Barca Back on Top After Flirting With Crisis
Barcelona. Barcelona appeared engulfed in crisis on and off the pitch only a few months ago and yet in a remarkable turnaround it is now one step away from a historic second treble.
The Catalan giant is in remarkable form as it prepares to take on Juventus in the Champions League final on Saturday aiming to repeat its success in 2009 when it became the first Spanish side to win the treble.
Led by an inspirational Lionel Messi it has already won La Liga and bagged the King’s Cup playing a ruthless direct style.
The attacking trident of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez has hit 120 goals between them so far, more than any other trio in Spain before.
“We have a good relationship and if you get on well away from the pitch then it makes it a lot easier,” Messi told UEFA.com this week.
Yet when Pep Guardiola took over in 2008 and led Barca to its first treble haul, this season began with an air of uncertainty.
Barca had lost its way following the golden years of Guardiola at the helm and the previous campaign under Gerardo Martino had seen all the major trophies escape it.
Tito Vilanova had replaced Guardiola but a battle with cancer meant he spent lengthy spells undergoing treatment in New York while his assistant Jordi Roura oversaw the preparation of the team.
Barca did go on to win La Liga in 2012-13 but there was a feeling that the team was lacking leadership and direction that Vilanova was unable to provide.
The deterioration in the state of his health saw him step down to be replaced by Argentine Martino, and given one season to come to terms with a new league and a club with high demands he was unable to deliver.
A major overhaul of the side was needed with players appearing to be going through the motions and the style of short passing football that had brought them so much success under Guardiola looking stale.
The strong-minded Luis Enrique, a fan favorite as a player, was brought in but the early signs were not good and, by the turn of the year, after a bust-up with Messi, his job appeared to be on the line.
Luis Enrique had chopped and changed the team repeatedly as he appeared not to know his best formation, while his blunt talking saw him clash with the media.
Meanwhile, off the pitch the board was under pressure following FIFA’s decision to uphold Barca’s transfer ban for two windows due to breaking rules over the signing of foreign under-18 players.
This came on top of the Neymar transfer scandal that had dragged the club’s board through the Spanish courts amid allegations of tax fraud and made it admit that rather than 57.1 million euros ($63.44 million) the real cost was closer to 100 million euros.
Under escalating pressure, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta paid the price and was shown the door while president Josep Maria Bartomeu announced elections for the end of the season.
However, out of this chaos the pieces began to fall into place on the pitch based around a new understanding between Messi and Luis Enrique which allowed the individual talents of the strikers to come to the fore.
Barca romped to a Spanish double, clinching the title with a game to spare, and thumped Athletic Bilbao to secure a record-extending 27th cup triumph on Saturday.
Its transformation from a club apparently in crisis to one on the brink of a treble shows how quickly fortunes can change in soccer — for better and for worse.
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