At the start of the 2012/13 season there were many culés who would have settled for reclaiming La Liga and two semi-final appearances, especially after losing the coaching genius of Pep Guardiola. However, following Barça’s worst defeat since the Frank Rijkaard era there is now an overwhelming sense of impotence and there are many questions that need to be answered.
What needs to be done to restore Barça’s dominant position in the game? Do we need a revolution or just an evolution of our playing style? What went wrong last night and who is to blame for the the humiliating defeat? Is it the philosophy? The players? The coach? The sporting director? The president? Let’s take things one at a time.
Barça’s playing style of possession football has brought untold success in recent seasons. Coaches from all round the world try to study Barça and it is not unfair to say that the Spanish national team’s success has had a lot to do with taking on a similar style. However, the silky tiki-taka has always been most effective when combined with an intense pressing game which we have seen less of this season. In this respect we might also recall the difference in Rijkaard’s high energy team of 2004 and 2005 compared to the later complacent team of 2007/08. Last night’s statistic that Bayern collectively ran over six kilometres more than Barça suggests that our pressing game is not up to scratch. If we can rediscover the urgency and intensity when we lose the ball then I see no reason to abandon the basic philosophy.
The players are ultimately the most responsible for winning or losing. As fans we all have our favourites as well as the players we’d rather get rid of. But before we start pointing fingers at individuals let me just say that I believe all of our players are immensely talented and all have contributed positively to the cause. The usual targets for blame such as Valdés and Alexis may not have had their best games last night but the worst performers were probably Messi, Busquets and Alba, and I think it’s fair to say we would be mad to consider selling any of these three. Things are nowhere near as bad as in 2007/08 and we would do well to remember that the squad in Rijkaard’s horrible last season contained Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Valdés, Eto’o and Toure who a year later were picking up the triplete under Guardiola.
The 2007/08 example shows that having great players is not enough on its own and this brings me to the subject of the coach. I have a great deal of respect for Tito Vilanova for all he has done for the club but there have been times this season when the team has failed to show the necessary hunger, desire and motivation. I know it’s a bit old school but does anybody else think the players could have done with a few stray objects being hurled around the dressing room and a proper old-fashioned bollocking at half time last night? Tito was great in tandem with Guardiola who was the master of psychology and always had new tricks up his sleeve to motivate the players. The problem is that Pep is not coming back and we need someone who not only motivates but who also has the tactical nous to outwit opponents. I don’t know enough about Vilanova’s physical condition to say how much his illness may have affected him, but last night he appeared a forlorn figure on the touchline and one wonders whether the club might want to be searching for a substitute.
Higher up we can talk about Zubizaretta and the decisions of signings since he took over from Txiki Begiristain. Again, it is easy to say we shouldn’t have signed so-and-so or we should have gone for this player or that, but nobody can really say if we would have done better if Hummels, Thiago Silva, Bale or Falcao had arrived last summer. They might just as easily have flopped and the club is right to keep a check on finances – one only needs to remember the awful Gaspart years to see the negative results of throwing money to get the latest big name. My main worry with signings is the influence of Sandro Rosell who one suspects was behind the initial €10 million move to get the rights on buying Neymar. Rosell already showed his meddling by selling Chygrynskiy against Guardiola’s will and one has to wonder at his influence when it comes to new signings.
There were many contributing factors to last night’s defeat. There’s not a lot we can do about poor luck and lousy refereeing decisions, but we would be foolish to hide behind this in the face of Bayern’s clear superiority. The fact is that Bayern worked harder and showed greater desire and ambition, and this is where Barça need to improve. One of the reasons cited for Guardiola’s decision not to continue at Camp Nou was that he did not want to face the emotional decisions of telling players who were close to him that they were no longer needed. Players don’t lose talent but they can lose the hunger for success. Last night we missed the leadership qualities of Guardiola as a coach and of captain Puyol on the pitch. As Puyol nears the end of his career, perhaps the most urgent issue is to find a real on-field motivator who can inspire his team-mates to give that little bit extra when it really matters.