Silverware and El Clásico results can define an era at Barcelona and Real Madrid, and it was the Spanish champions who triumphed on opposition soil in the first meeting of the season between the two giants this weekend.
The evergreen duo of Luka Modrić and captain Sergio Ramos joined Federico Valverde on the scoresheet for Zinedine Zidane's side in a 3-1 victory at the Camp Nou.
But it was the early equaliser from Ansu Fati that offered a glimpse into the future for Barcelona on an afternoon that signified the size of challenge facing manager Ronald Koeman.
The former Dutch star will forever be remembered for his historic extra-time goal for the Blaugrana against Sampdoria at Wembley Stadium back in 1992. Ronald Koeman's free-kick separated the two sides as the club lifted the European Cup for the first time under the guidance of the great Johan Cruyff.
For the last two decades, Ronald Koeman has managed clubs in the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and England, in addition to his most recent appointment as manager of the Dutch national team. His story in the history of Barcelona makes his appointment at the Camp Nou particularly special, but it is the right job at the wrong time.
This is a turbulent time of transition for Barcelona, both on and off the field. Ronald Koeman inherited the Lionel Messi transfer saga, and while the Argentine remains at the club, it will be remembered as one of their most damaging summers. The legacy of the drama will remain until Messi finally departs, but he is still likely to outstay Ronald Koeman.
The future of President Josep Maria Bartomeu will decide the direction in which the club takes next. There is significant pressure on Bartomeu to resign, and it appears that appointment of preferred managerial target Xavi Hernández will require a change at the very top. Should Bartomeu remain in control, Ronald Koeman will continue to plug the gap.
Ronald Koeman's heart over head decision
It is a difficult situation for Ronald Koeman. While he would have found it difficult to refuse the approach from Barcelona considering his personal history with the club, he is wise enough to see the bigger picture of the power struggle that exists within the corridors of the Camp Nou. But now he will also understand that the struggle on the pitch is also very real.
Lionel Messi is set to finally leave the club at the end of the season, while Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets are no longer capable of making the same impression as they did during the glory years of Pep Guardiola. Their replacements have potential, but they are raw, and balancing the transition between the senior figures and the next generation is clearly not going according to plan.
Teenagers Sergiño Dest and Ansu Fati impressed during El Clásico on Saturday, but Pedri looked out of his depth as he adapts to the pressure of playing regularly for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho appear to have no future at the Camp Nou, while Ronald Koeman's delay in making a change highlighted a lack of faith in the strength of his squad.
Lionel Messi has carried this Barcelona team for too long, and a change in his responsibility was a major factor in his decision to test Bartomeu during the summer. Ronald Koeman will need investment to bridge the gap between his senior figures and the teenage hopefuls looking to shape the future of the club, but the long-term plan has clearly been left too late.
Mounting pressure at the Camp Nou
Barcelona will need to take a step backwards before they can move forward. Dealing with the departure of the senior figures and the development of the next generation make this transitional project so difficult for Ronald Koeman. The demand from the Cules for results each and every week remains, even though the stadium remains empty.
Success for Ronald Koeman in the current club climate appears impossible, and their likely failure was highlighted by the frustrating second half performance against rivals Real Madrid. This is not a side that is set to challenge for honours, yet their failure will define the tenure of Ronald Koeman more than the mess that he inherited when he arrived.
The experience that he can offer to the likes of Ansu Fati, Pedri, Riqui Puig and Sergiño Dest will serve only to benefit his successor. Tolerating the average performances of fallen greats in Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets as they play out their final years at the club will be another test of patience for the Dutchman.
But there are signs of what the club can become in the short-term, and in Clément Lenglet, Frenkie de Jong, Miralem Pjanić and Ousmane Dembélé there is enough quality in key positions to build from with the right additional support. There is no quick fix to the problem, and Ronald Koeman will not be entrusted with the development of a long-term project.
A season to forget
A tough year is ahead at the Camp Nou, and it will mark a sad end to Lionel Messi's Barcelona career. There is nothing that could inspire a change of heart unless Xavi Hernández arrives before his departure, but the former midfielder will not make the same mistake as Ronald Koeman in taking the dream job during a time of such deep transition.
There is enough experience within the senior players at Barcelona to understand the recruitment mistakes that have been made in recent years, and how the process of rebuilding has been so poorly applied. Ronald Koeman will forever be remembered for his goal at Wembley Stadium, but his tenure as Barcelona manager will be inevitably short, and quickly forgotten.
Published 25 Oct 2020, 00:11 IST