By Paul Macdonald
It’s immensely difficult to plan, create and execute the greatest football team of the modern era. It’s even more difficult to destroy that vision in 12 months. But Barcelona have somehow managed it, and the degeneration picked up pace from the moment Neymar swaggered into Catalunya.
The Brazilian is not to blame for this disaster. He made a concerted effort to adapt his game to an entirely new way of playing, and had he not suffered injury problems his narrative in this debacle may have been altogether more satisfying. But he is the personification of Barcelona in the role of the conformist. Adhering to the conventional, the doctrine by which others abide.
No longer ‘Mes que un club’; now, any old club.
Even before considering what an unequivocal misadventure the specifics of the transfer proved to be, at face value it was an endeavour not to improve the team but appease sponsors and fulfil the egos of certain high-ranking officials. Neymar, through no fault of his own, became a bystander in a narcissistic power play, as everything that Barca stood for, arguably for the first time in a decade, became a secondary consideration to revenue generation.
The first warning sign was the uneasy partnership with Qatar that meant a sponsor on the jersey for the first time. From there the path from righteousness towards self-aggrandising rhetoric moved all too swiftly. A club that dealt with its issues with class and integrity fast descended into a duplicitous organisation.
Neymar’s deal meant no centre-back was brought in - another season where the glaringly obvious weak point of the team was not addressed. Neymar is a marketing superstar first, footballing superstar next, and it was too easy for the club to strengthen brand synergy with Nike rather than bring in a player who does uncivilised things like tackle, header, and block. Things that Carles Puyol used to do rather well.
It came in the midst of decisions made with dubious ethics. Before his heartbreaking passing Tito Vilanova’s initial illness was not particularly well-handled, nor was the thrusting of Jordi Roura into a position he openly admitted he did not desire, stating he was ‘just there to do his job’. Eric Abidal’s send-off was ill-judged, given the defensive situation, coupled with the fact he has performed to a high standard with Monaco this season. Victor Valdes, a player who breathes Barca, was suitably disillusioned that he opted to leave.
And perhaps most gallingly, Neymar is the antithesis to the Barcelona project. La Masia and its ideals mean development of talent from a young age, cultivated to play a certain way. That’s not to say that Barca shouldn’t sign top talents, but an attacking player, renowned for his individuality, wasn’t what was needed to retain continuity.
And now, current president Josep Maria Bartomeu promises a summer of renovation, not revolution. “From Monday we begin to execute the projects [Andoni] Zubizarreta has been working on. There are some players who know they will not continue. There will be deep changes."
Tata Martino has been caught in the crossfire. He confirmed post-match that he will be first to depart - another Sandro Rosell decision that has spectacularly backfired.
For Rosell, read Neymar. They are kindred spirits in this debate, and they will be remembered for the season when the greatest Barca came to an abrupt end. Only one has the chance to makes amends, and next year the Brazilian might be the World Cup-winning signing that resets the situation. He needs it. Barca, need it.