Back in 2012 when I was watching a Barcelona vs. Real Madrid match with a friend, I told my friend that we would never see the Barcelona of Pep Guardiola again. I told him to enjoy the moment, because it would be a long time before we saw such a creative, skilled, committed, and all-around functioning team again.
I watched Barcelona’s shambolic season in 2013/14, and I witnessed their pre-season games and their two league games so far. It’s fair to say there are signs of a great team emerging again. You can see commitment, discipline, and passion. You can see that the team listens to instruction from Luis Enrique, and most importantly, you can see that Lionel Messi is happy again. At the same time, you can easily see that Barcelona is not the same, nor will it ever be the same anytime soon.
People judge Barcelona and Messi very harshly sometimes, but this is because of the high standards that Barcelona and Messi created. What we all need to do is to be thankful that we witnessed the best team in the world for few years under Pep Guardiola and appreciate those memories. In a few years’ time, the era of Messi will be over, and it will be a painful moment, not only for Barcelona fans but for football fans all over the world. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that Barcelona was not only Messi – Barcelona was also Xavi, it was also Iniesta, it was also Busquets. If you didn’t see enough Barcelona games when all of these players were at their peak, then you missed something very important in the football world.
Barcelona is going through a transition period now, and fans need to go through the same transition with the team. What is happening now is that the team is changing, but fans don’t want to accept that their high standards need to be lowered, because those standards that we saw under Pep can’t be achieved anytime soon.
Time is one of the most important deciders of everything that human beings experience. I believe time is what robbed us of the Barcelona that we used to enjoy. Time passed, and now Xavi is at the end of his career; time passed, and now Messi has a family; time passed, and after every few games Iniesta is injured. The level of concentration of some players has dropped, with people thinking more about their families and their retirement. This is all part of what has been going on at Barcelona.
It’s true that players will come and go, but it’s also true that visionaries like Xavi and Iniesta appear only once in a while. Even if you have enough money to buy any player in the world, finding another Iniesta or Xavi is almost impossible.
Ivan Rakitić is a fantastic, intelligent player. I watched Rakitić in a few games from last season, but he is no Xavi. You can easily see what a big difference there is between those two players. When watching Barcelona play these days, you really want to see Xavi on the team sheet, and then you remember that he can’t run the way he used to. It’s painful for everyone who loves La Blaugrana.
We hope that we will get to see the Messi who we know this year. Based on the last two games, there are definite signs of commitment and hunger from him again. Neymar needs time to keep developing, and Suárez will give Barcelona goals. However, it’s in the midfield where you don’t see the same creative tiki-taka game, especially with Iniesta’s frequent injuries. If you watch Barcelona games enough, then you know that when Iniesta plays well, Barcelona plays well. When Iniesta is missing, then the high level of creativity needed to open up tough teams is also missing.
A promising thing about Barcelona remains La Masia. I believe Alen Halilović will become a very big player in a few years. When I see Halilović playing, it reminds me of Messi when he was that young: same ball movements, not scared of defenders, and with a visible commitment. With proper development, Halilović will carry Barcelona in a few years to come.
We all hope that we can see the beautiful Barcelona game that we used to see, but for the time being, we should lower our expectation levels.