Is Barcelona now everything it once ridiculed Real Madrid to be?
On the 3rd of June, 2017, Zinedine Zidane added another feather to his cap by becoming the first manager to win consecutive Champions League titles, a feat he accomplished when his Real Madrid side dismantled Italian giants Juventus at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. The victory marked Real's 'La DuoDecima' - an unprecedented twelfth European trophy and also signalled the club's absolute domination in the current decade having been crowned Champions League winners in three of the last four years.
As the men in white scale new heights, their Catalan rivals in Barcelona are grappling in their attempt to lay siege on fields they once owned. While the Blancos faithful are reaching their crescendo, noises in Barcelona are drowning as its football club reeks of instability and a pattern that was all so analogous with Real not so long ago.
The Guardiola era
When Joan Laporta sealed Barcelona's fate - hiring Pep Guardiola as manager of the senior team, many ridiculed the decision as Guardiola only had a year's experience in professional management through his stint of coaching Barcelona's B team. Pep, a product of Barcelona's famous academy - La Masia, would, however, go on to guide the Catalonian club through its most successful era, winning a whopping 14 trophies over four years.
As players were pushed through the academy, Barcelona gave to the world some of the most intricate and beautiful football that has ever graced the omnipresent game. Thriving on Cruyff's beliefs, Guardiola revolutionised the game with a high-intensity brand of football that was coupled with the sheer genius of his pawns in the form of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Carlos Puyol, Andres Iniesta et al.; not a bad list of comrades some may say.
A philosophy of possession based football manifested from an institution that thrives under a banner - 'Més Que Un Club' (more than a club).
While Barcelona packaged a brand that was unparalleled, their Spanish rivals Real Madrid were obsessing over 'Galacticos'. Under Florentino Perez's stewardship, Real was jostling for power and control but to little effect with Guardiola's Barcelona, arguably one of the greatest club sides in the modern era, blowing teams out of the water. Despite assembling some of the best players in the world, Real just wasn't able to successfully navigate the doors of European football the way it would have liked.
Guardiola's end and Real's revolving door
At the end of his four years in charge, Guardiola decided to walk away from his Barcelona side. A side that he had captained during his playing career, was now left after his managerial regime in possibly the best shape possible.
With Barcelona still reaping benefits from its academy and flourishing with the aegis of external components such as Luis Suarez and Neymar, Real slowly started to inch its way to the top in its new Galactico era.
Prospects put together as one unit delivered the elusive 'La Decima' - a tenth European trophy for the giants in Europe. Despite a period of prosperity and stability under Carlo Ancelotti, Real decided to exercise its revolving managerial door with Spaniard Rafa Benitez making his way in and out, all in the course of one season, giving way to Zinedine Zidane.
While Barcelona was again mixing it up with one of its own in Luis Enrique, Zidane was tasked with overthrowing competition in Spain and across Europe with a side that he was all too familiar with. Taking over the reigns of the senior team after having coached the B team, much too reminiscent of Pep Guardiola, Zidane started giving shape to a team that for far too long looked like a disjointed team of individuals.
The cycle of life
How often have we heard of life coming around a full circle? As Zizou's Real Madrid side has moulded itself into a domineering football unit, Barcelona has shown cracks that have blossomed into full blown holes in its heart. Having been forced to relinquish its thrown in Spain and in Europe, Barcelona has also started disintegrating as an institution.
Problems with the reigning President Josep Bartomeu coupled with the explosive departure of mercurial Neymar have forced Barcelona to distance itself from principles it once thrived on.
While Zidane's Real has laid faith in academy graduates Luis Vasquez and Marco Asensio, who have prospered under their French manager, Barcelona's hand has been forced in the transfer market with purchases of Paulinho and Ousmane Dembélé. While Barcelona's new recruits are no slouches, it is evident that Barcelona has become more reactive in nature, a sea change for a club that often set the precedent on the highest level.
The tale of these two superclubs epitomises how change is imminent. While the fallen rises, the conversely is equally true. Real Madrid today sit on top in the battle of the powerhouses, as Zidane has stamped his authority on a side that thrives on free flowing attacking football. A style of play that manifests from its constituents rather than a principle or a strong-headed belief.
On the other end, Barcelona is scrambling to conjure a team that is capable of regaining the club's lost sheen. After all, the stakes and standards have been set awfully high.