A funeral, because what happened Tuesday, April 23 at the Allianz Arena in Munich was a funeral, is always sad, so let's say the nice things first. It was wonderful while it lasted, but FC Barcelona's reign as the best football team in the world officially ended in the Bavarian night in the form of a 4-0 drubbing in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinals at the hands of Bayern Munich. The Panzer crushed the butterfly mercilessly. The King is dead, long live the King!
This has been a curious season for Barcelona. For the better part of eight months the Catalans have fooled us into believing that what had started when Pep Guardiola took over the team in June 2008--a mostly unchallenged world domination based on ball control--is still going on after Pep's departure following the 2012 season. Blinded by Messi's scoring exploits, his streaks and records, and the best start in La Liga history in Tito Vilanova's first months as head coach, Barça faithful ignored clear signals that the beautiful boat is taking water.
Believe it or not, Bayern is not the first team to score four goals against Barça this season. Deportivo La Coruna did it in October, when it took a Messi hat-trick to save the day (5-4). Knowing that Deportivo may end up playing in the second division next season offers enough reasons to reassess the strength of La Liga and Barça's domination. There's truly only one team to beat, Real Madrid, and Mourinho's team missed the start and lost the title before Christmas.
But Real bounced back and knocked Barça out of the Spanish (King's) Cup and also beat them in league play. There were other signs that not all is well in Barçaland, but Messi carried the struggling team on his shoulders, giving birth to a new vocabulary term, Messidependencia (Messidependence), to the point that his 28-minute appearance, almost on one leg, was enough to galvanize the losing hosts and salvage a qualifying 1-1 tie against Paris Saint-Germain in CL quarterfinals.
Messi's status remained a mystery during the two weeks leading up to the game in Munich. According to Spanish newspaper Marca , Messi's father told people his son is not ready to play even before he received the medical clearance three hours before game time. But Vilanova put him in the starting lineup, certainly hoping in a miracle from Messi, but in fact deliberately and foolishly taking the risk to play in 10 men against a powerful, physical team, and thusly forever disqualifying himself as a credible top level coach.
Vilanova is described as a great guy--same for his assistant Jordi Roura--but his credentials only include siting on the bench by Pep's side during the great four-year run. Unfortunately, genius is not transmissible. We wish Tito full recovery from his battle with cancer and a healthy, long life. But Barcelona needs a great coach, which he is not. Pep is. Guardiola's Barça beat Bayern 4-0 in 2009. Even when Barça lost to Chelsea in last year's CL semifinals the feeling was that Pep's Catalans were still the best team in the world. There's no such confusion now.
In the most important game of the year Barça players looked like squashed lemons. If Tito had a tactical plan it was not visible. The beating Barça took was so total, so convincing that the gross officiating errors can't even be brought up for discussion. Yes, the ref could have invalidated at least two of Bayern's first three goals, but he should have awarded the hosts at least two penalty kicks.
This is the end of the cycle for what was one of the greatest teams in the history of football. They will tell you that winning La Liga was the main goal, but don't drink the Kool-Aid. Changes are necessary, from the top down. If they don't resign, and if the fans don't run them out of town, president Sandro Rosell and director of football Andoni Zubizarreta should take Jupp Heynckes to lunch after Bayern finishes the job at the Camp Nou on April 30 and offer him Pep's team. He's 68, but look how he lives the game and look what he's done with this Bayern team. You'd think you're watching FC Barcelona, circa 2010...
- Sports & Recreation
- Bayern Munich
- FC Barcelona
- Pep Guardiola
- La Liga