- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The list of grievances grows at Barcelona.
Neymar was allowed to leave by a gross miscalculation of what he was actually worth when the mandatory release clauses in his contract were worked out less than a year ago, allowing Paris Saint-Germain to swoop in.
Lionel Messi’s new contract still isn’t signed and he’ll be free to negotiate with other teams in less than four months. The same is true of Andres Iniesta. Both seem to have deteriorating relationships with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who is also blamed for Neymar walking out.
Of the big summer targets, Barca failed to sign PSG playmaker Marco Verratti, a reincarnation of Xavi, and Liverpool attacker Philippe Coutinho didn’t come either.
Opportunities to sign star Juventus forward Paolo Dybala were reportedly and inexplicably spurned.
And, painfully, the Supercopa de Espana was lost to hateful rivals Real Madrid 5-1 on aggregate, including an insufferable 3-1 loss at home.
From Paris, Neymar has blasted Bartomeu, calling him a “joke” after the latter claimed that trusting Neymar and his agent father was a mistake. Bartomeu has bigger problems. A push for a no-confidence vote among the club members reportedly has 14,000 signatures, meaning it needs just 2,500 to put the matter to the entire membership. The socios, so called, could have Bartomeu removed with a two-thirds majority in a full vote.
That could lead to yet more instability in the Catalan capital. In a summer when it’s not completely inconceivable that Messi or Iniesta — or, horror of horrors, both — could depart.
The Spanish soccer press is keen on declaring crises at Barcelona at the slightest sign of trouble. The end of a dynasty that has arguably run since the 2008-09 season with three Champions League trophies and six La Liga titles in nine years, has been called again and again — including in this space.
And yet Barca always finds a way. In spite of almost perpetual turmoil, a revolving door of managers, a two-window transfer ban, the drying up of the once bountiful well of talent from La Masia, shaky scouting on new signings, and the unrelenting pressure.
Fun fact: Barca has won all three of its La Liga games thus far in 2017-18 and is yet to concede a goal. On Saturday, cross-town rivals Espanyol were beaten 5-0 at home. Messi got three goals, giving him five in the last two games. In fact, he has now scored multiple goals in nine of his last 14 Barca home games. Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez got the fourth and fifth late on.
In the 26th minute, Ivan Rakitic zipped in a hard low pass to Messi, who cushioned it beautifully, beat a defender and finished expertly. The thing is, he was plainly offside. But the goal was allowed to stand.
Nine minutes later, Messi ran at the defense with the ball, which was deflected into the path of Jordi Alba. He returned the ball to Messi for a sliding finish.
Messi got his third in the 67th minute, when he finished an attack he set up himself. Over the last two games, he not only has five goals, but he has hit the framework four times and missed a penalty.
Espanyol’s chances were scarce. Pablo Piatti smashed a shot off the post before halftime. And then after the break, he dinked a ball just wide of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s goal after the goalkeeper had misread a ball behind his defense.
Pique’s hard header from an 87th minute corner made it four.
And the debutant Ousmane Dembele set Suarez up for a simple fifth goal to complete the humiliation of Barcelona’s other club.
The win gave Barca sole possession of first place, and it already has four points on Real Madrid, which spilled two in a tie with Levante earlier in the day.
It’s early yet to tell where exactly Barca stands. Espanyol may have been winless going into the game but finished an impressive eighth last season. The true test comes Tuesday, when Ernesto Valverde’s side hosts Juventus, which lost the final to Barca in 2015 and again fell short in the championship game last season.
The cracks are there for all to see. In spite of heavy investment in the last few transfer windows, Barca remains perilously thin in half its positions. And the academy really has hit a dry spell. It’s been years since a major contributor has sprung forth from the youth ranks. Messi and Luis Suarez are both 30 and with Neymar gone, there is no apparent successor to carry the offensive load. Nor, for that matter, is there anyone to help shoulder the burden toward the end of the season, when legs get heavy — as Neymar so ably did last year, in spite of an up-and-down campaign.
Could Dembele, the third-most expensive player ever after arriving from Borussia Dortmund this summer, be the answer? Maybe. He’s more of a winger than a striker, and he’s only 20. But he might evolve into a productive, central player. His debut as a substitute on Saturday was fairly nondescript until he assisted Suarez. And it could, to be fair to the Frenchman, take him several years to grow into his full potential and valuation — just as it did with Neymar.
Given the unlikelihood that somebody should tempt Neymar to leave, the lack of an alternative succession plan is sort of understandable. But by that same token, the club misread his intentions and ambitions.
Still, for all the issues, all of the problems, Barcelona hasn’t stopped winning just yet.
If Barca is troubled, it’s hard to tell on the field.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.