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Suarez delivers Barcelona and Koeman another message about how far they've fallen

16:00 BST 04/10/2021
Luis Suarez Atletico Madrid Ronald Koeman Barcelona GFX
While the coach cannot be blamed for all the problems at Camp Nou, it was down to him to pass the message to Suarez that he was no longer wanted

Ronald Koeman watched on from above, dressed in black. It was another funeral for his lifeless Barcelona, gunned down by El Pistolero himself, Luis Suarez.

The Uruguayan never knows when to let things go, and even though his performance and Atletico Madrid’s win spoke for itself, he sent Koeman a message with his celebration.

Looking up into the stands with an imaginary telephone raised to his ear, Suarez recalled the events of summer 2020, when in less than a minute the Dutch coach phoned to tell the striker he was not needed at Camp Nou.

Koeman was relaying a decision made by the club as a whole, but was the bearer of bad news and had the Dutchman truly wanted to keep Suarez, he might have refused to do the dirty work of then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Instead, two compatriots he brought to the club to replace him, Memphis Depay and Luuk de Jong, watched on impotently as Suarez first set up Thomas Lemar and then slotted home himself to inflict Barcelona’s first league defeat of the season.

While it was not Koeman’s decision to axe Suarez, he handled the situation poorly, as the forward himself has highlighted.

“He told me he did not count on me,” said the 34-year-old. Suarez thrives on doubters and proving people wrong, and he did so on the way to Atletico’s title win last season and again on Saturday night, with his first goal against his former side.

Koeman’s dispatching of Suarez highlights the club’s problems in a microcosm. The coach is to blame, but so is the club. Both can be true at once.

While Barca died another death at the Wanda Metropolitano, Koeman came back to life. Despite the club briefing that they were searching for his replacement, president Joan Laporta and vice-president Rafa Yuste both backed the coach in a perplexing u-turn.

“No matter the result, Koeman will stay on as coach,” said Laporta before the game, in the latest twist of what is becoming a saga for the ages on the Barcelona bench.

The long-running war of words between coach and president has created a difficult situation for Koeman as coach, which even Suarez acknowledged before the game.

“It’s a war that is hurting the players,” he told Diario Sport. Barcelona’s issues do not start and end with Koeman. Perhaps he is a bad ‘driver’, but the car itself is a near write-off.

Koeman can be blamed for tactical inadequacy, for misusing players like Frenkie de Jong, for publicly blaming players when he should do so behind closed doors, but it is not his fault Lionel Messi left.

That blame can be shared between former president Bartomeu, who paved the road to financial ruin, and Laporta, who made the final decision that Barcelona should not keep the Argentine to try and avoid financial ruin.

Without the steering wheel, Barcelona is a car that can’t be driven. "It's the first game we played against Barca without Messi," said Atletico coach Diego Simeone. "Other games there have not been much different to this one, but now Messi is not there."

Koeman has also been unlucky with injuries. He has protested that the club’s only players capable of beating players one-on-one are injured, in Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati, who has only just returned.

Pedri, his flagship midfielder, is also exhausted after playing for Spain at the European Championship and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and has suffered a relapse of a quadriceps injury.

Koeman was also pipped to Georginio Wijnaldum by Paris Saint-Germain, with the Dutch midfielder finding negotiations with the French club far smoother and more convincing. The financial aspect is key, but with Barcelona, he felt like he was having to jump through hoops, while PSG were rolling out the red carpet.

As Laporta has recognised, Koeman deserves some credit for taking over the team at such a difficult time. Unspoken, he has also proved a firewall, insulating the board from outcry and taking the flak himself.

Laporta may have decided that no coach out of those available would be able to thrive with the club in the state it is, and three crucial games are coming up after the international break - Valencia, Dynamo Kyiv and Real Madrid. Koeman is not an elite coach but Barcelona are no longer an elite club.

“It is what it is, we are who we are,” admitted Gerard Pique earlier in the season, and every time they lose a big game, it gets less and less surprising. Warriors like Suarez are long gone, but still offering Barcelona painful reminders of what they were.