When some natural disaster comes, next steps are easy. You pump out water, rebuild walls, erect something new to replace that which was destroyed.
That project is much more complex with a football team.
On paper, it’s easy. Buy! Rebuild! Replace! In reality, the most overwhelming aspect of the Bayern thrashing overlooked in so many of the brilliant tactical analyses and chronicles of institutional rot is the psychological one. Most heartbreaking to watch was how the team accepted the inevitability of it all, how fragile some of the greatest players in the history of the game were in the face of adversity. They just stopped putting out.
So any rebuilding will of necessity include understanding the mental aspect of taking the reins of a damaged team, a task vastly more complicated than, “Okay, lads. That was then, this is a new beginning.” People can talk about Semedo all they like, but everybody got wrecked. A Medieval beatdown like that doesn’t just happen because of one person, as alluring as such ideas are. So we aren’t just talking a squad, but the mentality of a squad.
Yet an even bigger problem is a connection to a tactic that has become a philosophy that has become an identity. So how do you get everyone, from supporters to board members to potential managers, to discard a system that has become a belief. La Masia is creating hothouse flowers built to thrive in an idealized environment that doesn’t really work any longer. We hold on to it because that thinking was connected to the greatest football we have ever seen, played by one of the greatest teams in history.
Yet when a house burns down, who builds an exact replica from the ashes?
It’s worth looking at a question: If Pep Guardiola, with all the money in the land, with a team of professionals built to help his achieve his dreams that included some former Barcelona personnel, didn’t strive to build a replica of his great teams, then what are we doing? What are we asking for in our refusal to let go of something?
So that’s psychology, and discarding history. Easy, right? But wait, there’s more. You also have money. Barça has the biggest wage bill in world football. So what do you do with that, particularly when any potential transfer has to be to a club that can absorb the wages. But clubs of that stature are playing a more modern game, so the “Okay, we got a 30-year-old midfielder on 12m per year, what say ye?” talks aren’t going to go particularly well. Even on a free, wages are still an impediment. Talk of team turnover is impeded by that simple reality. Sit all the geezers. Sure. And ninety percent of the club’s wage bill is watching from the stands, and people are screaming, especially at the first egg laid by the kids.
Then there’s empowering a manager with the carte blanche necessary to do what he needs, rather than political expedience. Culers has Luis Enrique ready to be drawn and quartered before even halfway of his first season, and never fully accepted him after that, even after he brought another treble to the club. Even now, mentions of his time are attended by, “Where was the midfield?”
The steps the club needs to take are easy:
— New board and president. The people currently in place are pretty good at raising money and sponsorships, and detestably inept at everything else related to running a football club, in institutional and human senses.
— New blood in the squad. The only incumbent who should consider themselves an inked-in roster spot is Messi, for obvious reasons. And there are people who my roster sheet wouldn’t feature for love or money.
— Revamping tactics. If Bayern showed us nothing (for the second time) it’s that the team we love has to at least be able to run with people.
— New manager. Can’t have new tactics without a new mananger, and that new manager will probably also want new players, yet the club has no money, and a huge wage bill. So …
Heads will roll, and they should. But the biggest head won’t because it’s institutionally secure. That’s Bartomeu. It’s doubtful Setien survives. Same with Abidal, who will be jettisoned again by the same cretins that jettisoned him the first time. Because not only was Bartomeu there when Rosell was, he’s a continuity president. We can even expect a board member or two to resign as a matter of principle, and scuttling down the ratlines as the ship goes down.
But Barça isn’t as bad off as many want to believe, and it isn’t a dead club by any stretch of the imagination. The club has made some smart buys in Mattheus Fernandes, Francisco Trincao and Pedri. Puig and Fati are ready as well. Araujo deserves a good, hard look and if they don’t keep Todibo now, after the waste laid to the slow, unathletic back line, then who the hell knows anything any longer? They’re also crazy if they sell Dembele without giving him a shot to stay fit. He won’t be worth much less than he is right now, even if he breaks down again. What of a possible XI of Ter Stegen, Semedo, Todibo, Araujo, Firpo, De Jong, Messi, Puig, Fati, Dembele, Griezmann? Or move Messi to the front line and roll out a Pedri or someone. Barça can, on paper, roll out a young, fast, athletic team that can press, control possession and dictate play. But first we have to let go of so, so much.
Still the biggest question, even more than all the others, is what to do with Messi? It’s no secret that every big transfer made by the club beginning with Ivan Rakitic and continuing thorugh Griezmann, has been of a player who would be ideal in the spot already occupied by Messi. And every one of those players save Rakitic, has failed after being stuffed into some other spot an told to adapt or die. Messi deserves to retire at FC Barcelona. But what do you do with the greatest player in the game, as you try to revamp an XI that is going to include him, no matter who the manager is? De Jong in the hole, Messi in the Xavi role and Puig in the Iniesta one? But aren’t we discarding the system so that the organism can grow anew? What then? Any discussions about how to rebuild the team (the club will be fine, especially after it sells off the Camp Nou naming rights) have to include what to do about the greatest player in the history of the game.
On the up side, supporters should be willing to accept almost anything after another debacle. The only worse possible Champions League exit as the failures become increasingly comprehensive and ugly, is being shot from a cannon by a willing opponent.
The “what next” question will take bravery, which is another reason the current tribe of inept, moneygrubbing robots aren’t fit to oversee that project. Bravery hasn’t been on the cards at FC Barcelona since Luis Enrique left. Most likely will be another season of running in place, Champions League and not winning La Liga because of fiscal and psychological handicaps. But as we dream of a brighter future for a club that always rises again (it survived Gaspart … it can manage Bartomeu), it’s imposisble to look forward until we discard the past. How successfully the team tasked with the rebuild does that will determine the outcome of not only next season, but subsequent ones.