This is our reality’: What next for Barcelona after Champions League group stage exit?
“I’m pissed off,” a furious Xavi told reporters following Barcelona’s 3-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. “This is our reality and I’m pissed off.”
That new reality now features Barcelona in the Europa League, Europe’s second tier club competition, as the club failed to progress through the Champions League group stages for the first time in 20 years.
It was another dismal night for Barça in what has been a dismal season.
The team was second best in every area of the pitch against Bayern Munich and certainly looked like a side that should have no place at European football’s top table.
“They dominated us,” Xavi added. “We always want to dominate and subdue our rival, and today, it was the other way around. We have to demand more of ourselves. We are Barça.
“This has to be a turning point to change the dynamic and many other things. We have not competed. This is the Champions League, but this is our reality.
“It is the situation we are in. We face the situation with dignity. Today begins a new era and a new stage.”
Xavi, a club legend that played 767 times for Barcelona, was brought in as the new head coach last month to replace Ronald Koeman, but it is painfully obvious to anybody that has watched this team that a managerial change was not going to halt this dramatic slide.
Years of financial mismanagement forced the Catalan club to cut loose many of its most valuable assets — including former captain Lionel Messi, the greatest player in the club’s history — leaving Xavi with a mishmash squad of inexperienced youngsters, aging stars and highly-paid players not talented enough to take the club forward.
As Spanish sport newspaper Diario Sport put it: “Today, the desert crossing begins.”
Barça is now likely to face a number of barren years as it attempts to return to football’s summit, with the team already 16 points adrift of league leader Real Madrid in La Liga and six points off a Champions League qualification place.
“Munich confirmed the evidence which has been attempted to be hidden for too long: Barça is no longer in the elite, neither European nor Spanish, and can only be competitive against mediocre teams,” Ernest Folch of Sport continued.
“Eliminated from the Champions League and cut loose from La Liga, right now [Barcelona] can only opt for the Europa League and the Copa del Rey, minor competitions in which they are also far from being the favorites.”
Barcelona’s road back to the top will be long and the path isn’t immediately obvious.
The club is looking to renegotiate the contracts of some of its highest paid stars, including Ousmane Dembélé, who has — perhaps unfairly — become somewhat symbolic of Barcelona’s woes.
Barcelona reportedly paid a then club record fee of €105 million ($119M) for Dembélé back in 2017, with the deal potentially rising to €140 million ($158.5M), and is reported to be on wages of around €20 million ($22.5M) per year.
Since Dembélé’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund as a 20-year-old, injuries have severely hampered the Frenchman’s playing time and development, and Barça could lose him for nothing when his contract expires in June.
Barcelona spent the majority of the $263 million it received from Paris Saint-Germain for Neymar on Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho, with the latter similarly failing to hit the heights he did at former club Liverpool, even spending a year out on loan to Bayern Munich.
“The new coach [Xavi] will have to rebuild the squad to start a new project,” wrote Lluis Mascaro of Diario Sport. “Because many of the footballers in the dressing room are no longer at the level needed for a club that aspires to be champions.
“And that is not only a problem of the disastrous management of [former club president Josep] Bartomeu, as [Gerard] Pique hinted at in the press conference prior to the game, but also the poor performance of many players, who must leave the club next summer.”
With Barcelona still hampered by the financial restraints that forced it to cut much of the squad, it seems unlikely that a major overhaul will be coming any time soon.
Instead, it looks as though Xavi — who no doubt knew it was a poisoned chalice he was inheriting — will continue to be “pissed off” for some time to come.