/This is what Barcelona is now

This is what Barcelona is now


You could interrogate Barcelona’s ignominy against Bayern Munich until it told you any joke you wanted about that punchline of a performance.

It’s the first time a team has given up eight goals in a single Champions League knockout stage game. It’s also the first time Barcelona has lost by six since 1951. Never before had Barcelona conceded four times in the first half of a Champions League match. Never before Friday, that is.

We’ll spare you further evidence of just how thorough Bayern’s 8-2 dismantling of Barcelona truly was. You saw it.

Have you come to grips with it? Have you realized that this is what Barcelona is now? An underdog at the higher levels of the sport? Historic humiliations like Friday’s will still be rare — because if they weren’t, they’d be neither historic nor humiliating — but it’s time we reset expectations for Barcelona as a club.

They’re no longer shoo-in Champions League contenders in a given season. They’ve failed to make it past the quarterfinals in four of the past five campaigns. And the one time they did, Liverpool put together the type of summarily decisive performance to which Barcelona has capitulated with alarming frequency.

Barcelona’s calling card of late has been their La Liga dominance, but even that’s an outsized product of Lionel Messi averaging just shy of a goal per match in arguably the best league in the world during their last three title seasons.

Barcelona lost 8-2 to Bayern Munich on Friday, but its new reality has been apparent for quite some time. (Photo by Michael Regan - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)Barcelona lost 8-2 to Bayern Munich on Friday, but its new reality has been apparent for quite some time. (Photo by Michael Regan - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona lost 8-2 to Bayern Munich on Friday, but its new reality has been apparent for quite some time. (Michael Regan/UEFA via Getty Images)

He won’t be around forever. In fact, he may not be much longer. (His manager reportedly won’t be.) Messi has been the wizard, great and powerful and all too expansive a tarpaulin for the club to shelter itself from the reboot everyone seems to know Barcelona needs except Barcelona.

In a way, the club is caught between two ideologies. It’s one of the most valuable sports teams in the world, and one of the game’s top spenders. It’s also living off the inheritance of a paradigm-shifting era around the turn of the last decade, spearheaded almost exclusively by academy products, Messi included.

Nowadays, those starlets are few and far between. They’ve been replaced by big mouths, expensive price tags and box checkers masquerading as part of the solution. They’ve overseen the descent of Barcelona’s spine into disrepair, which Bayern preyed upon in Friday’s laugher.

For a club so detrimentally devoted to Cruyffism and all its choreography, that won’t do. But what will Barcelona do about it? Will they be able to pirouette into an upswing by allowing veterans to walk and the youngsters to take their lumps, as they did during their previous trophy-less season in 2007-08? Or will they continue with this marauding mediocrity, not realizing that most of the clubs in their economic stratosphere continuously sell their ethos to the most talented bidder?

Either way, the short-term prospects for silverware are scant. Real Madrid’s core may be aging, but there’s still much spring in their step, with a budding all-time great manager guiding the way. In case Bayern wasn’t convincing enough, Barcelona is nowhere near good enough to win the Champions League anymore. Does the Copa del Rey suit your fancy? It might soon have to.

And it’s really damning that as good as Bayern was, they didn’t approach their top gear. They never needed to. How hard do you have to work when the opposing goalkeeper and defenders are playing listless passes straight to you, and nobody’s tracking your runs anywhere on the pitch?

If there’s any doubt Barcelona is well and truly entrenched in a new era, it’s the collective indifference with which the players faced this Champions League quarterfinal, a squad that knew it was stuck in the mud but kept spinning the tires in hopes something would change.

Maybe that’s the sole good thing that comes out of it. Maybe Barcelona is so embarrassed that a deep breath from the boardroom to the dressing room shakes the entire club out of its rut.

Until it does, don’t expect big things. This is what Barcelona is now. The days of dancing for space and teamwork tapestries have been swapped out for perfunctory mindlessness that occasionally spills out a trophy thanks to Messi’s brilliance.

That doesn’t change the fact that Bayern’s reality check had been due for a while now. Barcelona has spent months begging to be ripped apart, and finally was, by a team that’s as good as they used to be.

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