Sunday evening was certainly not a good night to be a Barcelona fan as they were torn apart by Real Madrid at the Nou Camp whilst Neymar dazzled in France on his Paris Saint-Germain, scoring on his debut and playing a part in all three goals.
It was that sort of decisive attacking play that Barcelona were missing in the first-leg of their Super Cup clash with their age-old rivals last night and fans will have probably left the stadium wondering what on earth the question is if Gerard Deulofeu is the answer.
The loss of Neymar has hit Barcelona harder than anyone would dare admit and it has also provided a huge impact on Spanish football. La Liga giants have become accustomed to inserting audacious release-clauses into their player’s contracts that will never be matched – but the unthinkable has happened and that safety blanket has been removed.
Whilst this could become an issue further down the line for other clubs, including Real Madrid and Atletico, it’s Barcelona that have been hit hardest this summer and they’ve been handed a bitter pill to swallow – they’re no longer the mega-club they once were.
Neymar: "People think that you die when you leave Barcelona, but I've never felt more alive than I do at PSG." (Source: Canal+) pic.twitter.com/XgCk4tLn8T
— Transfer News Live (@DeadlineDayLive) August 14, 2017
This issue has not emerged out of nowhere and has gradually reared its ugly head over time. Champions League success in 2015 and two consecutive La Liga titles before Zinedine Zidane’s side broke their streak last year merely papered over the cracks, as behind the scenes things were starting to crumble.
Former president Sandro Rosell has been jailed and Josep Maria Bartomeu has inherited a sinking ship, with the biggest issue being an ageing-squad and the failure to bring through players from La Masia to fill those spots in the first-team.
Barcelona’s current squad is glittered with successful youth graduates that have gone on to become icons in Catalonia, including Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, but the next generation of stars are either being pinched by rival clubs or finding themselves unable to get their chance in the first-team.
The appointment of Ernesto Valverde as the new manager in the summer would have been expected to aid Barcelona in these struggles, as he has vast experience of working within very restrictive margins during his time with Athletic Bilbao and has become accustomed to finding a gem within the youth ranks, but the loss of Neymar has left him with a poisoned chalice.
Receiving a world-record fee for the Brazilian isn’t enough to kick Barcelona forward as it leaves them with a lot of money to spend and plenty of holes within their squad to fill – they need a replacement for Neymar, an heir to Iniesta’s role in centre-midfield and they need bright youngsters to make an impact from behind the scenes.
Everyone knows Barcelona have an audacious amount of money to spend and they’ll look to exploit that, putting the Spanish club in a position they’re not used to as they may not be able to land the players they want, having been able to cherry pick their ideal signings for the past decade.
✅ Neymar sold to PSG
✅ Liverpool won't sell Coutinho
✅ Dortmund won't sell Dembele
✅ Lose 10-man Real Madrid
Barcelona board this morning: pic.twitter.com/VirO2FVzVi
— SPORF (@Sporf) August 14, 2017
The previous ability to take who they want from where they want in the years gone seems to have lead to an arrogance in Catalonia, as the club perceive themselves to be bigger than they are. As they mess around, other clubs like Paris Saint-Germain have established themselves and are now in a position where they may prove to be a more attractive option than Barcelona.
10 years ago any player in the world would have dreamed of playing for Barcelona and the club has been left running on that reputation, hoping the lure of their history will be decisive in their quest to land the next generation of stars. That doesn’t always work, though, just look at Liverpool for evidence, and Barcelona’s pool of options is depleting rapidly.
Barcelona may have over £200m to spend following the sale of Neymar this summer but they won’t find those sort of funds available every year, with their financial woes being well documented, whilst clubs like PSG, Manchester City and Manchester United won’t blink at splashing those amounts of cash in the market.
Messi, Luis Suarez, Iniesta, Pique and Sergio Busquets are now over 30 or reaching that mark in the coming months, and Barcelona are unable to afford the prices that will be needed to replace these stars with capable players- and that’s a massive problem.
Barcelona have managed to avoid their financial problems by bleeding fresh, young talent into the side in previous years but the decline of La Masia, and the loss of numerous highly-rated youngsters behind the scenes, means that the Catalan giants no longer have the safety mat behind them that they used to – and this summer could be just the start of their problems.