Five times Barcelona have responded brilliantly to major setbacks
Barcelona are under intense scrutiny after a disastrous, trophyless 2019-20 season, which ended in a humiliating 8-2 thrashing to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Club president Josep Bartomeu has come under severe criticism, with Lionel Messi sticking the boot in by questioning the club’s lack of direction, having handed in a transfer request and stating he’s only to remain at the Camp Nou because he doesn’t want to fight a bitter legal battle.
It’s less than ideal circumstances for incoming coach Ronald Koeman, who is tasked with a rebuild, with Arthur and Ivan Rakitic having left with Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal reportedly set to follow.
But this isn’t the first time that Barcelona have faced major setbacks. Here are five examples of times of them responding brilliantly in the face of adversity.
Bobby Robson’s Barcelona won three trophies during the 1996-97 season, beginning with a victory over reigning La Liga champions Atletico Madrid in the Super Cup, 6-5 on aggregate, with Ronaldo starting as he meant to go on with a goal inside just five minutes of the first leg, a 5-2 victory at the Camp Nou.
The Copa del Rey and the Cup Winners Cup would follow, but they were pipped to the league title by Real Madrid, two points behind.
But that season was made special for the performances of Ronaldo. The Brazilian played at an extraordinary level that year – one arguably not matched by any striker before or since, with 47 goals in 49 appearances in all competitions.
But after just one year at the club, Inter Milan paid out his £25m release clause and he departed for another legendary stint in Serie A, breaking the world record transfer fee for the second time at the age of just 20.
It was unthinkable that Barcelona could close the gap on Madrid without their star man, but in came another sensational Brazilian – Rivaldo – who scored 43 goals over the next two seasons as Louis Van Gaal led them to back-to-back league titles.
18 points behind Real Madrid
Frank Rijkaard had done a brilliant job to lead Barcelona to the 2006 Champions League final, but he oversaw a steep decline from that peak and they were at a low ebb when he departed in 2008, finishing third and 18 points behind Real Madrid, their second successive season without any major silverware.
Jose Mourinho, free after leaving Chelsea, was one of the leading candidates for the managerial vacancy – but the club went in a different, bolder direction.
An icon as a player, Pep Guardiola had led Barca B to promotion from the third tier in 2008. He then took over the senior team, brought back Gerard Pique from Manchester United, signed Dani Alves from Sevilla and made the controversial decision to get rid of Ronaldinho and Deco, promoting Sergio Busquets and Pedro from the B team.
The rest is history. The club won the treble in his first season and established the jumping-off point for over a decade of domestic dominance – they’ve won eight of the last 12 league titles alongside six Copa del Rey. It all started with Guardiola’s appointment.
Pep Guardiola’s departure
After four years as Barcelona manager, Guardiola appeared physically and emotionally exhausted by the demands of the job, the political wranglings behind the scenes and Jose Mourinho rocking up at the Bernabeu to take Real Madrid back to the top with a record 100-point tally in 2012.
Barcelona suffered a painful elimination to Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final, but Guardiola would leave with a trophy, beating Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao in the Copa Del Rey final.
Usurping their bitter rivals in La Liga looked a daunting prospect, especially without the architect of their greatest-ever team. But appointing his assistant Tito Vilanova gave them continuity at the same as much-needed rejuvenation.
While Mourinho inevitably began to pick fights with the Madrid-based media and members of his own squad, Vilanova quietly got Barcelona back approaching their best. They went on to register 100 points, 15 more than Madrid, in the 2012-13 season – scoring 115 league goals, with Messi notching 60 in all competitions.
Vilanova would have to spend time away from training after being diagnosed with cancer. He tragically died at the age of 45 the following year.
Finishing behind Atletico Madrid
With Argentinian coach Tata Martino taking over after Vilanova could no longer continue in the summer of 2013, Barcelona looked often looked off-colour during his short reign as manager, failing to maintain the standards that had seen them so dominant in the preceding years.
They went into the final match of the season with the chance of winning the La Liga title, but Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid did what they do best and dug deep for the point they needed to finish top, shutting Barcelona out for a 1-1 draw.
With Martino inevitably shown the door, successor Luis Enrique didn’t get off to a good start and looked in danger of losing his job midway through the 2014-15 season amid accusations of a toxic atmosphere behind the scenes.
That all began to turn around as Luis Suarez started to hit form, having arrived in the summer but banned for four months after biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. Messi, Suarez and Neymar all got on the scoresheet in a 3-1 win over Atletico Madrid in January, and from there the front three blossomed into something beautiful.
Barcelona went on to win La Liga after winning 17 of their last 20 league games, as well as the Champions League and Copa del Rey. A second treble in six years, thanks to the ‘MSN’ trident scoring 122 goals in all competitions. One Hundred And Twenty-Two Goals. Obscene.
Barcelona are paying the price now for losing Neymar, and squandering the €222m they received from PSG on Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, but they did well remarkably well to respond at the time.
Back in 2017, Real Madrid won both the Champions League and La Liga in the same season for the first time since 1958 and were overwhelming favourites to retain their title.
Both Dembele and Coutinho, who arrived in January from Liverpool, had a negligible impact at Barcelona that year, but Ernesto Valverde did well to steady the ship and build a solid side around Messi’s strengths.
The Argentine obliged – the top-assister and top scorer in the league – and dragged an otherwise mediocre side to a domestic double in the 2017-18 season.
Barcelona finished 14 points ahead of Real Madrid and were one game away from an invincible La Liga season, and comfortably retained the La Liga title in Valverde’s second season.