Barcelona had an embarrassing outing in the Champions League yesterday when they were humbled by German giants FC Bayern Munich. A scoreline of 2-8 is beyond acceptable for a club like Barcelona who have enjoyed immense success in recent years.
It marked the first time the Catalan club conceded four goals in the first half of a Champions League game and the first time in over seven decades that they conceded seven or more goals in a game in any competition.
Barcelona were never considered a strong contender to lift the coveted European title this season. But the manner of their abject capitulation against the Bavarian side could not have been predicted by even their staunchest critic.
The Catalan club finished the season trophyless for the first time since 2007-08, following which Pep Guardiola took over as manager and kicked off an era of unprecedented dominance for the Blaugrana.
Guardiola created a squad that was able to combine individual brilliance with team efforts. He established the tiki-taka style of play in which each player looked like a part of a well-oiled-machine.
After winning 14 titles in a span of four years, which included a historic treble in 2008-09, the Spanish manager decided to leave Barcelona, and his assistant Tito Vilanova took over.
Since Barcelona tasted so much success in so short a period, they became accustomed to it, and winning titles every season became an obligation. The club started to shift from its core philosophy of grooming players from their famed La Masia academy to signing big names, albeit with limited success, to ensure a steady flow of titles every season.
Barcelona's 'Galacticos' policy
The 'Galacticos' policy is usually associated with Real Madrid who signed some of the most expensive players in world football during the initial years of Florentino Perez's presidency.
Barcelona, on the other hand, were always known as a club that brought in players from their youth system and strived to build a team rather than signing big-name players from outside.
Players like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Sergio Busquets all came through the club's La Masia academy to establish themselves as the best in the world in their respective positions.
It was expected that similar talent would come through the ranks of Barcelona in the newt few years. However, that did not happen as grass-root level development was not emphasised enough as winning titles for the senior team became a bigger priority.
The lack of players coming from the club's youth system did not seem like a problem as long as Barcelona were winning trophies.
After a poor 2013-14 season, Barcelona went on to sign some big-name players such as Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Marc Andre Ter-Stegen, Claudio Bravo and Jeremy Mathieu. All of them played crucial roles as Barcelona won the continental treble the next season.
However, the individual brilliance of these players soon started to diminish, and the club was once again in a distressing position in 2017 when their star player Neymar decided to join French club Paris Saint-Germain.
The Brazilian forward's departure could have kickstarted the process of transformation at the club, but long-term growth was once again sidelined for short-term success.
In a bid to replace Neymar, the Catalan club signed youngster Ousmanne Dembele and Philippe Coutinho for a combined transfer fee of £267 million.
The 23-year-old French winger has had an injury-ridden career at Barcelona so far whereas the Brazilian midfielder was not played in his natural position for most of his time at the club before he was loaned off to Bayern Munich last year.
Despite the failures, Barcelona's obsession with signing big-name players was still not over. In July 2019, Antoine Griezmann was brought in after Barcelona paid his €120 million buy-out clause, but the French forward had a lukewarm first season where he scored 15 goals in 48 appearances.
Barcelona are in dire need for transformation
It is high time that Barcelona realise that their current policy of signing big names for short-term success has been detrimental to their long-term objectives.
The Barcelona squad is brimming with players over the age of 30. The average age of the team that suffered a 2-8 mauling against Bayern Munich was 29 years and 329 days, making it their oldest lineup in a Champions League game.
Barcelona desperately need to introduce some fresh blood if they are to become a dominant force in world football again.
The club requires a complete overhaul and their core 'Cruyff-esque' philosophy needs to be reinstated. Quique Setien looked like a promising candidate to do the task, but much like his predecessor, he has taken a very cautious approach.
From the fans' perspective, a couple of trophyless seasons with a vision for the future in which La Masia graduates are promoted to the senior team would be much more acceptable than the spate of big-money signings. How the Barcelona board responds in the wake of their debilitating defeat to Bayern Munich remains to be seen, though.Published 15 Aug 2020, 16:13 IST