Sunday, April 6, 2014
Barcelona have had a Nightmare season
On Friday, Tata Martino cheerfully branded his managerial spell at Barcelona as a learning experience. Others, having to endure the same first year in charge, may well have interpreted it an utter nightmare.
Indeed, so ridiculous and never-ending have been the off-the-field issues at the Camp Nou that Martino might consider heading back to Argentina to take over the national side - not typically known as an easy ride - to enjoy a relatively quiet life.
The FIFA sanction that bans the club from signing players in the next two transfer windows is just the latest in a string of institutional issues that have dented Barcelona's standing, all of which have supporters doubting the sanity of those running their club.
From Leo Messi's tax issues and Neymar's murky contract to former president Sandro Rosell resigning, Tata Martino has had to handle it all - it's ceratinly above and beyond the usual probes concerning the relatively small size of the back four.
The shock news from Wednesday that relates to the club's contractual handling of underage players saw current president Josep Bartomeu calling conspiracy on the whole affair and announcing that Barcelona will appeal FIFA's decision. Bartomeu has little choice considering a failure to overturn the decision will potentially see José Pinto in goal for the next 12 months and leave about one functioning centre-back.
"If and when we have proof we will make a formal complaint," announced Bartomeu on Thursday, who made a strong implication that an external force (that may or may not rhyme with Leal Tadrid) could have something to do with grassing up the club in its dealings within La Masia, the power source of Barcelona's success.
Tata himself doesn't seem to know what to think about the whole dark forces narrative. "The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning now is see if I am still breathing. If you start thinking about dark forces then it becomes difficult to work in football."
At least on Tuesday Barcelona only had to deal with the small matter of Atlético Madrid in the Champions League and a 1-1 result that saw the fourth draw between the two teams this season. The tie gives the Rojiblancos the slight edge next weekend in the Vicente Calderón, especially due to the news that the improving Gerard Piqué is out for a month with a knacked pelvis.
Ahead of that clash, Barça are hosting bottom of the table Betis, a team in an even bigger institutional mess than themselves. The Betis club president resigned this week, having overseen a campaign durin which three managers have been in charge of the club.
League leaders Atlético Madrid are also at home, and take on a flakey Villarreal side that is in a tussle for the European places with Sevilla and Real Sociedad. The latter of those teams will be hosting Real Madrid in what is the toughest remaining challenge of the season for Carlo Ancelotti's side.
A repeat of Madrid's last league outing - a loss at Sevilla - could leave the capital city club in crisis mode in La Liga and pinning all of hopes on a Champions League win, hopes on track after a comprehensive midweek dismantling of Borussia Dortmund. The game saw Cristiano Ronaldo limping off, and the Portuguese forward misses Saturday's trip to San Sebastian.
Whilst Madrid's occasional slips into crisis this season are largely sporting-related and therefore temporary, Barcelona potentially have a huge problem on their hands that could impact the club over years to come, missing out on transfer targets without the ability to do a thing about it.
The next big issue might now involve the manager - a thorny issue in itself over the past two years - with Tata Martino perhaps deciding to cut his losses in La Liga and seek sanctuary in South America. At Barcelona these days, pretty much anything is possible.
Tim Stannard - he's on the Twitter