Barcelona’s descent from the leading club in world football into a financially mismanaged madhouse has been well-documented.
For many, the sight of Lionel Messi emotionally saying goodbye in what will likely prove to be a historic press conference last summer was the culmination of all that is wrong with modern football. After so many poor decisions, one of the richest clubs in the world could no longer afford to pay their most iconic player.
Now to suggest all is right with Barcelona as things stand would be too much. Still, what has been most impressive about Xavi Hernandez’s quick-fire rebuild is just how little they appear to miss Messi.
The team, even if the can of the money problems has been only kicked down the road, are excelling without him. Rather than funnel through one player, as freakishly talented as he may be, Xavi has developed more points of attack
Adama Traore, Ferran Torres and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are a fearsome trident for anyone to defend against. With Ansu Fati, Memphis Depay and the wonderfully gifted Ousman Dembele also available, this is a team with some serious firepower.
In Pedri, Gavi and Frenkie De Jong, they have a midfield capable of retaining the ball and fitting alongside the ideologies set by the legendary Johan Cruyff. When Barca click into place, they can be a joy to watch.
It’s not that Messi was in any way the problem, it’s just that the top level of the game requires so much more than one player carrying the load for everyone else. Football has moved on.
As depressing as it might be that a super club can simply spend their way out of financial problems (at least in the short-term), some credit has to be given to Xavi. Comparing him to Pep Guardiola, or any current player to Messi, is entirely unhelpful but the speed in which this team have turned around is mightily impressive.
Clearly, they have a long way to go. Given the trophy-laden history of the club’s past, the standards are impeccably high. No matter what this team do, it’s unlikely to be as historic as those before them have done.
By and large, this is a young squad and there will be fluctuations in form along the way. The problems at the top of the club may resurface and few would doubt that those running Barca are prone to reckless decisions.
Still, to have changed the mood so quickly, Xavi must be applauded. Barca may not be the dominant force of yesteryear but the (relatively) dark days of earlier in the campaign look a far cry from where the team are now.
With Kylian Mbappe’s move to Real Madrid looking far more than a formality than it has done previously and Atletico Madrid seemingly coming towards the end of their cycle under Diego Simeone, the future could be bright in La Liga.
Quite what the idea of superclub merely being able to turn things around on the financial front so quickly says about the state of the game is concerning. From the football side of things, however, life in the long-term looks promising.
Employing former players as managers has been one of the major trends in top level European football over the last few years. How Xavi will compare to Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo or – on the opposite end of the spectrum – Guardiola remains to be seen, though the early signs are positive.
Perhaps Barcelona, from a football perspective, really are back.