Barcelona take on Athletic Bilbao tonight at the 53,000+ seater San Mamés for their LaLiga season opener. We take a look at the prospects and the problems that look like a mean storm cloud in their Sagrada Familia skewered skyscape.
Quest for reconstructing Barcelona DNA
The Barcelona DNA is an innate quality that a player supposedly has that makes him worthy to understand and play in the tiki-taka system of football. The way Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona played, it wasn’t hard to imagine the outer line of their formation to move like the exterior membrane of a multi-celled organism with both individual and collective intelligence.
The peak usage of this term was around the time the club had the pulling-power to lure world stars at their whim. All it took to set the wheels in motion was one of Barcelona behemoths like captain Carles Puyol to come out and drop a quote in the media as to how he admired a certain player from another club and that he had that elusive Barcelona DNA. The gestation period of that transfer to Barcelona took at most a season. Little that the upper management knew that this cherry-picking will turn into avarice that destabilizes the club’s foundations.
Barcelona have been guilty of retail therapy in the last few seasons akin to someone with an internet shopping addiction. The departure of Andres Iniesta and Xavi has left a hole in their soul they have been bent on filling by looking outwardly. Retail therapy gives one an ephemeral dopamine hit and addresses nothing beyond superficiality when the questions being asked at the Catalan club is about existentialism; more accurately about identity.
“There used to be 40 boys in four rooms at La Masia. We were close like brothers and the bond was often telepathic,” Puyol told the Guardian earlier in the year. That bond between the club and their academy is more tense and tenuous than it has ever been. Their blatant tapping up over the years, that was once a perfected art, has taken the guise of parody ill-aided by a misplaced recruitment policy. The scrupulous transfer of Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool and sucker-punching AS Roma on the back of their head over the last-minute hijack of Malcom has tolled heavy on their karma: Coutinho, their world-record Iniesta-replacement is being offered to Premier League teams on loan after only a season, while Malcom has been shipped off to Zent St. Petersburg. The loan of Kevin-Prince Boateng further highlighted the cluelessness of the upper management.
This transfer window, Barcelona have ignored their balance books, went ahead and signed Antoine Griezmann for €120 million. They are also currently in talks with Paris Saint Germain to bring back a player who undermined club traditions, threw verbal bombs in ego wars (in both Paris and Barcelona), Neymar. Neymar drove a mild-mannered Kylian Mbappe to rant openly at the French Football Awards against the discrepancy of privilege at PSG. You’d imagine lessons would have been learned.
Despite having the silverware to show for it, it’s harder than ever to pinpoint a style Barcelona employ, as most of their play now has been Messi-centric. ‘Cowardly,’ is a word most associated with Ernesto Valverde’s earnest tactics. Their Copa Del Rey final defeat to Valencia and the 4-0 defeat at Anfield to eventual Champions League winners, Liverpool, were one of the lowest points of their sporting history. Questions have been aimed at the mental strength of the team when Lionel Messi doesn’t perform.
Their ability to win LaLiga last year is both a testament to their overpowering individual quality and not necessarily their cohesion or a future vision. Players like Ousmane Dembele could still be a part of the package that brings Neymar back to Camp Nou. Sergio Busquets is nearing the end of his peak. When put into context, their success have been also aided by the struggles of rivals Real Madrid.
Rarely has a club gotten so much criticism as Barcelona did last season, despite winning the league. At first glance, it might seem hunky-dory as they are poised to make it three league titles in a row but look deeper and you’ll notice a rot setting in. The kind of rot that requires the club years to recover from.