Photo Source: RTE
By Graham Gillespie
Often in football winning can cover up everything else that is happening at a club and sometimes a shock to the system is required for problems behind the scenes to come to light. After their crushing 4-0 defeat to PSG in the Champions League, Barcelona received one such shock leaving the football world to ask what happened?
Although the Catalan side are still well within the Spanish title race and not many even now would rule out an astonishing comeback against the French champions, the humbling at the Parc Des Princes has brought many issues within the club to the forefront. Both on the pitch and perhaps more pertinently off it.
Let’s start by discussing what went wrong on the field. For a team who’s usually dominant in the middle of the park, perhaps the most striking aspect of Barca’s abject performance was their midfield display. All three of the midfielders who started in their 2015 Champions League final success against Juventus featured against PSG but unfortunately for the Blaugrana two of those players find themselves desperately out of form this campaign.
This is especially true of Sergio Busquets who’s probably in the midst of his worst season. The metronomic influence he exerted on games in Barcelona’s best years has not been discernible in 2016/17. It appears this has had a knock-on effect on Iniesta who in the absence of Busquets’s usual stability doesn’t have the same degree of freedom. Andre Gomes made up the starting midfield triumvirate against the Parisians but he has not looked able to fit into a midfield that might now only be starting to miss the legendary Xavi Hernandez.
Just as they might finally be missing Xavi, Barcelona may be feeling the effects of no longer having another club legend: Dani Alves. Alves was notionally a right-back in his Camp Nou days but as his side often had so much of the ball he was far from a traditional full back and played in a unique position much higher up the pitch. As a result the main function he served in those teams was as an offensive weapon. The fact that Alves is one of only three players in La Liga history to have 100 assists and that no other player has set up Messi more at Barcelona is evidence of the effect he had going forward.
Since leaving for Juventus, Alves has vented his frustrations about his former employer focusing particularly on the club’s hierarchy. “The people who run Barcelona have no idea how to treat their players.” commented the Brazil international in an interview with Spanish newspaper ABC and with signings such as the aforementioned Andre Gomes not working out the board’s transfer policy has come under criticism.
However perhaps Barcelona’s biggest problem has more to do with the courtroom than the pitch. Last July Lionel Messi got a 21 month jail sentence (which he is in the process of appealing) for tax fraud whilst Javier Mascherano received a one year sentence. Following on from this Neymar is now set to stand trial over corruption charges relating to his transfer from Santos four years ago. Regardless of whether these players intentionally committed these crimes or were just badly advised, its impossible to think that these cases have not had at least some negative effect on performance and team morale. Since FC Barcelona are themselves also accused of illicit behaviour in the Neymar transfer it could be the case that the most important result of Barcelona’s season will be known after a jury’s final verdict instead of a referee’s final whistle.