In a game they were widely expected to lose, a young Barcelona did just that against a Bayern Munich side deemed arguably one of the best in world football – one who were European Champions just last year.
Many expected Bayern to win with a rout against the diminished Catalan footballing superpower and, in fairness, the final 3-0 scoreline flattered Barcelona more than Bayern. However, it is obvious that this was never a game Barcelona expected to win; it was a mere 90-minute tutor session for a young Barcelona side tipped to become a dominant force again in a few seasons, as opposed to the current.
Too Much Too Soon for Young Barcelona
Though a Tough Loss, There is Plenty of Optimism
It will be said many times this season: Barcelona, right now, are a work in progress. Following a historic golden era that saw Lionel Messi and friends win trophy after trophy for over a decade, the fall was always going to be spectacular. It is a decline compared to that of Manchester United’s, post-Alex Ferguson, or Liverpool’s post-Kenny Dalglish (the first time in the early 1990s, not 2012). Yet, there is still plenty of room for optimism – with a flurry of young talent playing roles in the first team and even more enrolled into the esteemed La Masia academy.
When this young team gets beaten by a team like Bayern Munich – one brimming with experienced, world-class talents like Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller and Manuel Neuer – it is no cause for concern. This season, for many Barcelona fans, is already something of a write off; a mere year of development for the young talents in the squad, who will hopefully carry the team back to something resembling its glory years in future seasons.
That is the Ronald Koeman project. Lofty Champions League expectations are not possible this season, it is that simple. Results like this one against Bayern – experienced at home, at Camp Nou – are going to become commonplace; the fellow giants of European football will be licking their chops at the prospect of facing the team that tormented them so dominantly in preceding decades. However, should fans, players, the manager and, indeed, Joan Laporta, keep realistic expectations and see this as a stepping stone towards future glory, as opposed to pending glory, then some serious lessons may be taken from tonight.
Not Just Barcelona: It’s La Liga
In spite of the developed narrative that Barcelona is in a period of terminal decline (and they absolutely are), it is not just Barcelona experiencing this: it is a La Liga problem. The Spanish division, which has remained a top two division throughout the vast majority of this century, is quite simply falling behind rivalling leagues.
The Premier League is a given; it generates far more income and, as seen this season, benefits from an unrivalled spending capacity. Serie A, also, is experiencing something of a resurgence and is a potential threat to La Liga’s status as a top two division. Losing Lionel Messi was a major blow not just to Barcelona, but to the league as a whole and over the course of the season, as TV viewership and revenue numbers become apparent, more will come to understand the Argentinian’s importance to the Spanish division.
Whereas Barcelona will feel the weight of the Messi problem more than any other team in the division, they are built for success and – should they be patient and develop the young side within the current project – they will be back at their best sooner rather than later. At least it wasn’t another 8-2 defeat.