When Barcelona defeated Manchester United at Wembley on a balmy evening in May 2011 to claim their second Champions League title in three seasons, it looked as though there was no stopping them. After all, it could’ve been three-in-a-row had they not been knocked out in the semi-final in 2010 by eventual winners Inter Milan. Not only were the Catalans winning everything in sight, but were doing so playing a style of football that was epoch defining.
Fast forward three years and Barcelona enter into a new campaign, having lost the League on the final day after continually spurning chance after chance, losing out on the Copa del Rey after being defeated in the final by their fierce rivals Real Madrid and meekly exiting the Champions League. It has been a rapid fall from grace to say the least. Unfortunately for the Blaugrana faithful it hasn’t been a quick shot to the head, instead a slow, painful and laborious process of watching a once-great team finally fall on their knees.
While the arrival of yet another world-class forward in Luis Suarez for a club-record fee is surely good news, the simple fact is that the Uruguayan is looking like a side-show when compared to the mess that is Barcelona right now. While the club are continually stocking the attacking department with world class talent, the defence has been left to rot.
With the departure of Carlos Puyol, the club have lost yet another important linchpin from their all-conquering squad of a few years ago. While they have brought in two players in Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen to fill that hole, neither can claim to be mentioned in the same breath as the club’s former skipper Puyol.
While the club continue to get their chief offensive targets, it looks as though they are yet again going to fall short of their major defensive targets. As good as Mathieu and Vermaelen are, neither can claim to be one of the best in the business right now. While both would’ve made for good squad additions, the fact that both of them were bought for about €20 million means that they are there to bring some much needed solidity in defence.
Unfortunately for the Catalans, neither look up for the task. For all of Mathieu’s defensive qualities, he is primarily a left back, who can at times play centrally. For the club to make him the most expensive transfer for a player over 30 only to a play him in a position that he isn’t too familiar with, smacks of desperation. So does signing a player who is injury-prone and has in the matter of two years fallen from being the captain of Arsenal to being an expendable member of the squad.
For the umpteenth transfer window running, the club have failed to bring in a truly world class central defender who will make a difference to the way things are. It almost looks as though the major defenders in the world don’t really want to play at Barcelona, for fear of damaging their reputation. As a result, the club have had to resort to second-choice and average players who are unlikely to improve the club’s current predicament.
Previously, Barcelona was a by-word for the footballing genius that is Messi. Although the Argentine is still the chief string-puller at the club, now the Catalans have become a by-word for being messy, when it comes to operating a football club.
In the three years since their 2011 triumph at Wembley, the club have gone from being a trend-setters to an also-ran. From the club which prides itself on being more than a club, to being one which was sold for the highest corporate bidder. In no time, the Catalans have gone from being ruler of the land, to being someone who is now feeding off the scraps.
The signings of Mathieu and Vermaelen have done nothing to dispel the obvious fact that the Catalans look past it. While the arrival of Suarez might be seen by some as a harbinger of good things to follow, some are already predicting that the Uruguayan might just be the albatross hung around their neck.