Like many football fans today, you probably remember the good old days.

Sometime during the mid-2000s, football truly began to explode across the public sphere, especially in India. Within a few years, cities began to feature astroturfs and football bars, kids could get their hands on knockoff and original jerseys alike, and the famous rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi began to take shape.

Today, both players have taken different directions with respect to the clubs that made them famous – Ronaldo homeward to United, and Messi seeking greener pastures in PSG.

For Messi’s old FC Barcelona, however, the sun is beginning to set on a football empire that seemed like it was never going to fail.

 

A Historical Knockout

A distraught Xavi Hernandez looks on at the Allianz Arena.

Today marks a dark day in the eyes of many Barca fans – for the first time in 17 seasons, their beloved team will not be making it to the top-16 stage of the Champions League rounds. They will instead be competing in the Europa League, which they haven’t done since a rough 2003-04 season 17 years ago.

Following Wednesday’s crushing 3-0 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich and Benefica’s 2-0 win against Dynamo Kiev, FC Barcelona’s fate was sealed. They are now bystanders to a championship they have won four times in the last twenty years.

Longtime player and current manager Xavi was furious at the loss. I’m angry,” he shared. “This is the reality and it pisses me off. We have to tackle it face on. There’s nothing else for it.

A new era starts today. We start from zero. Our objective is the Champions League, not the Europa League but that is our reality now and we have to try and win it.”

 

A Downward Trend

While this year’s result comes as a shock to many, there were plenty of naysayers foretelling Barca’s doom ever since their previous win in 2015.

The brunt of the blame here apparently goes to ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who was replaced this year by Joan Laporta. Laporta isn’t in the best position as the club’s new jefe – he’s inherited a responsibility to manage €1.4 billion in gross debt, and an underperforming cast of players.

True – Bartomeu’s scandals and shady business dealings may have contributed greatly to Barca’s decline as a business, but the on-ground results suggest that the players and coaches are to blame as well. In the last four years, the club has repeatedly lost by 3 goals or more – twice with PSG and Juventus, with Liverpool and Benfica joining the list too.

Perhaps the clearest comparison comes with the club that sealed their fate – Bayern Munich. While the German powerhouse has always been difficult to beat, the past 16 months have racked up a goal aggregate of 14 versus 2 on Barca’s end – outscoring them by a staggering 350% margin!

What’s more is that the losing squad seems frustrated and pessimistic. Defender Gerard Pique, who has played for Barca at 377 appearances across 13 years, was asked pre-match about why he thought Bayern was so untouchable for his side.

His words were short and to the point:

“The running of the club, it’s as simple as that.”

Pique was well aware of Barca’s dire situation, even mentioning that “we are playing for our lives.” Many have suspected this to be a clear dig at Barca’s top brass – and for good reason.

 

 

Even more have pointed out the missing main ingredient of Barca’s brand of football – Lionel Messi. With such a gaping hole in their forward structure, perhaps the lower level of pressure in the Europa League is just what the team needs.

 

 

As for the Barca fans… it’s back to the drawing board.