The Barcelona Decay – [PART TWO]

Conservatives are always stuck on the ideas and archaic reasoning passed unto them from their older relatives and these people who obviously controlled what the media sold to the fans and installed successive presidents used their newspapers, TV and radio stations to sell Cruijjf as “Genius, but unpredictable”, a “mercenary”, a “careless coach”.

When in 1996, Johan Cruijjf was thinking about building a new winning generation to be led by Zidane and Dennis Bergkamp, he was fired right there in the dressing room at Camp Nou by the president Josep Lluis Nunez with no previous warning.

The Socis got rid of the ‘strange’ person in ‘their’ club and hired Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal to continue the momentum from the Cruijjg era. Take note that this is happening presently. When things are done properly with either the La Masia producing talents or the club is making enough money to throw around, managers like Robson and Van Gaal will come in and sustain the momentum for 3-5 years.

The fact is that the club’s identity and its playing style would eventually need people who believe in it so much and that will work towards improving and consistently reinventing the system, believing in the La Masia especially in midfield positions and bringing in foreign players when deemed fit to keep the team competitive.

The momentum from the Cruijjf Era ended in 2000. Barça were on the verge of being bankrupt, struggled to keep their place amongst Spanish football elite, trophyless and it became so bad that in 2003 under Louis van Gaal, Barcelona didn’t finish in Champions League places (finished 6th). One-way coaches who prioritize strength over brilliance had been in charge to no success as per the choice of the Catalan ‘controllers’.

There were manifestations, complaints, and protests at the Camp Nou and after leaving the club 7 years earlier, Johan Cruijjf was back supporting a relatively unknown lawyer, Joan Laporta, for President of the club. Once again the ideals and philosophy that brought massive success were of utmost importance and with Laporta winning, he chose Cruijjf as his personal advisor.

Cruijjf advised that he brought in Frank Rijkaard. There were back to back league titles, a second European title and a very clear and defined return to Total Football. Also, the likes of Xavi and Puyol became more important while Iniesta was promoted from the youth team.

In 2008, after a downturn in results which led to Frank Rijkaard leaving the club, Johan Cruijjf advised Laporta against hiring Jose Mourinho who was in prime position for the job. Instead, he picked an unknown manager in Pep Guardiola to continue in the methods that had brought success and what happened next could not have been imagined by Cruijjf himself. 14 trophies in four years and a total domination that European football had not witnessed since the Real Madrid of the ’50s.

Pep did everything to make sure that the style, philosophy, and ideals were inculcated all over the club so as to build something that would keep the club on top for as long as humanly possible. He had meetings with La Masia coaches weekly, from the under-9s till the under-19s and always planned with them when the Masia players would make their first team debuts.

In 2010, the Socis used the media and the Penyas to paint to the fans a negative picture of Laporta as being too loud, being a party animal and being too much of an independentist. They brought up Sandro Rosell, One of theirs, and once again they were in control at the top.

Soon after, propaganda started coming out that attacked Guardiola, a manager that was winning trophies and never fell shy of getting to the UCL semifinals at the very least. Just like 1978, the conservatives couldn’t deal with the stature of Pep Guardiola.

Conservatives believe that a man who is immensely intelligent and successful would have big flaws. They attacked Pep at every sub that led to a loss, every loss of a match or any loss of a title. Naturally, just like Johan Cruijjf, Guardiola was fed up and he decided to leave the club of his life even though he was Catalunya’s poster boy sporting wise and politically.

The Socis started hiring managers who they said had the ‘Barcelona DNA’ but they chose people who would do what they were told. The likes of Cruijjf and Pep didn’t bow to them that’s why they termed then as ‘unpredictable’.

Remember the momentum from the Cruijjf Era lasted 3-4 years? The five years after Pep have cloned that period. Tito was chosen to replace Pep because they said the assistants were d brains behind the two managers (Rexach & Tito). Tito won the league with 100 points but was destroyed by Bayern in a game that pointed to the fact that the midfield was aging and that the younger generation had to start getting games to gain experience. End of season, They sold the best player from the La Masia at that moment, Thiago Alcantara and brought in Alex Song. Why hold on to a young Spanish controlling creative midfielder when Alex Song is bullying everyone in the Premier League, yeah?

End of season, They sold the best player from the La Masia at that moment, Thiago Alcantara and brought in Alex Song. Why hold on to a young Spanish controlling creative midfielder when Alex Song is bullying everyone in the Premier League, yeah?

2013/2014, Tata Martino was brought in to replace the terminally ill Tito Villanova. The Socis used their media houses to sell the narrative of Messi being the brain behind the choice of the Argentine coach, a man that we have eventually discovered Messi had never met in his life.

Messi was so dominant that Barça almost won the league but once again they were eliminated from the UCL in the quarter finals. Neymar, who is the poster boy of Rosell’s tenure had a very shy first European season. Tata left and in came Luis Enrique.

Lucho never believed in the pressing and passing and possession game that had brought success. He dealt with football the way he sees life generally: a competition where you need to cross the finish line before your adversaries. Style or philosophy doesn’t matter, only winning does. To be fair, he did win. Brought in Ivan Rakitic and eased out Xavi Hernandez and Won the treble with one of the most memorable runs in Champions League history.

In 15/16, Arda Turan was a baffling midfield signing considering Iniesta’s reducing influence and increasing age. The MSN thrived on Lucho’s competitiveness and the leftover momentum to win the league but fell short again in the Champions League by not still having a creative and organized midfield to beat a well drilled Atletico de Madrid.

2016/2017, Of course, after a European title and 2 consecutive Liga titles, Enrique remained in charge. Madrid had just won their 2nd Champions League trophy in 3 seasons and in a bid to consolidate on the success Lucho had garnered, the board paid €55m for……………… Andre Gomes! Barcelona went into the season relying on the speed and verve Enrique and the MSN had but this time, it didn’t work out. There were results like the losses to Alaves, Deportivo and most notably a thrashing from a PSG team that couldn’t hold on to a 4-goal advantage.

Lucho focused on the MSN because of their obvious qualities, but also because he wanted to win with the least possible suffering. Such a mentality makes a winning team for the here and now, but it doesn’t help in building for the future or keeping alive the identity of a club like Barcelona. That’s why in his third season, the MSN with all their goals couldn’t win any major titles.

It is clear for all to see right now. The momentum from the Cruijjf/Pep Era has completely faded and even the new verve that Lucho might have brought is nowhere to be found anymore following the exit of Neymar to PSG. What is left is an unusually old team that is especially lacking in midfield.

There has not been a proper rejuvenation. Since Pep left, there have been Song, Turan, Rakitic, Gomes and most recently Paulinho to replicate the successes brought by Xavi/Iniesta/Busquets and the underlying quality of La Masia.

Don’t waste energy criticizing Valverde. He’s been appointed by the conservatives because he has ‘Barcelona DNA’ but most especially because he’s one who they can control. He’ll be having to make do with what and who is given to him by the same board that haven’t shown any signs of understanding how to sustain the level Barcelona were when Pep left in 2012.

Will it take another spell of drought before Barcelona are back to the ideals that brought so much success? Or will the Catalan Socis react again like they did in 1988, before Messi is wasted away or bizarrely, he chooses to leave the club?

By the end of the year we should have a clearer view of where next the club would be headed and I’ll be writing a follow up to this, explaining in details all the deals that have been done by the Rosell/Bartomeu administration and how they have lined their pockets and that of their cronies while the tenets, ideals, and philosophies that made the great Barcelona withered and decayed right under their nose.