For much of last night’s game at the Camp Nou, I felt like I was watching the Barcelona of the 60s: an absolute rabble of a side who the Catalan writer Sergi Pàmies describes to perfection in his fantastic book Confesiones de un culé defectuoso (‘Confessions of a defective Barça fan’). Pàmies recalls how, when taken to the football for the first time, his uncle told him to enjoy the evening, the stadium and his half-time bocadillo, but not to expect anything good from the players. Pàmies learned a whole new vocabulary on his visits to the ground – expressions heard only there and then that specifically described the complete and utter uselessness of each player. A deep sense of pessimism enveloped Barça in those years following the departure of the legendary coach Helenio Herrera.
In this first year post-Messi, a similar gloom surrounds Barça. Joan Laporta and Ronald Koeman are at each others’ throats as they pick up the pieces of Josep Maria Bartomeu’s mess, while the club’s fans make their way to the ground with little optimism, before raising their eyebrows at the line-up, having a go at Luuk de Jong as he warms up and at pretty much everyone when they mess up, and witnessing a final half hour of balls pumped into the mixer. Though at odds with Barça’s values, that route-one strategy proved more productive than what went before: a kind of football-handball in which the ball simply moved from side to side in front of a Granada team packed on the edge of its box. Having scored right out of the gate, the visitors had dropped deep to sit, wait and run the clock down.
Araújo rescues Barcelona from complete embarrassment
Things got so desperate for Barcelona that Koeman threw Gerard Piqué on as a centre-forward, to get on the end of balls into the box alongside De Jong – a striker who already looked out of place at Sevilla, and at Barça just looks like another species. However, it was Ronald Araújo, making his way forward time and again, who with his fifth header of the night (the first had brought a fine save from Luis Maximiano) got the goal that, to an extent, spared Barça’s blushes. As the Blaugrana wait for Ansu Fati to get fit, as a host of willing youngsters are thrown into the fray and as Philippe Coutinho continues to flop, Barça are setting about establishing themselves in mid-table. I must look out that book by Pàmies. I get the feeling some of those old expressions are going to be making a reappearance.