Barca on the brink

Barcelona’s week went from bad to worse last night after losing 1-0 to Granada for the first time since the 1971-72 season.

The defeat came only three days after being knocked out of the Champions League by Atletico Madrid. Barca haven’t beaten the League leaders in five attempts this season and the 1-0 defeat at Vicente Calderon meant they’ve failed to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time in seven years.

But it’s not just on-the-pitch woes that surround the Catalans. La Blaugrana’s image has been tarnished after FIFA imposed them with a 14-month transfer embargo meaning they won’t be able to sign players until next summer.

Adding to their boardroom troubles was the signing of Neymar, which has brought devastating changes to the club. It has meant that President Sandro Rossell resigned, replaced by Josep Maria Bartomeu. The club have since voluntarily paid €13.5m to Spain’s authorities in light of allegations of tax fraud over the Brazilian’s arrival.

FIFA’s action couldn’t have come at a worse time, with Barcelona crying out for defensive reinforcements. The squad is getting older and they are seriously lacking a solid and commanding defensive core. Their fellow title challengers are not short in that department.

Speculation persists over the future of Tata Martino. Barca’s failure to progress in Europe has not helped the Argentine’s position and there remains the possibility he will leave at the end of the season.

Martino has struggled to cope with the circumstances that welcomed him to Camp Nou. Boardroom struggles, the Neymar situation and all its related fallout, criticism over his style and, to top it all, the FIFA ban, have dogged the club and the Coach. Below par results could eventually spell the end.

Replacing the Coach won’t mean Barca will escape their dilemma. The same issues will still exist. The ban will remain and his successor will have the same questions to answer. The frail defence, Xavi Hernandez’s longevity and how to get the best from Lionel Messi are just a few of the problems to be solved.

Messi’s superior status is looking fragile at the moment. He appears directly affected by the poor performances of the team and the corresponding low morale. On Wednesday, as Barca bowed out of the Champions League, Messi was non-existent. He ran only 6.8km. Goalkeeper Jose Pinto was only 1.5km behind.

La Pugla hasn’t been immune to criticism. Messi has been accused of being disinterested but no matter what happens, it’s hard to imagine Barca will cash in. Bartomeu has said Barca want to make him the best paid player in the world but getting Messi back to being the best player in the world should be paramount.

It’s said that football is cyclical. Barca were once at the top but things have clearly changed. They remain crammed with talent but success doesn’t last forever. Barca have to harness their fall rather than let it spiral out of control.