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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Long and a slow painful fall

The warnings have been there most of the season. Last season ended on a high, the club was European Champion and won La Liga almost half way through the season. There was no one as pretty, as clever, intelligent or sexy as that team. The football was applauded as the best in Europe, most team were compared to the GREAT Barça. The one who managed to combine the romantic idea of beautiful football and success.
It was even seen as a positive thing that most Barça players had a bad World Cup as they would be hungry for success. Even the summer signings were astute and sound.

It was not going to be.

The first warning came with the European Super Cup, Barcelona were still in Paris, and it was a sad to see the team unprepared, having spent the pre season visiting Nasa and the like while Sevilla had studied the game meticulously. Ronaldinho had been allowed to take part in some advertising shot hours before the game. Needless to say the result was 3-0 to Sevilla.

The preparation for the season was absolutely appalling, it was thought that the team had enough resources to just go through games and then at some stage the form would follow. That never happened and with the hungriest player injured (Eto’o) the team started to struggle, in Europe and in the league, but as this was not really of concerned to arrogant fans, board and players it was not taken seriously. No plan was in hand for the mid season training that existed before some players in the dressing room decided that la Dolce Vita was better for success than hard work and dedication. The decline in dedication creeped in already in last season, after the 3-0 at Bernabeu, it was then that Rijkaard started to give way to some players wishes to train less and party harder. With success and hunger though it was not transparent, once that has been received the fuel has not been recharged and the result is this season.

By Christmas the hope was on the Interncontinental cup was lost, a title that Barcelona do not have and one that the team was expected to win. This team the blame was laid on jet lag. Barcelona hardly seemed to have studied their rivals Internacional, once again the arrogance and the self-belief failing them.

Barcelona were unlucky to have two of their best players injured for the first part of the season and had struggled to settle, the form had not been found, with Eto’o and Messi back it was all supposed to be back to the normality of winning games in style and with conviction. The team is just not back; it seems to still drift in the clouds of victories from last year. Almost all players (with the exception of Valdés, Iniesta and Messi) are playing worse than last year. The reasons are many, but the lack of professionalism is obvious, from the board, to the coaching team, to the team itself. They hardly train and have not bettered themselves on any front. It is a mystery why they still defend corners and free kicks so appallingly, they don’t seem to be able to kill of opponents when needed and get punished by last minute goals. The physical level of the team in the second halfs is alarming, they often tend to cry for the game to end and have been lucky endless times with minute saves by Valdés.

They are inconsistent in attack and naïve at the back.
Struggling to win away from home and now even at home, it is not surprising the league has slipped out of their hands. The president lacks authority and allows certain players absolute freedom in life, which includes partying, adverts and egos uprisings. The coach is permissive to certain players, which has created a tension in the dressing room between the lovers of life and lovers of training. Suddenly the team has no team spirit and everyone is looking after ones own interest. Rijkaard has lacked tactical astuteness and in no big games have his decisions made a mark. He seems more lost than anyone. Perhaps the rumours that he was just the public image figure and previous assistant coach was the one with the tactical awareness and the one who actually controlled the players. Ten Cate’s subsitute Johan Neeskens, seems to do little else than sudokos on the bench, after eight months no one understands his role.

Barcelona trashed Getafe in the first semi final match with that wonder goal of Messi, which created a state of euphoria. It was thought that the cushion of a 5-2 was enough to put them in the finals; at least a double could be won. But no, Getafe managed to get the result needed, with the Barcelona players wondering lost, not understanding that they actually needed to play the match, that there were 90 minutes left.

Now Real Madrid have overtaken them and the team is battered, a total lack of self confidence, the fans in turmoil, the players divided, the coach lost and it is as pessimistic as the history has always proved. Barcelona are historically a team of suffering and self conflicted pain. Their worst enemy is not Real Madrid, but themselves. The press is even divided, on one side the Laportistas (with Eto’o and Rijkaard) and the other the Rosellistas (with Ronaldinho and Deco), and they are more concerned with allegiances than helping the team to win the third consecutive title. It is even seen as lost, Madrid seems to have won it and the focus is now on who has to go and who can stay.

Whatever happens the harm of this season has already happened and there will be some victims (apart form the club itself). It is very likely some stars will go, the question is who. No one believes that Ronaldinho and Eto’o can defend the same shirt this year after the open wound was cut up, by Eto’o’s famous outburst back in February, it is even likely that Rijkaard himself will go and only then will we understand how he will be missed. If he stays he will need better assistants, who actually compliment him and the club will need to impose a more professional attitude towards competing at the highest level and not a club by Nouveau Richs.

It is a mystery how a club can do a remake of Los Galacticos, in such a short time, all the tics of the team are similar, but it is even a worse crime, as everyone had laughed at the fall of The Galactic Madrid.

The sad thing is that this team might be remembered for the team of les seis no copes, the team of the six non cups, out of the seven cups that Laporta said the team would win, so far only one has been won (the Spanish Super Cup) and the last hope la liga, the league title has slipped out of their hands as Real Madrid lead now.

This is an article that I published in Iceland some weeks ago.

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