PARISHED Barcelona’s hu­mil­i­a­tion against PSG is the crys­tal­is­ing mo­ment of their de­cline un­der Luis En­rique

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Ed Ma­lyon

Barca are not what they were” may ap­pear to be the most ob­vi­ous analysis pos­si­ble af­ter Luis En­rique’s side slipped to a sea­son-defin­ing (most likely cy­cledefin­ing) 4-0 de­feat in Paris. But that con­clu­sion did not emerge on the back of an An­gel Di Maria-in­spired romp, fi­nessed by con­tri­bu­tions from Ju­lian Draxler and Edin­son Ca­vani.

Rather it came five days ago, as SPORT colum­nist Lluis Mas­caró loudly con­sid­ered Barcelona’s fail­ings this term

“Barca are not what they were... foot­bal­lis­ti­cally speak­ing,” he be­gan. “Or at least, they don’t seem it. “Luis En­rique has gone about de­nat­u­ral­is­ing their style of play over his three years to the point of con­vert­ing them into what they are now: un equipo más.” ‘Just an­other team’. It is such a far cry from Barcelona’s eter­nal mantra, mes que un club, so proudly em­bed­ded into the steepling stands of the foot­balling cathe­dral that is the Nou Camp.

But it ac­cu­rately con­veys how the Blau­grana have grad­u­ally lost their aura dur­ing Luis En­rique’s stew­ard­ship, re­sult­ing in this his­toric Valen­tine’s Day pump­ing.

What be­gan with a tre­ble in Luis En­rique’s first sea­son, gar­landed by Su­per Cups, ta­pered to a league and cup dou­ble last year. This sea­son there may be a Copa del Rey. The next cam­paign will likely see a new coach.

As Paris Saint-Ger­main ripped them limb from limb at the Parc des Princes, Lionel Messi failed to get a sin­gle shot on tar­get. For­get con­ced­ing four goals, if you have the great­est player to ever kick a foot­ball on your team and you fail to use him prop­erly then it is a coach­ing fail­ure.

Therew­ere­un­der­per­for­mances­fromthe play­ers,par­tic­u­lar­ly­in­mid­field.Bu­ti­fany­thingth­a­tonl­y­ser­vesto­fur­therun­der­line thatBarca“arenotwhatthey­were.” The sup­posed tri­umph of the Luis En­rique era was that he tran­si­tioned this side from one that was fo­cused on its mag­i­cal mid­field to one that leant more heav­ily on the best for­ward line ever as­sem­bled - his words, not ours.

Ser­gio Bus­quets, An­dres Ini­esta and An­dre Gomes were piti­ful on a night that will live in mod­ern Barcelona in­famy, with the £45mil­lion Por­tu­gal mid­fielder high­light­ing just how hit and miss re­cruit­ment has been in re­cent sea­sons at the Nou Camp.

That is a mat­ter for sport­ing di­rec­tor Robert Fer­nan­dez, as is the fu­ture of Luis En­rique. Or at least it is sup­posed to be. There has al­ways been a feel­ing with the perma-tense Luis En­rique that he was one pointed press con­fer­ence ques­tion away from an ex­plo­sive res­ig­na­tion — it’s just that usu­ally there isn’t as much of a need for those search­ing en­quiries.

Af­ter en­dur­ing a love­less Valen­tine’s Day evening, the Barcelona head coach had to be re­strained when an

LUIS EN­RIQUE, BARCELONA COACH in­ter­view with Catalunya’s TV3 got fiery, in-keep­ing with his unique style of press re­la­tions.

Luis En­rique has fre­quently treated the re­porters that cover his team on a reg­u­lar ba­sis with dis­dain and dis­re­spect and, in the com­ing days, that will likely come back to bite him. Pres­sure mounts, but no moreso than it will be do­ing in­ter­nally as the 46-year-old con­tem­plates what hap­pens next.

Hav­ing al­ways been so non-com­mit­tal about his fu­ture with the club, it would sur­prise very few peo­ple if he walked away in the sum­mer. The re­ports took just hours to emerge, in the wake of the Parisian night­mare, about se­nior play­ers doubt­ing his ca­pac­ity to rouse them again.

So while the coach’s fu­ture should be a mat­ter for Robert Fer­nan­dez, the feel­ing that Luis En­rique was al­ways go­ing to trig­ger the ejec­tor seat be­fore the club did still rings true. His fin­ger is hov­er­ing above the red but­ton right now, like a rogue tourist in Mar-ALago, and any de­par­ture will trig­ger much wider in­sti­tu­tional ques­tions about the run­ning of La Ma­sia - a world­fa­mous acad­emy los­ing its touch - and whether Barcelona needs a shot in the arm and some new, ex­ter­nal energy. “Barca is not Barca a ny more,” Mas­caró con­cluded last week, “and I doubt they ever will be again.

“There­fore we have no other rem­edy than to start get­ting used to it. No mat­ter how much it hurts.”

Few nights would have hurt like this. 90 min­utes re­mains be­fore the real fall­out can be­gin.

Lionel Messi failed to get a sin­gle shot on tar­get—AFP

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