Barcelona’s decline is no surprise. As Pique says, ‘it is what it is’
Barcelona has seen an alarming decline in its population, which is no surprise given that it’s the most expensive city in Europe. The Spanish capital is now struggling to find new residents, as well as a solution for its dwindling population.
Gerard Pique was Barcelona’s captain when they won the Champions League in 2015. He is now with the Catalan National Team and has said that, it is what it is.
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- Sid Lowe is a writer from Spain.
“It is what it is. We are who we are,” Gerard Pique said, although he wasn’t quite correct. The supporters were having a blast in the closing minutes of Barcelona’s first Champions League encounter. Laughter could be heard from the south stand. Each time the ball was passed, there was a new round of applause. It had nothing to do with what was going on on the field, though: they’d made their own ball to play with. That was preferable.
On the field, Barcelona was down 3-0, losing for the first time in the Champions League on the opening night. The club that had gone 38 European games without losing at the Camp Nou was about to lose three in a row, breaking yet another record. They hadn’t fired a single shot on target all night. That, too, had never occurred before. They’d conceded three goals, and you couldn’t help but believe that their opponents didn’t need them to concede any more.
This was not, however, a one-off or even a rapid collapse. It didn’t come as a huge surprise, though. Bayern Munich, a really excellent team, were their opponents. Bayern had put eight past Barcelona the previous time they played, just 13 months ago but a lifetime ago, and Barcelona had since lost all three strikers who started that game: first Luis Suarez, then Lionel Messi, and finally Antoine Griezmann. Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele, Sergio Aguero, and Martin Braithwaite were all injured on Tuesday night.
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At the conclusion of the game, Pique claimed there were “I don’t know, four or five” youngsters on the sidelines. On the field, there were three 18-year-olds and a 17-year-old. This is how things are, he said. “To be honest,” he said, “we aren’t among the favorites.”
Coach Ronald Koeman concurred when questioned about his captain’s comments. They said that there is a “gap” between Barcelona and teams like Bayern Munich. Few people would argue with that. Take a peek at the team rosters. “Sad reality,” read the front cover of one Catalan newspaper. It’s just the way it is.
There was a willingness to accept that reality, which may have contributed to the issue. There was no outrage, just resignation. Not just after the game, but also before. Even in the middle of it. Barcelona had performed effectively for the first 20 minutes or so, putting up a strong fight. Even if it wasn’t much, it was something. It was a raucous atmosphere at the Camp Nou, and you could practically feel fans gazing about and saying to themselves, “Well, this isn’t so terrible.” Then it happened.
Santi Gimenez, writing in AS, remembered Mike Tyson’s famous remark about everyone having a strategy until they are punched in the mouth. The ease with which Barcelona has fallen when they’ve been struck in recent years is frightening — the way they lost 4-0 at Anfield in 2019 is a profound mental trauma — but just as significant this time is that the strategy seemed to be to simply get through it somehow, maybe fearing a trauma much worse. To extend the metaphor, imagine a smalltown flyweight standing in front of Iron Mike, hiding in the corner of the ring, covering his face in the hopes of avoiding being hit in the mouth while counting down the seconds till the bell.
They couldn’t do it, of course. And if Bayern didn’t pound them into submission until they were pushed over the ropes and onto the judges’ table below, cartoon birds circling their heads, it was because, well, what was the point? It was over after the first punch, with defender Eric Garcia backing off and Thomas Muller’s shot bouncing in. Barcelona, on the other hand, clung on. Almost as if to say, “We lost, but at least it wasn’t an 8-2 defeat. At the very least, we’ll be able to walk out of here alive and fight another day.” It’s as if they knew they couldn’t win and were only concerned with how they would lose or, at the very least, hang on for a point. As if there were certain losses that were unimportant. And, although that may be true, it is also where the argument, as well as some of the irritation, takes place.
“It is what it is,” was a catchphrase used against former Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde following that humiliating loss at Liverpool, mainly by those who didn’t get it. (And it may be interesting revisiting Valverde and the two good seasons wedged between three failed seasons, a lid maintained on a looming catastrophe, at some point.)
Barcelona didn’t seem to have a chance in their Champions League opening against Bayern Munich, but did anybody really expect them to? Did Barcelona believe they’d succeed? Images courtesy of Berengui/DeFodi courtesy of Getty Images
The Spanish standard phrase “es lo que hay” was not used to indicate inferiority or acceptance of the inevitable back then. It was this moment, despite the fact that it was still a fixed sentence. This is the way things are. Everyone knows that, but it’s not something you’re meant to accept. Or are you one of them? Barcelona can’t afford to be a tiny club. Can they, or can they not? Do they have to? Is that what they’re like?
The club’s debt (almost €1.4 billion) is well-known. They understand why emergency measures were implemented this summer, even if they may disagree with which ones were necessary and how they were implemented. Most supporters are relieved that something is being done, and they are realistic enough to realize that it will impact the team, so their expectations will be adjusted appropriately. You can’t ignore the fact that Messi has left — for all that things might have been handled better, Messi’s departure represents the epitome of the crisis, the final penalty for the Bartomeu regime’s economic failings.
You can’t help but note how elderly some of those players are, and how old they seem to be. You couldn’t have missed how young the others are. These are the children who have been given hope. Jordi Alba’s faults are nothing new; you know there’s an issue if Sergio Busquets gets turned. You know that Samuel Umtiti, despite having a contract, simply doesn’t have the knees anymore. Sergi Roberto was whistled as if he were the most serious issue you had. And you already know he’s not the answer.
You know you couldn’t sell the folks you truly wanted to sell because you signed and sold Emerson. There’s a reason why the guys that did come in were unrestricted free agents with modest contracts, and none of them are Erling Haaland. You’re aware of the injuries. You’ve probably heard Koeman remark that there were simply no more forwards available; you may even agree with him now that Yusuf Demir has joined the team. You may have agreed with him when he said that the previous season was a transitional one. However, what are you transitioning to? What does it mean for the rest of the season? And how long will it take, and how far will it travel?
In their 3-0 defeat to Bayern Munich, Jurgen Klinsmann believes Barcelona lacked leadership.
If you’re an optimist or a pessimist, patience may appeal to you, despite the fact that it’s a virtue that clubs of this size seldom have time for. You may be on the same page as Koeman and Pique when they claim the squad “will look completely different in four weeks” and “I’m sure we’ll end up contending.” You may have been enthralled by the arrival of Gavi, Demir, and Balde, as well as Nico’s appearance. You presumably admire Ronald Araujo and think Garcia is a good guy. Even if the manager doesn’t like Riqui Puig, you may. Pedri must pique your interest.
Even if you agree with the tactical strategy for the time being, none of this makes it comfortable to watch. And, more crucially, none of this makes the procedure simple to follow. Because you have to be patient if you want to succeed. You must believe if there is believing. Everyone is required to do so, which is not simple. Because, although there was a certain acceptance of reality versus Bayern on Tuesday night, there is a difference between accepting and enjoying reality. And, if Koeman and Pique are correct, the president, who is responsible for overseeing the process, cannot or will not do so. He’s also not certain that the person in charge should.
While they were attempting to put the loss in perspective or provide a dose of reality, club president Joan Laporta released a 30-second video the next day in which he said that this was a “situation that we always expected.” Nonetheless, he expressed his “indignation and disappointment.” “We will solve this,” he promised after asking for patience twice and support/trust three times.
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Most fans applaud Laporta’s willingness to communicate, explain the situation, and be transparent about the crisis; they certainly applaud the impression that he is attempting to act, but the video is odd: short but repetitive, pleading, and lacking the charisma that has come to characterize Laporta. It also has an impact on everything. Things have changed as a result of its presence. How can a film like this assist if this is true, if your team is undefeated in the league, and if you really desire patience?
Javier Tebas recently accused Florentino Perez, the president of Real Madrid, of holding Barcelona psychologically prisoner; this video has a hostage feel to it. There isn’t much in the way of explanation, including: what precisely are you trying to fix? Laporta calls for confidence in the club’s management, but not in the manager. He begs for patience, but “indignant” isn’t the term to use. His obvious and public dissatisfaction with Koeman works against him.
“Indignant” isn’t a term that comes to mind when you think of a scenario you might have predicted. Unless, of course, it’s Koeman who’s doing it, confirming your suspicions about him. Fix…that? Laporta has made it clear that he wants Koeman to play a particular manner, which is not this way. That, despite the fact that structural issues exist, the squad is clearly weaker than it once was, and Bayern is a massive and superior team to us, reality — our reality — does not have to remain this way.
Going through this, especially coming through it jointly, is made more difficult by the knowledge that such uncertainties exist. There are two kinds of managers, according to one sports director: weak and powerful. And once the players figure out he’s weak, he’s done. In the video, there’s a suggestion of a threat to his boss, which is a very public rebuke. More to the point, prior briefings and articles immediately after encounters with the media have hinted at a threat. Koeman has called him out on them, and the situation is becoming more public.
According to rumors, Laporta plans to grant Koeman three more games, but such demands usually sound ridiculous, so he may as well give him none. To put it simply, many people would welcome it. Your boss, on the other hand, is your manager until he isn’t.
Koeman does not trust Laporta, and Laporta does not trust Koeman. Laporta openly stated last summer that he would only retain Koeman if he couldn’t come up with anything better. He couldn’t do it. Koeman is still in charge because firing him would cost €12 million, which Barcelona does not afford. It would be better if Koeman left, but he won’t: this is the position he’s always wanted, despite the fact that he knows he wouldn’t have gotten it under other conditions.
So here they are, trapped in a marriage of convenience that has grown profoundly uncomfortable, like so much else in Barcelona. However, like with so much in Barcelona, it is what it is.
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