Barcelona’s decline: Terrible transfers & La Masia betrayal doomed Messi & Co.

Lionel Messi Luis Suarez Barcelona
It has been a miserable season for the Blaugrana as they failed to win La Liga and fell well short in Europe. So who is to blame for these failures?


Barcelona's domestic dominance is over. While Luis Enrique's side hung on to claim La Liga by a single point in 2015-16, there was no title for the Catalan club this time around. Gradually, the Blaugrana have allowed themselves to be overtaken - and the signs were there even a year ago.

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In beating Real Madrid in the Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu last month and completing a miraculous comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League second round, Barca showed that on their day they can still be the best around. But while those two matches represent the highlights of an inconsistent season, Los Blancos could end the campaign with a Liga and Champions League double.

Not so long ago, it was the other way around. However, the Blaugrana have fallen into decline since winning the treble in 2014-15 and this season's struggles are really an inevitable upshot of some poor decision-making in many different areas over the past two years.

Mistakes have been made in the transfer market. Barca have spent €175 million on new players since winning the treble and of all those signings, only Samuel Umtiti (a €25m purchase from Lyon last summer) has really impressed. The remaining €150m, splashed on the likes of Arda Turan, Aleix Vidal, Paco Alcacer, Andre Gomes and Lucas Digne, cannot be considered money well spent.

Barca transfer graphic

In truth, Barcelona have not been the same side since Xavi left in 2015. Although not an automatic starter for Luis Enrique in his last season, he allowed the club to revert to type with their passing game when needed, a cool head who could come on and make the team play as they did in their most memorable moments.

"Real Madrid have brought in players of a great level in the transfer market," Fabio Capello commented in March. "But Barcelona haven't strengthened as they should have. There is no replacement for Xavi and when Andres Iniesta is injured, there is something missing."

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Xavi moved to Qatar in the summer of 2015 and Pedro also left in search of more first-team football. The transfer ban that followed meant the club were unable to field new players in 2015 and those two were not really replaced, with Arda and Vidal made to wait for their debuts until January 2016. 

The pair did not settle very quickly anyway and have still not made much of a mark, although Arda did start this season well as a deputy for Neymar and Vidal showed signs of his quality before picking up a serious injury that has seen him ruled out for the remainder of this season.

Dani Alves was also allowed to leave last summer in what was another dreadful decision, despite the fact he had signed a new contract the previous year, and the Brazilian hit out at the board, claiming they have no idea to treat players.

"They were very false and ungrateful," Alves said earlier this year. "They did not respect me. They only offered me a renewal because of the FIFA transfer ban. The people who run Barcelona have no idea how to treat their players."

Alves' subsequent showings at Juventus and Barca's troubles at right-back have highlighted just what a glaring error it was to allow him to leave on a free transfer and had he stayed, Barca might be celebrating a third successive Liga title now instead of missing out to Madrid.

Paco Alcacer Barcelona

Dani Alves Juventus

On top of all that, there has been more of an emphasis placed on the development of more physically strong footballers at La Masia as the focus has moved away from technique and the Tiki Taka style which produced players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and others.

SPECIAL REPORT: The destruction of La Masia

In the meantime, the outgoing Luis Enrique has also failed to halt the team's decline. Too many players have been off form in the current campaign and although the coach enjoyed some success by switching to 3-4-3 ahead of the comeback against PSG, he has been unable to provide the tactical solutions to retain La Liga or compete in Europe - where Barca have been knocked out in the last eight in each of the past two seasons.

While Madrid have assembled the strongest squad in world football, Barca have a great first XI with little in the way of quality back-up and after mistakes made by the board and coaching staff in recent seasons, it is no surprise that the Catalans are now second best at home and well off the pace in Europe.

"We don't depend on ourselves," Luis Enrique said on Saturday. "We haven't been at a good enough level to depend on ourselves to win La Liga. We know that in football, the line that separates success and failure is very thin."

In reality, however, this failure is the consequence of poor planning by the Catalan club. And with a new coach coming in, probably Athletic Club's Ernesto Valverde, a rebuilding process needs to start immediately. Because there is plenty of work ahead to make this team competitive again - especially as champions Madrid look set to become even stronger this summer.