Barcelona: A Hollow Shell of a Formerly Great Institution
FC Barcelona was once the ideal club, successful both on the pitch and off it. In many ways, it wasn’t just a mere club, but more than that. Yet after years of mismanagement, the ostensibly epicurean squandering of money, and the allowance of the famed La Masia academy to fall into dilapidation, the mighty Barcelona has lost its way.
Més Que Un Club
The glory days of the 2000s and early 2010s are long gone. In those times, Barça had established itself as the dominant powerhouse of European football. The club motto of “més que un club” (more than a club) rang true more than ever. The Blaugrana were an essential part of the community and a sonorous voice in the fight for Catalan independence.
The Barça brand grew to such enormous proportions, it was, despite what Manchester United and Real Madrid fans will tell you, the biggest footballing institution on the planet. Especially during the Pep Guardiola years, when he had his team playing an attractive and authoritative style of play, the allure of Barça was irresistible.
The Fall of La Masia
FC Barcelona’s connection to its Catalan roots was nowhere more apparent than through its work with La Masia, the club’s academy. Local talent was molded by Cruyffian ideals, and the youngsters were actually given a direct pathway to the first team. Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Jordi Alba, and even a young Argentine by the name of Lionel Messi all came through La Masia and slotted straight into the senior side.
Throughout Guardiola’s time in charge, the core of his legendary team was made up of academy graduates, and even after he left, that trend persisted, at least for a while. In 2012, Barça, with Tito Vilanova now at the helm, fielded a side of eleven La Masia players in a convincing win over Levante.
But as the years went on, and president Josep Maria Bartomeu took charge, Barcelona developed an affinity for splashing the cash on foreign superstars, obscuring the route to the first team for its youngsters. That shift in philosophy also entailed a reluctance to properly remunerate local talent, leading to an exodus of La Masia players, and the conveyor belt has virtually ceased production at this point.
Despite the obvious problems plaguing the club, players still managed to produce on the field—it helps when you have Messi on your side, of course—but this season, everything has come crashing down. The Blaugrana were pipped to the title by Real Madrid and plummeted out of the Champions League in unimaginable fashion, losing 8–2 to Bayern.
Supporters are fed up and have started protesting against Bartomeu, a complete squad overhaul seems to be in the cards, and Messi wanted to quit, but he will now stick around to see out the final year of his contract. The mighty Barcelona is a club in crisis, a hollow shell of what was once football royalty. Barça could be an unrecognizable team in the coming years, a team in transition, desperately searching for a new identity. Will they find their roots again?
Illustration by @inakivector.
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