Ronald Koeman turned to an emergency front two of Luuk de Jong and Gerard Pique as Barcelona were trying to rescue a point against Granada at Camp Nou on Monday evening.
The Blaugrana had gone a goal down in the second minute through a strike from Domingos Duarte, assisted by former Sevilla man Sergio Escudero.
They had started with a front three composed of Memphis Depay, Yusuf Demir and Philippe Coutinho, only for it to fail to break down their Andalusian adversary.
In response, Koeman brought on De Jong for Sergi Roberto at half-time, switched shape, and then brought Pique on for Demir with 15 minutes left on the clock. Ronald Araujo, assisted by Gavi, saved the Catalan club right at the death.
Or did he? Barcelona are perhaps the institution with the richest footballing heritage in the game. As Simon Kuper detailed in his excellent history of the club, its modern form can be attributed to the influence of three men, all interlinked.
The father of Barcelona as we know it today is Johan Cruyff – he built the cathedral, so to speak. Then came Pep Guardiola, Cryuff’s keenest disciple. He took Cruyffismo and his mentor’s philosophy and improved it, introducing defensive discipline and an unceasing ambition.
Finally, Lionel Messi was introduced to the world. The Argentine is the greatest footballer to have ever played the game, and he served as the lightning rod that elevated Barcelona into a new stratosphere.
There’s a line in Kuper’s book where he quotes something Joan Laporta once said; that he wanted Barcelona to win, but above all he wanted them to play well. They can’t do either at the moment and nor will they so long as Koeman is in charge.
The Dutchman has had a markedly mediocre managerial career to date, and only got the Barcelona job because of his status as a player and his connection to Cruyff. He’s out of his depth. If you think he could be sacked by Laporta soon, see here for the best football betting advice.
Not that he’s the only problem. The club are crippled financially, paying the price for years of financial mismanagement laid bare by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. They lost Messi on a free transfer to Paris Saint-Germain this summer – even though he wanted to stay – as they couldn’t afford to renew his contract.
Antoine Griezmann left for Atletico Madrid – last season’s champions – on loan, joining up with former Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez who himself left Camp Nou for Atletico on a free transfer last season.
To replace them, Barcelona signed Memphis from Lyon on a free transfer – and he has looked good so far, credit where it’s due – and De Jong, who was third choice striker at Sevilla. Both are Dutch, and both are very much Koeman signings.
The future for Barcelona looks bleak, and it’s difficult to find things to be positive about. There is young talent there – Pedri, Gavi, Ansu Fati – but they’ve been saddled with so much pressure, hope and expectation that they could easily buckle under the strain.
Such a toxic environment is no place for young men to develop. And for the foreseeable future, a toxic environment is exactly what Barcelona is going to be.