This past weekend seemed all too familiar for Barcelona. After conceding thrice in about eight minutes at Levante, the Catalans found themselves 3-1 down. They had a mountain to climb to avoid defeat. And all over again, the club’s fans looked to Lionel Messi. It looked desolate.
The Argentine had already scored once but when the need arose for someone to step up, no one could. Certainly not other of their gilded superstars. It is impossible to blame Messi for that, considering how many times he has dug Barca out of pits.
But the very fact that all eyes turn to Messi in troubled times, says a lot. The fact that Barca have grown accustomed to seeing that is even more depressing. Since the summer of 2017, the club has signed multiple attacking players but they always find themselves relying on their old guard.
They signed Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Gerard Deulofeu for a combined fee of €282 million in the 2017-18 season. They then signed Malcom in the summer of 2018, snatching him from Roma by roping him in for €41 million from Bordeaux.
This means that the club has shelled out close to €450 million in an attempt to sign attacking players. Out of those that they signed, Dembele is already seen as a problem and has been linked with an exit. Coutinho is now on loan at Bayern Munich. Malcom is now at Zenit St Petersburg.
Duelofeu was sold permanently to Watford in the summer of 2018- a season after he rejoined his childhood club. Months later, he played a key role in taking the Hornets to the FA Cup final by beating Wolves in the semi-final.
After all the money that has been spent, Barca found themselves going back to the man whose sale began the chain of these big-money moves. Ernesto Valverde’s men were keen on resigning Neymar this past summer and were willing to offer players plus cash in a deal.
The move never materialised and Barca have been left to play Griezmann on the left-wing. That is an unnatural position for a player who played either as a striker or a second-striker at the Los Rojiblancos during his five-year-long stay.
It is crucial to note that Griezmann did play as a left-winger during his days at Real Sociedad. But in as many as 202 appearances, the Frenchman could directly contribute to only 70 goals.
At Atletico, playing up front or off the striker, Griezmann played 257 times in all competitions- 55 times more than how much he played at La Real. But his goal contributions reached 183– 113 more than the number at Sociedad.
This shows that there is something fundamentally wrong about how Barca want to use the 2018 FIFA World Cup winner. Valverde was given this star who should surely play for how much he came for. But he finds himself scratching his head, realising that Griezmann and Messi probably can’t play in the same team.
If the Barca board had thought over the signature, things may not have been this complicated. Even if they know Griezmann’s best position, they can’t play him ahead of Messi-like it was for Coutinho.
For Dembele, a lot of the fans knew about his discipline issues at Borussia Dortmund. He was fined and suspended by BVB, but Barcelona took the risk and went ahead. That inability to spot the dangers has left them facing a financial loss if they do move Dembele on soon.
The same goes for Coutinho. The Brazilian played as a left-sided inside forward/advanced playmaker at Liverpool. He did play there multiple times for Barcelona too, especially last season. But Jurgen Klopp/Brendan Rodgers played a more free-flowing system at Anfield. At Barca, he played in a structured system in a possession-oriented league.
And today, all roads lead to Messi. Even against Inter in the Champions League, the Argentine set up Luis Suarez for the second goal in magical fashion. Against Dortmund, Messi couldn’t do much. No one else could too.
And this approach to buying players has to change. With Messi now approaching the twilight phase of his career, Barca need to get some transfers right. Or the transition to the post-Messi era will be a disastrous one.