SO, THE ending of a great era in football is upon us. In all truth, it has been a slow-moving dismantling of a legacy for nearly five years now.
What happened to Barcelona last Friday, and by extension, the world's most famous footballer Messi is immense in its scale, yet somehow entirely predictable.
It is almost tragic, as it brought the ultimate humiliation down on the team that powered the rejuvenation of the game as a spectacle and inspired a generation of footballers nad fans from the 1990s on.
This club brought the dynamism, the passion into making the sport the beautiful game again. They brought the entertainment back again, and they made the sport the mega-business enterprise it is now today.
The talent and brilliance of Barcelona, along with Real Madrid, were the catalysts behind Spain became the most successful and entertaining international team of a generation. And they also gave us the sheer joy of witnessing the miracles that are Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Bayern’s dismantling of the temple that was once Barcelona was almost sacrilegious in its obscenity. Like so many other football fans, you did not even have to support the Barca to love what the club was about. They played the game right, with hunger, imagination, and most of all flair. When so many other leagues were bogged down in the mire of mediocrity, Barca were putting a smile on our face, the halcyon days when they could do no wrong. When Iniesta and Xavi dominated every team in Europe and beyond with Spain. When the defence of Puyol and Pique were the enterprise's foundation, while the width and determination of Dani Alaves and the dead-eye accuracy of Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o swept all before them.
And then there was Messi tying it all up together with the most magnificent touch and style of all time.
But that glory all seemed so long ago in the rubble and detritus of Friday’s demolition by the Bavarians. How could any Barcelona side lose by six goals and by way of eight conceded, to any side in Europe?
But like I said, this was not a freak result or an aberration in the matrix. No, the results have spoken for themselves over the past four years. 4-0 to PSG, 3-0 to Juventus, 3-0 to Roma, and last season that memorable night in Anfield when Liverpool saw the Catalan’s off on a 4-0 scoreline. Four quarter-finals, one last 16, 22-goals conceded to their opponents on the away leg.
Their performances in the Camp Nou have papered over the gaping cracks of late but there is not enough paper in the world to paper over Friday’s humiliation to Bayern.
Barca boss Quique Setien quickly fell on his sword after the result but no one believes he was to blame for the result no more than he was capable of fixing the situation.
Much has been made of Messi’s influence on the team that goes beyond his brilliance on the field. For some time now the rumours had Messi picking the players he wanted around him and that he even had the final say on who was the manager. It would be understandable that his magnificent talent could sway a club to give him what he wants. But some of the business decisions Barca have made of late are baffling and go beyond the influence of the brilliant Argentinian.
In the past five years, the club has spent €1bn on 29 signings of which none have made the grade as Barcelona stars, not to mind make legendary status. Their wage bill is the biggest in the world of sport, yet their second and third highest-paid players in Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé both started last Friday’s quarter-final on the bench.
Even so, the most staggering piece of business must be with their midfielder, Philippe Coutinho, who came on to set up one goal and score two goals against his employer.
How Barca negotiated Coutinho's loan deal to Bayern without stipulating that he could not play against his home team is baffling. Such negligence was only exasperated by the news, that should Coutinho win the Champions League with Bayern, that Barca would have to pay Liverpool an extra £5m bonus on his deal from leaving Anfield. No one in the Camp Nou considered adding the stipulation that the win needed to be with Barcelona. Effectively, Barcelona paid to have one of their own players put them out of the Champions League. And then pay a bonus if he wins the title with an opposing team. The mind boggles.
The fix for Barcelona will not be easy. The changes should have started about five years ago. And that was probably when Messi should have left. Just after Barca won their last Champions League final. Unlike Messi Ronaldo saw the writing on the wall at Real Madrid and left at his and their peak. The Portuguese star has gone on to re-invent himself and even enhance his legendary status with his achievements at Juventus.
In comparison, Messi now appears to be a tired and even spent force at Barca. That said, even with his still amazing abilities and skills still available to him.
The appointment of former Barca star Ronald Koeman looks like an attempt to re-find the old Dutch school tradition of the club developed by Johan Cryuff and progressed by the likes of Louis Van Gaal, Frank Rijkaard, and Pep Guardiola.
It may be a case of wishful thinking, but I guess they have to start somewhere to build for the future. Whether that future includes Messi is the 100m dollar question. Maybe quite literally.