leg of the semi-final.

Big-money signings over the next few seasons either failed or were deemed unnecessary. Antoine Griezmann and Miralem Pjanic are two names that immediately come to mind as falling into these categories.

In the Champions League in 2020 they were smashed 8-2 in the quarters by Bayern Munich, with Coutiniho, now playing in Germany, scoring twice, and the following year the unthinkable happened. Messi left.

Managers came and went, Presidents resigned and were re-elected, big-earning players took pay cuts to help balance the books and eventually former hero Xavi was brought back to manage the team.

This season, like last, they once again find themselves playing in the Europa League, and on current form, are unlikely to get anywhere near the final.

The once great FC Barcelona are a shadow of their former selves. And it’s going to take a miracle, or the discovery of the next Lionel Messi, for them to ever regain their status among Europe’s elite. VNS

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