This can’t be allowed to continue.
A board is tasked with the stewardship of the business that it runs and make no mistake, to this board, the FC Barcelona football club is a business. There are revenue targets, sponsorship targets, every kind of target except the one that really matters: the play, the team.
Slavia Prague rolled into Camp Nou full of the confidence of a team that can see, that knows it has a wounded opponent, forged into a blunt bit of ineptitude by managerial missteps. They got what they came for, a point, and their fans exulted even as the most honest of them will be a bit disappointed to not have come away with three.
It was a performance that, if possible, was worse than the one in the loss to Levante. At least that performance had something. The one, at home in Champions League, had nothing. And at the end, it had a white flag of surrender in the midfield that contained Vidal and Rakitic, two players who shouldn’t be at the club, who are taking bench and playing space away from younger, faster, home-grown players that deserve it.
And they were placed there by a man who should be gone before the weekend, even if he won’t be. Ernesto Valverde has, like every manager does, crafted a team in his own image. It’s a dry, sluggish, tepid batch of unseasoned gruel that oozes about the pitch, easily controlled because it doesn’t have a plan, or life, or spirit. It has talent, but no way to apply it and no tactics.
And we need to apply context here. Barça tops the Liga table and its Champions League group. But that isn’t the point. In context of how the team has played and can play, in context of the talent available and how it is being utilized, Barça is horrible right now.
When you look at the Barcelona roster it drips with excitement, particularly after a great transfer summer that added Griezmann, De Jong and a left-back talent prospect in Junior Firpo. This team should have been loaded for bear. Instead, it has been mismanaged into this torpid, abysmal thing that is unwatchable. Football is supposed to be entertainment. But there is nothing entertaining about this team, which might be its biggest sin, even aside from poor results and make no mistake, a draw at home against Slavia is a failure in every way.
Even worse was how the failure came. You could be forgiven for thinking that Barça has decided that it’s time to play Valverde out of town. He can’t motivate them, has done nothing tactically to equip them with what is necessary to win. They just run about, gaping spaces between players in attack like an NBA team clearing out for the star guard to do something magical. Vidal was something like a false 9 at times today, and it was shameful to watch. Alenya is dying, so that a chaos agent can live? Valverde is making terrible decisions in every parameter of his tenure this season, but it remains to be seen if there will be a price to be paid.
Arsene Wenger said that Barça is playing like a team in crisis. Because Barça IS in crisis, a crisis of confidence, of nurturing, of management, of the kind of human caring and attention from a group of Gucci-loafered empty suits who are more worried about revenue predictions than a team that is falling apart before our very eyes. Either they can’t see it, which is a problem in itself, they don’t want to see it, or they can see it, but won’t do anything about it. This last is the worst. They have been given the keys to a glittering palace and have turned it into the world’s most expensive flophouse. Who cares about revenue projections and making a billion Euros if the product is shit? And right now, the product the board is selling, the product that we are watching, is shit.
There are moments here and there. Messi almost single handedly decided the match with a delight of a forward run and a shot off the crossbar (even if he should have passed to Griezmann). But this match was an ocular travesty, a footballing disasterclass of a slog.
Football is symbiotic, if it works. It works because a manager builds something.
It’s more than relationships between players. It’s links, thousands and thousands of links, made between people on the same wavelength, who are trained to be on the same wavelength. It’s movement that makes eleven players work like the innards of the most expensive Swiss watch. We sit in judgment of players, individual players and their actions, and we find them wanting. And on Twitter, people rail against individuals, this player or that player not fit to wear the shirt, not functioning properly and we forget about what makes it all work. Links open and closed, asked for and made. None of that has happened this season, another reason Valverde shouldn’t even see the Celta match, never mind the rest of the season.
As culers, we hold the Guardiola teams up as avatars, as everything football. We wonder what those teams had that made them so magical, why so few of the teams that we have seen have the same magic, particularly the current one. We wonder how things have strayed so far from where they were. But watching those Guardiola teams make it all so clear. There was always somewhere for the ball to go. The movement was constant, nobody was ever, ever caught on the ball because of a lack of movement. To play that way takes a lot of work, more than we realize even watching it.
It looks like Xavi is just standing there, passing and receiving, then we see the stats on how many kilometers he ran during a match and wonder how the hell that happened, and where were we while he was running his ass off. There is much of playing the right way, as if it’s as simple as drawing them up and turning them loose. Nah. We see that now that Valverde has transformed this team into nothing.
To be sure, the players aren’t what they once were but again, if we can see that, if we can see that Busquets doesn’t have it, that Pique is accumulating red cards like a lower-division enforcer, that Vidal can’t control a ball, that Rakitic is a relic and Vidal a bull in a china shop. But they all play, while others sit. For any other board, one that cared about the humans it manages and the product it sells, Valverde wouldn’t have left the locker room with a job after that Slavia match. It was at home. At Camp Nou. Everyone involved deserved better than what they got, which was nothing. Some draws feel like wins, This one felt like a worse loss than Levante, because it was shameful and inept. The Camp Nou supporters whistled their team, and they should have.
Football has adapted, but Barça hasn’t, nor have our expectations of the team. But this team isn’t playing football in a way that is wrong. It isn’t playing football. And for that, Valverde has to go. Nothing, nobody is working. If Barça isn’t deciding to play Valverde out of town, then his selection verges on malpractice, week after week, choosing players who can’t make happen what he wants to happen, if he even knows what he wants to have happen.
It isn’t supposed to be like this. It isn’t supposed to be miserable, isn’t supposed to be a strain to watch. Dembele, Griezmann and Messi was the attack Valverde rolled out with today. How can that be miserable to watch, how can a team that was at one time so full of footballing fluency, suddenly not be able to string passes together, not be able to play out of the back, or do anything to threaten an opponent that doesn’t come from individual skill.
Valverde has failed because he has turned a team into a collection of individuals. And now that key individuals have diminished, it’s clear that the team has been mismanaged into nothingness.