Barcelona are a club in crisis and perhaps should have sold Lionel Messi; that’s the view of Barca expert Tom Sanderson who told RT Sport’s ‘The Camp Nou View’ of the presidency and political conflicts within the Catalonian club.
Clouds are gathering over Catalonia. Its capital, Barcelona, is the epicenter of its very own epidemic that has gripped its population. A city shackled by strict Covid laws, its residents have sought solace in their football team to distract from violent anti-lockdown clashes and heavily restrictive quarantine measures.
But those on the pitch have been unable to deliver respite to those on the city’s streets.
Barcelona fell to their first La Liga defeat to Atletico Madrid in over a decade at the weekend, slipping to 13th in the table, a result that rocked a Barcelona boat that has been sailing unsteadily since the revelations captain and all-time top scorer Lionel Messi was on the verge of leaving the club in the summer.
That has cast further doubt over manager Ronald Koeman’s tenure; the man who scored the goal to bring Barca their maiden European Cup victory in 1992 may be relying on victory in Europe to prolong his dream job, and then there’s the daunting prospect of slaloming through the club’s presidential elections on January 24, which are likely to bring in a change of face in the Barca hotseat.
Crisis point in Catalonia
Sanderson told RT Sport’s ‘The Camp Nou View’ from Barcelona: “They are facing a crisis on and off the pitch with what’s going on with the presidency and then on the pitch the results are just not coming.”
READ MORE: ‘Good moment to rest him’: Lionel Messi to miss Champions League trip to Ukraine as ailing Barcelona seek salvation in Europe
“They’re nine points behind Atletico now. Koeman is probably going to look to the Champions League to recover, in a way that’s happened three times this season, they’ve had a bad result and then gone into Europe and clawed a bit of momentum back. They’ve had three wins from three in the Champions League that’s why Koeman hasn’t taken Messi and Frenkie De Jong and is resting them.
“But generally there are feelings of pessimism. There is a feeling that Messi should have gone. There’s a feeling that Barca are already in the post-Messi landscape with Messi still in the team. Koeman made the point of Messi traveling back from Argentina the other week and being thrown straight into La Liga.”
The city’s press has also put pressure on, and Marca and Mundo Deportivo have shone a searing light into the club’s problems on and off the pitch. Sergi Roberto and now Gerard Pique have been ruled out for long periods of time with injury and presidential favorite Victor Font has made a strong point of wanting club legend Xavi as his first choice of head coach should he ascend to the top job.
Sanderson added: “There’s a feeling that Koeman’s days are numbered. There’s not going to be a winter break so how Barcelona get through that with a depleted squad is another issue. [Koeman’s job] is dependent on trophies, but it’s also dependent on the presidency.”
Activation session in Kyiv 😁❄️☃️🕺 pic.twitter.com/T0FD0K2fei
Barcelona currently sit top of Group G, with three wins from three in the first half of matches against Ferencvaros, away to Juventus and at home to Dynamo Kiev. That final game at Camp Nou was a 2-1 win over the Ukrainians which was perhaps tighter than it needed to be, and the return fixture away in the Ukrainian capital will likely provide no let-up.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Camp Nou will not be an easy task for Messi’s men, sandwiched in between away trips to Ukraine and Hungary in winter. A repeat of poor league form in those fixtures will surely spell the end for Koeman and plunge Barca into deeper discontent.
Messi & Man City
The feeling in Barcelona is one of underachievement given the enormous talent of perhaps the greatest player of all time being at their complete disposal. The team has not won a Champions League title since 2015, meaning Messi’s prime years from the ages of 27 to 33 have been barren on the biggest stage.
Given Real Madrid’s dominance in that time period with three wins in five years, and Barca’s sore defeat to Liverpool in the 2019 semi-finals when a final berth looked certain, it has made it all the more difficult a pill to swallow.
That has amplified the retrospective angle on a potential Messi move to Manchester City, perhaps the only club willing to front up the rumored €100 million price tag on a player turning 34 in 2021, making more sense than what would have been a shock to the footballing world last summer in an extremely protracted transfer saga.
“The moment Messi’s in psychologically or physically. Is he underperforming because of this packed schedule like a lot of players are? Some are saying he’s already in a decline, he’ll turn 34 next June, or is it because he’s unhappy?” said Sanderson.
“So there is a feeling like Madrid did with Cristiano Ronaldo. They could have got a good hundred million for him. You’d feel like in this Covid landscape, this Covid economy, you’d feel a club like Manchester City could afford that. They didn’t think they had to pay, Messi thought he could just walk away for free. He didn’t want to drag Barca through the courts.”
Ronaldo rivalry reignited
After the game in Kiev, Barcelona will welcome Juventus to Camp Nou, which sees the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to a stage where he fought many a famous battle with constant rival Messi, which perhaps provides a chance for Messi to pit himself against the best again, a challenge that for too long has evaded him.
“How many more times are we gonna see these two play? It was a shame that [Cristiano] couldn’t play in the first game. When he was on the other side of the ball, he always brought the best out of Messi. Maybe facing Ronaldo will give him the kick he needs. Especially with the rest.”
It will be intriguing to see how Messi and Koeman cope with the Champions League run-in, and how that will bode with their respective Barcelona futures as well as affect the issues the club has off the pitch.
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