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Sport

After cup defeat, Spanish pundits read last rites for Barcelona

© AFP

Text by Peter BERLIN

Latest update : 2014-04-17

A bad season for Barcelona Football Club got a whole lot worse when it lost the Spanish Cup final to Real Madrid on Wednesday night. But the problems are not just confined to the playing field.

The 2-1 defeat in the Copa del Rey in Valencia means Barca are likely to end the season without a trophy for the first time since 2008. In the space of eight days, Barcelona have seen their hopes sunk in two cup competitions and severely holed in the league. Scandals off the field mean the club may struggle to rebuild its squad.

In those eight days, Barcelona has been eliminated by Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and suffered a surprising defeat at Malaga to slip to third in the Spanish league. With five league games to go, Barcelona trails its eternal rival, Real Madrid, by one point and the leader, Atletico, by four. Its current run marks the first time since February 2003 that the club has lost three consecutive matches.

Obituaries

On Thursday, the Spanish sports newspapers adopted the language of obituaries.

"Madrid buries sad Barcelona," was the headline in 'Sport', which is based in Barcelona.

AS Sport, one of the Madrid dailies, described the Barcelona players passing through the media mixed zone after the game as "sad and serious…as if at a funeral."

Marca, which has strong ties to Real Madrid, proclaimed "The end of a triumphal cycle, adding that "Barcelona has "drowned all its hopes in just a week."

Back in Barcelona, the daily Mundo Deportivo (Sports World) complained about the gloating coming from Madrid, but also wrote that "Thursday must mark the start of needed revolution." It called for the heads of many, unnamed, players as well as non-playing staff, saying that manager Tata Martino "did not deserve to carry the entire blame."

Built on continuity

Martino is the third manager at Barcelona in three seasons, which is part of the problem for a club built on continuity. Pep Guardiola, who oversaw the all-conquering Barcelona team, quit, exhausted and perhaps anticipating trouble ahead, in 2012. His heir, Tito Vilanova stood down last July because of recurring health problems. Unusually, Barcelona then hired a coach with no connection to the club, bringing in Martino from Argentina.

If he stays, his task could be made tougher by two scandals that have tarnished Barcelona’s belief that it is “more than a club.”

FIFA, the governing body of world football, ruled in early April that Barcelona broke the rules on signing players under the age of 18. It has banned Barcelona from buying players of any age until the summer of 2015. Barcelona, which desperately needs to replenish a team that is weak in several positions, is appealing the ruling.  It particularly needs to replace goalie Victor Valdes, out until November with a knee injury, and centre-back Carles Puyol, who is retiring.

In a separate humiliation, a judge who discovered that the club had understated the amount it paid for Neymar, a Brazilian star, last summer to evade taxes, has begun to investigate other dealings in recent seasons.

When it bought Neymar, Barcelona declared that it had paid 57 million Euros. A few months later, its great rival, Real Madrid, trumpeted the fee it paid for Gareth Bale as 91 million Euros, which made him, depending on the exchange rates, the most expensive player ever. But it has since emerged that Barca actually paid 95 million Euros for Neymar.

On Wednesday, Bale looked the part of the most expensive player in the world. With five minutes left, he ran half the length of the field, outpacing the Barcelona defence, to score the winning goal. Neymar still has not proved he is the real thing. He had a chance to level and hit the post.

Even a month can be a long time in soccer. Barcelona ends its season on May 18 with a league game at home against Atletico. It might have one last chance to rise dramatically from the grave.

Date created : 2014-04-17

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