All is not well: Messi-Abidal media war a smokescreen for deeper problems at FC Barcelona
The signs manifested themselves last season when a mentally tired Barcelona lost successive knockout stage ties in two different competitions to end their season in dismal fashion. By virtue of their damaging defeat against Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey, the Catalan giants, for the first time in 1456 days, were no longer the reigning winners of the competition.
After almost 8 months, a mid-season managerial change, and a public spat with the club's Director of Football Eric Abidal, Barcelona look to be in a full-blown crisis in one of the most crucial junctures of the season.
And all of this could not have come at a worse time. In a season where relatively weaker teams are holding their fort for fun, the first XI has a major injury crisis and the club have gone through a clueless winter transfer window. Barcelona look demotivated, diminished and a shadow of their former selves that ruled club football even a few years ago.
The sacking of former coach Ernesto Valverde and the successive appointment of Cruyff-esque Quique Setien was ugly, which is reminiscent of the transfers Barcelona have had for the past few years.
Time and again the board's decisions or the process behind it have been ridiculed as childish. The Blaugrana 'tapped up' Philippe Coutinho in an elaborated scheme spanning over half a year, the Antoine Griezmann saga led to Barcelona paying a mockery of a fine of €300 and the drama surrounding Ousmane Dembele, less said the better.
The lack of direction and heart of the board was laid in front of the world when the much-publicised approach for club legend Xavi fell through, issue being, Barcelona had not let go of their two-time La Liga winning coach yet.
To put it in kinder words, Ernesto Valverde, at the end of his two and a half year tenure, was not loved at the club. For most, he was pragmatic and for the rest with a more stoic opinion, he was a football killer at Barcelona. Under Valverde, the Blaugrana had lost their style, identity and vigour.
However, when the former Bilbao man was sacked, all the decision reeked of, was the vileness that had ensued behind closed curtains.
One would have hoped that the new managerial appointment would have calmed things down, and it did after their win against Granada, but this was Barcelona of course, they just could not keep things together.
Eric Abidal's statement about players not training to their full potential under former coach riled club captain Lionel Messi till the point where he called out his former teammate publicly on Instagram. Messi, in his uncharacteristic tone, demanded Abidal take specific names and call out those whom the former had insinuated.
As the meaningless drama got stretched upon, the tensions in the camp increased. Lionel Messi's contract was drawn under the scanner and clauses were highlighted about how he could walk for free at the end of the season if he wanted to. Loosely based sources reported outlandish interest from cash-rich Manchester City, and at the eye of the storm, it went unnoticed how Quique Setien was left with a weaker squad than what he had inherited.
At a time when injuries were mounting in numbers, Barcelona loaned off Carles Alena (mid-field), Jean-Clair Todibo (centre-back), Moussa Wagué (right-back), and Carles Pérez (right-wing). It would have still made sense if the management would have gotten able replacements, but Barcelona didn't of course, they rather acquired the services of Trincão (forward) and Matheus Fernandes (midfield), who safe to assume are not going to be first-team players in the near future and are scheduled to arrive at the end of the season.
Internally, the management had a fall out with Arturo Vidal after the Chilean sued the club for his unpaid bonuses, understandably so, from a player who has always been looked down upon at the club.
Essentially everything at Barcelona has gone from bad to worse. Under Valverde, despite playing bad football, results arrived. Whereas under Setien, two straight losses away from home have started to rock the foundation of Cruyffian football.
Barcelona are now a club where their elite €120m forward who once cried foul for not winning the Ballon d'Or openly states that he cannot dribble on a football pitch.
As of now, it would be safe to assume that Barcelona's season, apart from the La Liga defence is mostly over. The Catalan giants might just huff and puff to the semi-finals of the Champions League, but that will be it. It needs to be stressed upon that the same group of players were the runaway leaders of the domestic league last season and were looking invincible till that infamous night at Anfield. If that team could crumble like a pack of cards, this team under these conditions has no chance of surviving even in the relegation zone of the domestic competitions.
It is a good time to accept and introspect that Barcelona, it's board, coaching staff and the players have messed up considerably in recent months. Rather than finding clutch players and moments of brilliance to stay afloat in the league, Barcelona could try to figure out constructive fixes to the problems in hand.Published 07 Feb 2020, 17:04 IST