Barcelona Football Club: End of an era, or the beginning of the road to redemption?
They have surrendered the league title. They are out of the Champions League. The manager has announced his resignation. Crisis? Or just a minor blip in the Barcelona juggernaut, that has steam rollered European football in the last four seasons? Barcelona's recent losses, to Chelsea in the Champions League, and Real Madrid in the Spanish league have had many questioning whether their reign as kings of football is over. Pep Guardiola's subsequent statement that he will resign at the end of the season did little to quell these debates, but is it the end of an era, or the beginning of a road to redemption for Barcelona?
It would be a mistake to say Barcelona's season has been a failure. They have still won the European Super Cup, the World Club Cup, the Spanish Super Cup, and are hot favourites to win the Copa Del Rey. Most sides would be delighted with a season in which they won four trophies. But this Barcelona side has set such a high bar to be judged by, winning thirteen trophies in the past four seasons, including a peak in 2008-2009, where they won every competition they entered.
Guardiola's reign at the Nou Camp has been marked by some of the greatest footballing displays the world has ever seen. Lionel Messi has gone from being a precociously talented prospect, to being the best player in the world, and arguably the greatest of all time. The likes of Xavi Hernandez and Andreas Iniesta are recognised as being some of the finest midfielders of their generation. Compliments have been pouring in, only for many to quickly retract them on the back of the end of this season. Although the mantra of 'you are never as good as they say you are when you win, and never as bad as they say you are when you lose' holds true, the manner of their defeats will have raised questions even within the Nou Camp itself.
Guardiola's resignation at the end of the season may be seen by many as an acceptance of defeat. Even if this is the case, (something I highly doubt), this does not necessarily mean the end for Barcelona's dominance. The key players are all still there. In Tito Villanova, they have a new coach who understands the players and the philosophy which Guardiola has instilled in them. The pain of losing the title to arch rivals Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho will burn within the hearts of their loyal servants, as will being defeated by another old enemy, Chelsea in the Champions League. These losses will sting, and players such as Victor Valdes, and Carlos Puyol will be desperate to avenge them.
This, coupled with the wealth of talent coming through the youth set up, courtesy of La Masia ensure that the future still looks bright for Barcelona. The likes of Montoya, Muniesa and Jonathan Dos Santos are all regarded as hot prospects for years to come, whereas Tello, Cuenca and Thiago Alcantara have all been given first team opportunities this season, with their involvement likely to increase next season in a bid to combat the exhaustion suffered by many of their players, due to the hectic nature of the season and their international commitments. In any case, this mix of youth and experience mean that they will certainly be in the hunt for glory next season.