The stage is set for the Champions League Final, and the year is 2007. AC Milan vs. Liverpool. Just two years after the Istanbul Final, AC Milan is back again against Liverpool. After 90 minutes, two Filipo Inzaghi goals crowned AC Milan, the European Champions. Since then, they have not even crossed the Round of 16 of the competition. They didn’t also qualify for the tournament for several years. The last Serie A title they won was in 2011. What went wrong?
A team once called the greatest team of all time, what is the reason for there downfall?
Is there any similar pattern that can be traced to FC Barcelona’s current condition? Is Barça on the same path as AC Milan? In this article, we outline the similarities between the downfall of Barça and Milan.
One similarity that Barça shares with Milan is that they are both one of the most decorated clubs in Europe. Milan has won 18 Serie A titles and 7 European Champions. The squad that Milan had was one of a kind and a dream one. They won every competition they played in and dominated their rivals. A team consisting of players like Nesta, Dida, Inzaghi, Maldini, Pirlo, Kaka, Seedorf, just to mention some were bound to rule over Europe, which they rightfully did.
Barça has a rich history in terms of trophies. They have enjoyed the same success as that of Milan. Barcelona has won 26 La Liga titles and has been European champions five times. Just like Milan of the 2000s, which ruled the world of football, Barça was dubbed the best time when they won the sextuple. So in terms of History, few clubs can compete with these 2.
But History is something to preserve. You can’t just boast about it and work for the Future. The Future has to be rebuilt. Because if you won’t, others are waiting for an opportunity just to clinch what you once claimed was yours!!
Ageing Squad and the Transition Period
Every great team that has conquered the footballing world will have experienced players of the highest caliber. But another aspect of this is that these players will one day reach the end of there careers and you have to rebuild the team from the start. This is what The Transition Period is all about. It’s a chance for teams to rebuilt and work for the Future.
The win against Liverpool in 2007 was the last significant contribution Milan were going to have at the European level. Milan legend and Captain Paolo Maldini was 39 when he lifted the trophy against Liverpool. The majority of the squad was above 30 and were reaching at the end of the careers. It was high time that the Rossoneri should have looked to younger players to replace them. Did that happen? Not Quiet. It was time for Milan to invest in young players to replace outgoing players, but that didn’t happen.
Yes, Barça has not struggled to qualify for the Champions League and has still won the league titles, but its problems can be seen. Under Pep, Barça won the sextuple and was dubbed as the greatest team, similar to Milan in the 2000s. But everyone knew this would not last forever. The last Champions League Barça won was under Luis Enrique in 2015 and has felt short for the past four seasons. In the process, we have suffered defeats like against Roma and Liverpool, which is never a good sign.
Pep’s Barca had players like Valdes, Puyol, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Busquets, Villa at the peak of there career. But that can’t last forever. In the coming years, Puyol retired, Iniesta and Xavi left us, and the core of the team suddenly declined. The transition period started, and it was the time to rebuild the team. Yes, nobody can replace players like Xavi, Puyol, or Iniesta, but players similar to them should have been bought or promoted from La Masia. But the opposite has happened. Rather than supporting players from La Masia, Barça is spending millions to purchase stars. This problem is discussed in the next section drawing parallels with Milan.
The team is represented by the players and how they play. There is a reason Peter Crouch would never have played for Barça. No, not because he is not a good player but because he is not a Barça type player. He will prefer balls in the box, and Barça prefers passing rather than crossing. The crux of this is that every player has a profile that suits one team and doesn’t suit another.
Milan brought Ronaldinho(in his 30s) in 2008. Zambrotta was also bought, and Beckham and Shevchenko were also purchased. All players who were reaching the end of there career. There was not a single signing among them that can be dubbed the Future. Maldini retired in 2009, and Pirlo and Gattuso entered there 30s. One of the stars, Kaka, was sold to Real Madrid, and Milan got Huntelaar, who was sold the very next season. The last Serie A title was won under Allegri in 2011, where Zlatan, Robinho, and Prince Boateng played a big part. The year 2012 was the year of the exodus. Zambrotta, Nesta, Gattuso, Van Bommel, Seedorf left for free. Zlatan, Silva, Pato were sold for a combined fee of €78m. The players who joined were Montolivo, El Sharrawy, Zapata, de Jong, Balotelli, who made the team’s new face.
Two club greats Seedorf and Inzaghi were appointed as Milan Managers, but they were not able to get Milan out of the mess. The only coaches who slightly improved Milan were Vincenzo Montella and Gattuso, but they were also sacked as they couldn’t guarantee the consistency in the results.
FC Barcelona and the Vision for the Future
FC Barcelona is doing precisely what AC Milan did. The players who are were brought in by Barca were never really the quality of Barça. Barça has one of the best academies in the whole world. An Academy which has given players like Messi, Iniesta, Puyol, Pique, Xavi, just to name some, will always have talent. That talent can anytime be called up for the first team.
Barcelona’s business into the transfer market over the last years have been uninspiring, with Arda Turan, Lucas Digne, Andre Gomes, Firpo, among the players the club has signed who have failed to establish themselves.
Neymar was sold to PSG for €222m. A combined fee of around €420m has been paid for Coutinho, Griezmann, and Dembele. The trio has scored only 54 goals between them. Dembele has his injury problems. Coutinho never found his place in the Barca squad, and Griezmann hasn’t had his chances. Players like Turan, Digne, Gomez, and Malcolm never had an opportunity to make it big, so why were they ever bought? Why didn’t Barca focus for players who are long term replacements for the void that Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol left? Only good signings Barca made to fill these void were De Jong and Arthur. The closest player Barca got to Xavi was Arthur, and he was sold to buy Pjanic(a 30-year-old) just to balance the books. Barca has an identity that the great Johann Cruyff instilled in us. Players that play for us should represent that Identity.
The problem from the Top
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was the owner of Milan before he sold it to Chinese Investors. His reign was when Milan conquered the Footballing world. Under him, they won a whopping 29 trophies. But it was not long that the angel was turned into a demon. Silvio was a politician, so many of his decisions were based on it. His daughter was one of the reasons for the economic problems Milan faced. She realized that Milan’s expenses were too much, so she cut that funding. That created a disaster for Milan. Zlatan, Robinho, and Balotelli were brought just before the elections. Milan was sold to Chinese Yonghong Li, and he promised a spending spree. It came, but it was not enough.
The people running a football club should be there if they know about football. Politics has no place in it, and it is always a recipe for disaster. The Chinese company that ran AC Milan didn’t have any previous experience of running a football club.
Incompetent Barça Board
For a Barcelona President, it is essential to make decisions that represent the Cruyffian Philosophy. Firstly, Barça is known for the talent it produces in La Masia. Secondly, the brand of football it plays. And Thirdly, for its motto ‘MES QUE UN CLUB,’ which means ‘More Than A Club.’ However, All the three above mentioned qualities are being destroyed bit by bit by the higher authority.
Barcelona’s board has fallen in their brief. They have two football jobs to carry out. One, they have to hold on to their marquee players who are crucial to the club. In losing Neymar to PSG, and Arthur to Juventus, they have failed. Second, they have to secure the targets they make the priority. Victor Font, 2021 presidential candidate, said this in 2015 – “People in the club who were aligned to Cruyff became enemies. One of the hidden agendas of the new board was to dismantle everything that was done by the previous board. For Instance, getting rid of talent and people like Pep Guardiola, Txiki Begiristain, Oscar Garcia Junyent, and many more coaches in the youth teams that were part of this Cruyffism philosophy.”
One of the best Presidents that Barça ever had was Joan Laporta. For Instance, Johann Cruyff always supported Laporta because of his clear goals and the belief in Total Football Philosophy.
The Economic Mess
Since Joan Laporta’s presidency ended, successors Sandro Rosell and Josep Maria Bartomeu made it their mission to steer the club in their direction and away from what Laporta initially built. But they seemed so intent of proving that they could run the club better than their predecessor that they let that animosity turn into a battle of egos instead of what was best for Barcelona.
Years of financial mismanagement, whether it be lawsuits like those against Neymar, the I3 Ventures scenario, or the transfer bans, has led the club into where it is now. Selling a future prodigy like Arthur in a swap deal for Pjanic shows the economic condition the club is going through.
Lastly, Whether or not Barça can fall as low as Milan is there to be seen in the future, but one thing is for sure. In the current scenario, Barcelona does run the risk of becoming what they were before Frank Rijkaard took over. A club who won a title here and there but who were well below Real Madrid domestically and behind several teams in Europe.
The reality is, Barça is very far from there golden days, and it will take a major overhaul to return to those days.
Visca el Barça