Each of the last seasons has been defined by a recurring image: Messi absorbed, staring blankly, in shock, incredulous at the magnitude of Barça’s disasters. It was such a graphic and profound stupor that she instantly identified the size of her frustration, the difficulty in finding the reasons for bankruptcy, and the fear of the future. In his case it is existential anguish. Every year it removes a leaf on its way, and this one hardly differs from the previous ones. Barça have returned to the devastating past of Rome, Liverpool and Lisbon. It has not crashed with so much noise, but Messi’s stunned face has been the same.
Three weeks have been enough to extract Barça from its recent optimism. The team had beaten in the Cup and was flying in the League. Joan Laporta’s return to the presidency coincided with Barça’s magnificent game in Paris, a performance that transmitted new vibrations. Light signals were detected on all sides: the young people responded with ease, the veterans remembered their best days, De Jong justified the expectations that his signing generated, Messi played with a youthful expressiveness and Griezmann seemed greased after two years of maximum discomfort.
There was only one fringe to close: Laporta’s pleasure to Koeman. Although hired by Bartomeu after 2-8 against Bayern, the fans received the Dutch coach with the appreciation due to a Barça legend. The team’s growth also benefited him. It was directly attributed to Koeman, praised for his daring in pulling youngsters out of the quarry, finding a tactical system that worked, assigning De Jong the most suitable role and rescuing Messi from the blues.
On April 29, Barça faced Granada. If he won, he would reach the championship lead, an unsuspected season when the season started. Everything favored him: the moment, the general enthusiasm and the skidding of Atlético and Madrid. One of those stories that change the cycle of a team was about to be written. From disappointment to happiness in two months, an instant in the case of football. The clamor for Koeman’s continuity was as loud in the media as the criticism of Laporta for his silence.
Barça lost to Granada after gaining an advantage. The dream of leadership is gone. Three days later he tied with Atlético, who beat him from end to end. The victory in Vila-real did not prevent a new blow: they went ahead twice against Levante, but allowed the tie at three goals. That night, Messi’s face recreated the image of the Olympian from Rome, Anfield and Da Luz, the same unfathomable dejection that gripped him, the team, the club and the fans. The defeat against Celta was written the same lines: the Galician team came back and won.
In less than three weeks, Barça has exchanged happy expectations for abysmal bitterness. Each of the last four years has ended in the same way. A problem is sensed that transcends football and places it in the field of collective psychology. Barcelona fans are beginning to internalize the end of the season as a curse. If this year meant an unexpected rebound of satisfaction, it has gone bankrupt. Suddenly all the blemishes that plagued Barça have returned. Its stars grow old, debts suffocate, the workforce is short, the new ones lack a boil, and Koeman’s credit has disappeared in two weeks. He has played the keys badly at the peak moment. He has seemed more like a great interwar coach than the coach of the future.