Over the past five days, FC Barcelona seems to be in an extended free fall. Barca suffered a one-sided 1-3 loss at home to Real Madrid in the La Liga Spanish Clasico, eked out a 2-0 win over a depleted Juventus in Turin in the UEFA Champions League, and the club’s entire board resigned en masse.
Over that span, Lionel Messi scored off a penalty in Turin and had a number of good passes die unproductively at the feet of lesser mortals. Otherwise, the diminutive Argentine has not been himself at Barca but for a few sparkling moments this season. No surprise, given he does not want to be at his club anymore. But his performances have only aggravated the club’s free fall.
Barca’s new coach, Ronald Koeman, has blamed the loss against archrivals Madrid on October 24th to VAR’s alleged bias against Barca but failed to mentioned VAR’s pivotal and favorable role on October 28th, when Juventus had three goals called back, two for infinitesimal off-sides only VAR could note.
The entire Barca board resigned long after bungling the Messi fiasco but also because it bungled the Messi fiasco. As their last two acts while in charge the Barca board—ironically making clear what their Messi-less criteria were all along— approved joining the European Super League and agreed to the changes FIFA proposed for a new Club World Cup format. The club’s leadership has been in a free fall for months if not a couple of years, but their final crash was thunderous.
But perhaps the biggest debacle came when BeIn Sports announcers on the two broadcasts covering the Camp Nou and Allianz Stadium matches used the same idea to describe the new style of play Barca seemed to be employing in the matches they covered [I paraphrase]: “The new Barcelona seems tougher, rougher, less able to weave the finesse ball control that was their trademark for so long but seemed to evaporate just a few seasons ago.”
The added shame is that the team has brought up some young guns with real talent—the likes of Ansu Fati, Sergino Dest, and Pedri, to name a few recent match starters. Though Koeman may not be the right coach to rebuild the team there is talent to work with and enough veterans to lean on. This free fall is reversible.
But the elephant in the room is still there and it is whether turning the club inside out will be enough to convince Messi to remain at Barcelona. With few of his closest friends around, a transparent disregard for his true interests still lingering in the halls of the Camp Nou, and with doubtless options galore outside of Spain, it seems Messi will have the ability to call the shots wherever he wants and in whatever fashion suits his fancy. Unfortunately for Barca, the Messi era, whether he stays or leaves came to an end last summer and the club’s slide has, frankly, just begun.