For much of last night’s game at Camp Nou I felt like I was watching the Barcelona of the 60s: an absolute mob of a side that the Catalan writer Sergi Pàmies describes to perfection in his fantastic book Confessions of a faulty culé (“Confessions of a Defective Barça Fan”). Pàmies recalls how, when he first went to football, his uncle told him to enjoy the evening, the stadium and his bocadillo at halftime, but don’t expect anything good from the players. Pàmies learned a whole new vocabulary during his visits to the ground – phrases heard only there and then that specifically described the complete and utter futility of each player. A deep sense of pessimism enveloped Barça in those years after the departure of legendary coach Helenio Herrera.
In this first year after Messi, a similar gloom surrounds Barça. Joan Laporta and Ronald Koeman are at each other’s throats as they pick up Josep Maria Bartomeu’s chunks, while the club’s fans take to the floor with little optimism before raising their eyebrows at the lineup and taking a gamble on Luuk de Jong as he warms up and with pretty much everyone when they screw up, and witnessing a final half hour of balls being pumped into the mixer. Although it is contrary to Barça’s values, that route-one strategy turned out to be more productive than before: a kind of football handball where the ball just moved back and forth for a team from Granada, wrapped on the edge of the box. After scoring straight out of the gate, the visitors had fallen deep to sit down, wait and let the clock run down.
Araújo saves Barcelona from complete embarrassment
It became so desperate for Barcelona that Koeman threw Gerard Pique forward as center striker, to end up in the penalty area at the end of the balls next to De Jong – a striker who was already out of place at Sevilla, and at Barca it just seems a different species. However, it was Ronald Araújo, who pushed his way forward time and time again, with his fifth header of the evening (the first had made a fine save from Luis Maximiano). got the goal that, to some extent, saved Barça’s blush. As the Blaugrana wait for Ansu Fati to get fit, while a host of willing youngsters are thrown into the fray and as Philippe Coutinho continues to flop, Barça are committed to settle in the middle. I have to look forward to that book by Pàmies. I get the feeling that some of those old expressions will resurface.