Barcelona require major overhaul after being shaken to the core in Lisbon

Ageing players and absence of La Masia replacements, with Quique Setien on borrowed time and the board under scrutiny

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Time to update the Barcelona roll of dishonour. There have been bad, painful nights before in Europe, but none with the concentrated humiliation of Lisbon.

The eight goals Barca conceded to Bayern Munich broke a club record stretching back into the first half of the last century.

But perhaps the most ominous part is that the captain, Lionel Messi, had been warning all season that in Europe, Barcelona would sooner or later be out of their depth. While falling 8-2 to a confident, strident Bayern Munich is a startling scoreline, this was a humbling reached via a stairway of steady decline.

Paris, 2017, Champions League last-16: Paris Saint-Germain 4, Barcelona 0. Miraculously, Barcelona recovered in the second leg to go through, whereupon they promptly lost 3-0 at Juventus. Rome, 2018, quarter-final: Roma 3, Barcelona 0. Anfield, 2019 semi-final: Liverpool 4, Barcelona 0. These pummelings are habitual. Bayern's was just a good deal heavier than the others.

"This is not the first, the second or the third time this has happened to us," said Gerard Pique, the long-serving defender. "Weak" is how Messi described his team only last month, after another capitulation, Barca's discarding the leadership of La Liga over the last nine games of the season leaving Real Madrid as Spain's champions.

Messi had already told the club’s directors this Barca were not in shape to compete in the later stages of the Champions League. He said the same to Quique Setien, appointed as manager in January, soon after Setien had started.

Setien’s tenure will be remembered above all for the dark night at the Estadio da Luz, the 8-2, and the search for a new head coach has already begun.

“Some decisions need to be taken, some already have been taken,” said the club president Josep Maria Bartomeu after overseeing the club’s heaviest loss ever over 90 minutes in Europe.


Barca-Bayern player ratings


Bartomeu, whose mandate expires next year but who would like an ally elected as president when the club’s season-ticket holders go to the polls sometime before mid-2021, can scarcely argue that his presidency has been a success over the past 12 months.

When Setien replaced the sacked Ernesto Valverde, who had guided Barcelona to successive Liga titles, Barcelona were top of the table. Setien, 61, was no better than third choice either. Former captain Xavi, who is coaching Al-Sadd in Qatar, and Ronald Koeman, in charge of Holland, had turned Bartomeu down.

Xavi's candidacy is now back on the agenda. His undisguised ambition is to one day manage Barcelona, where he spent most of his playing career. But he has strong misgivings about doing so under the current board.

He is close to senior figures in the dressing-room and knows how soured the relationship between players and directors has become. Pique signalled it in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s trampling: “The club needs change, and I’m not just talking about coaches and players, but something far more structural.”

A majority of senior players would welcome presidential elections as soon as possible. A would-be president carrying the promise of Xavi as the new coach would be a strong contender.

More experienced, successful managers are available, and inevitably Mauricio Pochettino, sacked by Tottenham Hotspur a few months after he led them to last season’s Champions League final, has been considered by Bartomeu.

One snag, particularly for a board seeking to wrestle back some of their diminishing popularity ahead of elections, is Pochettino’s past association with Barcelona’s city rivals, Espanyol. When the Argentinian coached Espanyol, where he also played, he stoked the enmity between the clubs with pointed criticism of Barca.

But no coach can look at Barcelona, the club with the highest player-wage bill in the sport and see a fast route back to the status they had in the years between 2009 and 2015, when they won the European title three times.

The standard-bearers are ageing: Messi, whose contract is up for renewal next June, Pique and Luis Suarez are 33, Sergio Busquets 32 and Jordi Alba 31. “If new blood is what’s needed, I’ll be the first to offer to move on,” said Pique.

But if the so-called new blood is not to come from within – from a once-fabled La Masia academy that nourished Messi, Pique, Busquets, Alba, but now seems to produce less concentrated crops of world-class talents – it will have to be bought. The misguided, extravagant spending of the last three years means the club treasury is low on funds.

The line-up of substitutes in Lisbon told its own damning story of where Barcelona have gone wrong, and misspent.

Among those shy of the first XI were Antoine Griezmann, last summer’s €120m (Dh521m) recruit and Ousmane Dembele, who cost over €100m in 2017. Among Bayern’s substitutes was Philippe Coutinho, whom Barcelona bought for around €150m in 2018, loaning him to the German champions 18 months later to relieve the wage bill.

Coutinho came on and scored goals number seven and eight in Lisbon. This time next week, he might well be preparing for a Champions League final, after which Bayern will immediately terminate his loan.

Barca can then start calculating how enormous a loss they are ready to accept in their urgency to sell a player who is now not only a symbol of their bad business strategy, but a co-contributor to the worst night almost anybody at the club can ever recall.