Barcelona have fallen so far that they were not even good underdogs in Bayern Munich mauling – The Warm-Up
Barcelona are – as evidenced by their humbling at the hands of Bayern Munich - a big mess. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is – as evidenced by Manchester United’s loss against Young Boys - a decent manager but not a particularly good coach. And a story from Wayne Rooney illustrates the fallacy that is loyalty in football.
'We were playing against one of the great teams' - Nagelsmann on win over Barcelona
Barcelona are broke and - on Tuesday's showing - lack the requisite quality and experience to trouble Europe's best. On matchday one of the Champions League they came up against a team - in Bayern Munich - that do not lack either quality or finances. Place historical context to one side and this - given the shambles that Barca have become - had the makings of an underdog story of sorts. Could the once masterful Catalans escape with a draw or a win?
No, they could not. Why? Well, for large swathes of the encounter, they lacked a crucial ingredient of a classic underdog team: gumption. They were flat and though they only lost 3-0, this was a complete mauling. The opening goal was indicative of their laboured play: the lack of pressure on the ball when it fell to Thomas Mueller on the edge of the area with 34 minutes gone was characteristic of the malaise that has beset the club these last few years. The once all-conquering Barcelona could not even muster a performance befitting of an underdog.
Yet, there is promise. Somehow a club that has been mismanaged in the extreme contains players of immense potential - these include Ronald Araújo, Frenkie de Jong, , Ansu Fati, Gavi, Yusuf Demir, Pedri and - dodgy hamstrings aside - Ousmane Dembele.
Pedri is one of Braca's few shining lights
Image credit: Getty Images
Gavi was particularly impressive following his introduction for Sergio Busquets just shy of the hour mark. He scurried into tackles and attempted to pass and probe where possible. Alex Balde was also bright and inventive having come on in the stead of Jordi Alba. Both gave Barcelona a purpose that they had hitherto lacked, and their performances should offer the blueprint for the club to haul themselves out of the mess mainly of their own making.
That the team came to the end of its cycle as the club contrived to place itself in financial meltdown could generously be labelled unfortunate. It, in truth, was incompetence.
That incompetence has forced its hand: it must lean on the exuberance of youth to drive its rebuild. The squad is littered with upcoming talent that could have been complemented with - had money not been so lavishly misspent - the odd astute signing to make the transition less turbulent. However, due to the failings of Josep Maria Bartomeu and co, Barca's burgeoning youth have been left with a withered old guard unable to compete with the best in Europe.
The Blaugrana's fall has been brutal but they are not far away from being a good team again. However, to re-emerge from this situation will take a good few seasons and some competence at boardroom level.
'It's never a dangerous tackle' - Solskjaer defends Wan-Bissaka after red card
There is a clear difference between a manager and a coach. A manager is, well, about managing egos, expectations and drawing the most out of his or her squad, and a coach is more about the technical side of the game - seeing shifts in patterns within a match and acting accordingly.
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appears a decent manager. Take for example Luke Shaw. The England international was a broken figure under former boss Jose Mourinho but Solskjaer has cajoled a substantial turnaround in performance from the left back. However, as a coach, he leaves a lot to be desired, and those inadequacies were again on show during Manchester United's 2-1 defeat to Young Boys in their Champions League opener on Tuesday.
The sending off of Aaron wan Bissaka could be deemed unfortunate. Solskjaer's reaction was not - it was unfit for purpose. The withdrawal of first Jadon Sancho and then Donny van der Beek invited pressure. The pressure came and it inevitably cost them, first through Moumi Ngamaleu and then Theoson Siebatcheu.
Jesse Lingard will - unfairly - get the blame for the loss but his errant ball late on was a function of the pressure and mess that Solskjaer's decisions invited.
It wasn't a good night for Man (United) against (Young) Boys
Image credit: Getty Images
The realities of football
Wayne Rooney has opened up on his exit from Everton and his candor is instructive. Football is a business.
"Before Euro 2004, I knew that I was getting touted to other teams - because Everton needed the money. Certain individuals were going into other clubs saying, 'would you take Wayne Rooney for £30m?'," Rooney said on the 'Tony Bellew Is Angry' podcast.
I was heartbroken, I loved the club and wanted to play for Everton.
"To find that out, I was devastated. I would have left at some point, of course I would've, to try and better myself and go and win trophies. But I was devastated.
Wayne Rooney during his time at Everton
Image credit: Reuters
"I was getting pushed to go and play for Chelsea because they offered the most money, but I said 'you're not dictating where I go - I want to go to Manchester United'," Rooney added.
"It was lost money for Everton, but that's where I wanted to play. I didn't want to go to London, I didn't want to go to Chelsea. But I got told the only way you're going to Man United is if you put a transfer request in. This was in Moyesy's office. So I went into the canteen and wrote 'I Wayne Rooney request a transfer from Everton Football Club' on a napkin, or something! Walked back into Moyesy's office and said 'there you go'.
"I felt I got backed into a corner to a certain extent, but that's football."
Put simply, if a deal makes financial sense for a club then they will do all they can to make the deal a reality. It appears that Everton tried to force Rooney into a move that was the most financially beneficial for the club, but not one that suited Rooney. When the player baulked at the moves - to Chelsea and Newcastle - he claims the club forced him to hand in a transfer request. The narrative was then set that Rooney wanted to leave the club when in the player's reality it was Everton who were the main protagonists of his exit.
Clubs see players as assets and treat them as such. They will try to nurture said asset to extract as much value from it as possible. There is no loyalty in football. That is a fallacy sold to fans. Players have short careers and owe clubs the same level of loyalty afforded to them: generally none.
In the space of five years, Spain has gone from having most of the 10 best players in the world to none. The only stars close are Karim Benzema, Antoine Griezmann, Luka Modric and Luis Suarez, but all are on the downslope of their careers in terms of age. This generation fosters that feeling of staleness, to go with what many top coaches feel is a slow style of football.
An absolute lorry load of Champions League football: Besiktas v Dortmund; Liverpool v AC Milan; Inter v Real Madrid; Club Brugge v PSG and Man City v RB Leipzig.