Yesterday, we looked at how things got so messy. The next question is what to do about it?
Next year at training camp, certain FC Barcelona players enter the locker room, and this happens:
Eerie music, flies buzz around the room, and out comes the demonic voice. “Get. Out. … Get. Out! GET OUT!”
Everybody out. If Barça is going to be realistic about the idea of competing for all the trophies, it will have to have a repeatable manner of play that works no matter who is on the pitch, rather than the hodgepodge the team has had the past few seasons. This means that a courageous president will need to make some hard decisions, and we supporters will have to come to grips with those choices. Guardiola came in, Ronaldinho and Deco went out. Yikes. And that team was a lot closer to having all the tools than this team is, so the “Yikes!” will be more like, “Holy crap baby Jesus hold me now!”
Xavi retired on top, aware that he was no longer at a level that could help the club he loved. Puyol did the same, as did Iniesta. Current legends will have the same hard decisions. Koeman’s XI against PSG was: Ter Stegen, Dest, Pique, Lenglet, Alba, Busquets, Pedri, De Jong, Dembele, Griezmann and Messi. They beat on the right side like a drum because Pique has to sit deep because he’s lost so much, and Busquets can’t cover any space. In that cow pasture, opponents frolic. Sure, rip Dembele for being a crap right back. Dembele isn’t supposed to have to play right back if the team is working like it’s supposed to. And the answer for it all is clear to anyone willing to accept it: everybody out.
Salaries, egos and a president, whoever it is, who might be unwilling to do what is necessary will prevent from happening what should be happening, but these players, for me, should be gone in summer window: Alba, Pique, Busquets, Sergi Roberto, Coutinho, Umtiti, Sergi Roberto, Griezmann, Braithwaite, Lenglet and Firpo. The new president will also need to have a serious sit down with Messi about what he wants and how much he wants it. Make the team over in a single window, make it younger, faster and more capable of playing the kind of football that isn’t going to get it run off the pitch.
But the changeover for that team is also psychological. “It doesn’t have veteran leadership,” some will say. Well, it had veteran leadership in Rome and Anfield. It had veteran leadership against Bayern as well. Fat lot of good that did. PSG didn’t have veteran leadership. PSG had a gazelle with a point to prove, and prove it he did. One of the most fascinating planks of the Laporta presentation this week was its focus on sports psychology on an individualized level. Crucial. Failure has not only become a habit but an expectation. And a lot of that is, indeed, mental.
When PSG beat Barça like a snare drum in a punk band, people had reactions ranging from satisfied to disappointed, but few were surprised.
The thing to watch for in that match, and the only thing, was whether Barça was psychologically ready to play a Champions League knockout contest. I had them winning at Camp Nou and advancing via scoring draw at Paris, because it seemed like the team was mentally ready. Wrong. Not only were they not mentally ready, but PSG couldn’t have been more ready. We already knew that Barça was outmatched from the XI that Koeman put out, so that was a foregone conclusion. But sometimes, weird things happen if one team is up for it, and the other team still has ghosts of past failures rattling around in the closets.
Nah. And therefore, Barça got run off the pitch, like the other Liga entrants in this Champions League knockout round save one, for the same and very different reasons. La Liga is an amazing league, week after week. The play is technical, intense and any team could beat any other team. But nobody, and I mean nobody, would say that Liga is a league that plays modern football, even as people talk a lot about the right way to play, whatever that is.
The right way to play is the way that wins you matches. Lip service is paid to not minding losing as long as the team plays the right way, but a beatdown is a beatdown. As outclassed as Barça was against Bayern, it might have been even more outclassed against PSG. The only reason the scoreline wasn’t the same was Ter Stegen, and some clunky finishing on the part of the PSG players. It looked as if PSG could score at will, the goals came so easily. It’s easy to ask why, but the answer makes a lot of people very uncomfortable, even as it’s been the same answer for years.
Guardiola’s teams were successful not just because they had great players. Transfers came and went and the teams still had success, because they had a tactical logic, a way of playing that was the same no matter who was on the pitch. Guardiola’s teams benefitted from the brilliance of Messi, but didn’t need that brilliance to have success. We love the idea of Messidependencia, and having him don his cape to save the day yet again. The dark side of that is what happens when the cape doesn’t have the same magic. There isn’t anyone who can do what Messi does because the team is predicated around capitalizing on what Messi does. That isn’t a system. That’s a hope.
Barça is so easy to defend now because everything is about Messi, which means everything is central. So defenders just stack up there and kick balls away. Meanwhile, modern teams are building play from outside in, relying on creative wingers and/or overlapping fullbacks who can do more than play the same pass to the same person. Mids are making runs, without breaking down the overall structure of the team. Weird stuff, to be sure, but it’s happening everywhere except at the Camp Nou. As long as it doesn’t happen, the team that we love is going to keep disappointing us.
Griezmann isn’t a bad player. He just isn’t a Barça player. Same with Coutinho and Dembele for that matter, another player who might find himself on the list if the team isn’t going to commit to a system of play that doesn’t make him a square peg. Barça right now is bad tactics for old and misfit players, so the erratic results shouldn’t surprise anyone. The comprehensive change necessary to fix that can happen in a summer.
We’ve seen who’s out. So who’s in? Emerson, Todibo, Garcia, Ilaix, Collado, Comas, Jandro, Alenya, Some Forward, Some Ligue 1 fullback project. And what does that XI look like?
Mingueza Araujo Garcia/Todibo
Dembele Some Forward Fati
That XI would be fast, fun, defensively sound since everybody except Messi will run and defend. Teach them the tactical foul, and get to work building a system of play. That team won’t win a Treble, but that team could certainly win Liga and/or Copa, and tread water until the club got its fiscal ducks in a row. More crucially, whoever manages that team devises a manner of playing that isn’t reliant on the genius of an aging colossus.
Sadly, none of that is going to happen. What will happen is anyone’s guess, but if fear drives necessary decisions instead of boldness and courage, everything will be on the cards for another trophyless season slathered in uncertainty and dashed expectation.