The Fall of Barca

FC Barcelona have been one of the best soccer clubs in the world for the past few decades. However, over the past four years, Barcelona have had a major decline, which threatens to plunge the club permanently into mediocrity.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cover Image
By Shirley Tan

FC Barcelona (Barca) is one of the greatest clubs in the history of soccer. Many legends such as Diego Maradona and Johan Cryuff have played for the club, which has won countless major trophies, most notably five Champions Leagues and 26 league titles. However, in recent years, Barca has been going through a major decline. With an aging squad, numerous embarrassing defeats, and many internal conflicts, the future of the club looks bleak. After winning the treble in 2015 (in which Barca won the La Liga, Copa del Rey, and Champions League) to getting destroyed 8-2 in the 2020 Champions League quarter finals against FC Bayern, the necessary question to ask is: Where did it all go wrong?

One of the most significant factors in Barca’s decline was the departure of Neymar. Before he left for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Neymar was thought of as the future of Barca. However, PSG activated a release clause in his contract and offered Neymar a ludicrously high salary to convince him to leave. After much consideration, Neymar accepted the offer. This departure was one of the many humiliations that Barca would face over the next few years. The club had lost their most talented youngster, and all they could do was watch. To this day, Barca has been unable to fill the hole in the squad that Neymar’s departure created. Barca signed Ousmane Dembélé from Borussia Dortmund in an attempt to replace Neymar, but Dembélé’s career has been plagued with many injuries that have stopped him from showcasing his talent.

Barca’s drift away from club values has also played a major role in its demise. Ever since Neymar left, the Catalan Giants have been spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to fill the void left by the transfer. They bought players such as Dembélé, Philippe Coutinho, and Antonie Griezmann, each for over $100 million. Still, it is difficult to argue that any one of these players are worth the ridiculous amount they were bought for. Many fans are disappointed that the club spent so much money on players when they could have instead invested it into developing talents from their world-renowned youth academy, La Masia. Cryuff and Pep Guardiola, former managers of Barca, have demonstrated how the club can develop some of the best players in the world by giving members of La Masia an opportunity to play in the starting squad. This system is how players such as Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, and Andrés Iniesta became some of the all-time greats in their respective positions. This method worked so well because La Masia trained players to perfectly fit into the Barca playstyle. However, Barca has not shown the same trust in La Masia products as they once did, and now, they try to buy players from foreign leagues instead. This method seems to have failed the club as many of the transfers struggle to fit in with the Barca playstyle. Had Barca placed their trust in their young players instead of buying new ones, this decline may have been prevented.

Another potential reason for Barca’s downfall has been poor management on all levels of the club. Ernesto Valverde, former manager, was kept at the club for many years despite poor performances. Under his management, Barca suffered humiliating comeback defeats to Roma and Liverpool, which made the club a laughingstock in the soccer world. Quique Setién was hired as an interim manager to replace Valverde after he was finally fired. Expectations were high as Setién could have brought the team back on top. However, nothing much changed with him at the helm. After a humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern in the 2020 Champions League quarter finals, Setién was fired as well. The blame shifted from the manager to the president of Barca, Joseph Bartomeu. Bartomeu was criticized by many former players, including Neymar and Dani Alves, for his treatment of players. In fact, Alves left Barca solely due to issues with Bartomeu. With a board reelection coming up in 2021, Bartomeu now needs to completely change the morale in the club if he wants to have a chance at winning.

Bartomeu has taken a few steps toward improvement, though many of his efforts have been in vain. For example, he has told many of his players to leave the club. He even threatened to terminate Luis Suárez’s contract, though this almost shot him in the foot, as Messi, Barca’s best player, almost left the club because of it. He changed his mind mainly because he did not want to engage in a legal dispute with his own club. However, though Messi is staying at Barca, his transfer saga has created internal conflict in the club. In the interview announcing he would stay, he revealed his opinions about the Barca board: “And the truth is that there has been no project or anything for a long time. They juggle and cover holes as things go by.” Clearly, even Messi is unhappy with the direction the board is taking with the club and has even hinted at a feud between him and Bartomeu that has been occurring behind the scenes.

After the appointment of Ronald Koeman as the club’s new manager, the future of Barca is uncertain. Some believe that Barca will bounce back to its former glory. Others believe that Barca may plunge down and become a mid-table team. The only thing that we know for sure is that there will be massive changes. If Bartomeu and Koeman don’t make the right decisions, Barca may never be able to recover from this sharp decline.

Barca does have some hope of getting out of this hole due to recent La Masia graduates. For example, Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati have become fan favorites at Barca and performed well for the club. Additionally, Barca can potentially sign Eric Garcia from Manchester City to add even more young talent to their roster. There have also been reports that Koeman will sign Gini Wijnaldum from Liverpool FC or Memphis Depay from Olympique Lyonnais in order to provide more rotation for the starting squad. With the arrival of Portuguese striker Francisco Trincão as well, Barca will be able to construct a rejuvenated team filled with many youngsters. This possibility may be its last chance to save its legacy.