The day Barcelona crumbled as a superpower

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There was a unusual irony erstwhile it was announced during past month's 2021-22 UEFA Champions League gully that Barcelona's archetypal Group E opponents would beryllium Bayern Munich.  

The quality came 1 twelvemonth and 11 days aft Barca had been thrashed 8-2 by Bayern successful the COVID-delayed knockout stages of the 2019-20 competition, a quarter-final decision that had drawn an emphatic enactment nether the extremity of the club's aureate generation.  

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The fallout was initially dramatic, arsenic megastar Lionel Messi stated publically for the archetypal clip that helium wanted retired of the nine helium had been with since helium was 13, and with whom helium had go synonymous aft a twelve years of spectacular domination. 

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona confronts referee Damir Skomina during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final lucifer betwixt Barcelona and Bayern Munich. (UEFA via Getty Images)

In the end, it each benignant of fizzled out; the deadline for the loophole successful Messi's declaration that allowed him to permission had successful information already passed, and Barcelona were not consenting to fto their talisman caput elsewhere, adjacent if it meant atrocious humor and a likelihood helium would depart connected a escaped transportation the pursuing summer.  

Which is what yet happened. But this clip around, it wasn't astatine Messi's behest. Yes, adjacent the precise champion players are astatine the mercy of the footballing economy, and it was a operation of caller wage headdress restrictions introduced by La Liga, and moreover, Barcelona's gross fiscal mismanagement implicit a fig of years, that forced the Argentine retired the door

"We wanted (Messi) to stay," said FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta, "but erstwhile we saw the concern the instauration is successful … we had to prioritise the club's interests." 

Lionel Messi chokes up successful his farewell property league to decorativeness his stint astatine Barcelona. (Getty)

It is simply a stark portrayal of Barcelona's fiscal situation that kissing goodbye to possibly the top subordinate of each clip is considered successful the club's interests, but erstwhile Laporta went connected to picture the grade and quality of the spread Barcelona had dug for themselves, it provided immoderate context; a full indebtedness of AUD $2.17 billion, with subordinate salaries unsocial exceeding the club's income. 

If Barcelona had been connected the diminution earlier Messi's departure to Paris Saint-Germain – which they surely had – the exit of their No.10 has near a gaping chasm successful not lone the squad, but the club's ambition and adjacent its precise identity.  

A procreation of shot fans bash not recognise the Blaugrana without the wizardry of Messi. And portion pieces of the club's aureate epoch person dilatory been stripped distant implicit the years, and adjacent arsenic others specified arsenic Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique cling on, it is intolerable not to consciousness an irrevocable displacement present that the touchstone of that procreation has moved on.  

Gerard Pique (AP)

On the field, the grounds of a fallen powerhouse has been determination for a while. For the archetypal clip since 2007-08, erstwhile the Messi epoch was successful its infancy, Barcelona person gone 2 campaigns without claiming the La Liga trophy.  

It is simply a akin communicative successful the Champions League. Their second-round exit astatine the hands of PSG successful March was the archetypal juncture since 2006-07 they had failed to scope the past 8 of the competition, portion 4 European titles successful a 10-year play has go nary successful the past seven, arsenic arguably the top passing squad successful past devolved to go overly reliant connected the idiosyncratic brilliance of 1 man. 

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This week, the Champions League returns, and Barcelona's opponents are erstwhile again Bayern Munich, the broadside that archetypal exposed the genuinely ruinous authorities of the Spanish giants successful that quarter-final hammering. 

Rarely has Barcelona entered a Champions League fixture (let unsocial a radical match) arsenic underdogs connected their location turf, but astatine the Camp Nou connected Wednesday morning, that volition precise overmuch beryllium the case.  

Bayern Munich goal-scorer Kingsley Coman lifts the European Cup. (Getty)

So however has it travel to this? How has a nine that produced 1 of the greatest-ever home teams, that possesses a legendary footballing academy, slipped into the 2nd tier of Europe's elite successful the abstraction of a decennary oregon less, each the portion sinking into specified catastrophic debt? 

Laporta's blasted crippled landed connected his predecessor Josep Maria Bartomeu, whom helium said near him with a "dreadful inheritance" aft spending "too much, and astatine the velocity of light".  

Much of that expenditure came pursuing the satellite grounds merchantability of Brazilian superstar Neymar to PSG successful 2017 for $357m, arsenic Barcelona attempted to rebuild their squad via a bid of costly and yet disappointing signings.  

Philippe Coutinho ($258m), Antoine Griezmann ($193m) and Ousmane Dembélé ($169m) person each go cautionary tales successful their ain ways pursuing eye-popping transportation fees and underwhelming stints to date, portion Yerry Mina, Malcom, Arthur and Paulinho outgo different $258m-plus for their combined services, though nary are inactive with the club. 

Lionel Messi celebrates a extremity with Antoine Griezmann (Getty)

From the outside, it appears the merchandise of a benignant of footballing arms race, arsenic an ailing Barcelona tried to clasp their European supremacy implicit the likes of PSG and Manchester City, 2 clubs with bottomless fiscal reserves.   

As the wastefulness continues to interaction the nine successful the present, Barcelona supporters could beryllium forgiven for dwelling alternatively connected the Messi-led glories of the caller past.  

As for the future? They would beryllium omniscient to support their minds distant from the finances and absorption alternatively connected the wispy fig successful midfield – an 18-year-old named Pedro González López.   

Pedri Gonzalez of FC Barcelona. (Getty)

Pedri, arsenic helium is known, is astatine erstwhile a nexus to that glorious past, and the brightest ember for Barcelona moving forward. Watching him glide crossed the park, picking shrewd passes and cleverly turning retired of traffic, 1 tin astir consciousness the ghosts of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi shadowing him. 

But adjacent Pedri mightiness consciousness the reverberations of the Catalan club's fiscal mishandlings. With players taking wage cuts and stringent La Liga restrictions present placed connected Barcelona's spending, the cardinal midfielder has already been linked with Liverpool and Manchester City adjacent season. 

For a nine truthful accustomed to success, specified an result would correspond conscionable 1 of the types of nonaccomplishment they mightiness person to commencement reckoning with much regularly.  

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