Interview: Barcelona fan tells us if the crisis in Catalonia is as bad as it seems

Craig Hanson 1 month ago

Ronald Koeman is under intense pressure with constant media speculation over his position at the club

Around two months ago we reached out to the guys at barcacentre looking to get a word on everything unfolding at the club heading into this season. We asked about the departure of Lionel Messi, which was still very raw at the time, and talked about who was to blame for that devastating blow. We pondered how the club might move forward with spiralling debts and probably its weakest squad in decades. We wondered how long Koeman would be in the job. Leo offered calm and measured responses. He urged fans to trust Laporta to find financial solutions in the short and long term. He praised Ronald Koeman for the work he had done up to that point. He suggested that things weren't all going to hell in a handcart.

Since then, Antoine Griezmann has returned to Atletico Madrid, the team has been humbled on multiple occasions including in two comprehensive 3-0 defeats in the Champions League to Bayern and Benfica, Sergio Aguero has yet to start a competitive fixture and legions of Barca fans on social media are baying for blood. At the same time, some fantastic young players have flourished, their rivals have had slip-ups of their own, and Pedri has signed a new long term contract.

We wondered if the lovely people at barcacentre still had some optimism to offer fans and neutrals alike, because nobody likes to see such an institution suffering (apart from maybe Madrid fans, Espanyol fans, and Luis Suarez) and perhaps things aren't quite as bad as they look.

We managed to get a few words from Axel this time. We asked about the aftermath of Messi's departure, the crop of youngsters giving the club hope and the uncertain future surrounding Dutch coach Ronald Koeman going into this weekend's fixtures. Here's what Axel had to say:

Q. So last time we spoke we talked about the emotional reaction to Messi leaving, but how big a miss do you think he is right now on the pitch?

A. A very big loss that would always have happened one day. The team can no longer rely on his qualities, he's simply not there to save the team anymore. The team has to do it on their own now, and that takes some time. This is reflected in the results, because they have not been very good yet. However, there are also many positive points. Barça currently have a lot of young talents who really add something and I'm convinced that the results will come soon.

Q. The pressure has really ramped up on Ronald Koeman since our last conversation. How long do you think he will survive, and do you think the criticism of him has been fair?

A. It's true that Koeman is under a lot of pressure. I think that's partly right and partly wrong. Koeman says it's a process, and I agree with that. But I do think this team is good and I feel like there's much more in this team than what is currently shown by Koeman. If you look at the Spanish national team, that midfield consisted of Busquets, Gavi and Koke/Rodri in the Nations League Final Four. Busquets was named as the best player of the Final Four and and everyone could see how impressive Gavi was. The Barcelona players bossed it for Spain in the Nations League, and Pedri with Spain in EURO 2020. The players are very impressive with Spain, but less so at Barça. I think that has to do with the coach. The coach should bring the best out of his players in an appropriate system, and we don't see that at the moment. If you look at the names Barcelona have in midfield Gavi, Frenkie de Jong, Busquets and Pedri, that's the best midfield in the world in my eyes.

I don't think Koeman will be sacked mid-season, that'll cost a lot of money that the club currently do not have. Therefore I think it's realistic for Laporta to fire Koeman in the summer, depending on the results. 

Q. Xavi, Andrea Pirlo and Roberto Martinez are the favourites with bookies to take over, but who do you see as the right man for the job if Koeman departs?

A. It must be Xavi. Barcelona should stop experimenting with mediocre coaches who haven't shown much elsewhere. I fully understand that Xavi has only trained one team in Qatar, but he knows the club like no other. Guardiola also had very little experience when he was appointed and everyone knows what happened next. If Xavi is not appointed, I think Liverpool's Jürgen Klopp would be a very good coach for Barça.

Q. What's happening with Sergio Aguero exactly? Is he fit and registered to play and simply doesn't want to? What's going on with that situation?

A. Aguero was registered just in time for La Liga. The wage bill was very high and Barça had to reach an agreement with other players to lower their salaries. That has ensured that the club was able to register Aguero. What was a major setback was that he was injured in one of his first training sessions. Now he has recovered and looks set to make his official debut against Valencia on Sunday. On Wednesday, he made his unofficial debut against Cornellà, he was effective, and scored a goal. From what I hear his physical condition is very good now. Koeman will be happy with him as he has often complained about the lack of forwards in the team.

Q. For those who haven't been following the team closely, who's been the shining light so far?

A. The young talents. Gavi really surprised us all and was deservedly called up for Spain because of his impressive performances. For Spain he started two games, and he stood out in those two games. We must remember that Gavi is only 17, but plays football very maturely. Not a lot of players possess those qualities. Araújo is also doing very well this season, but unfortunately he injured himself during the matches with Uruguay last week. Ansu Fati scored a great goal in his first game in almost a year. To sum up, the young talents are bringing a lot of joy to the fans.

Q. With the Madrid clubs not exactly running away with it, is there an element of hysteria taking place? One win and Barca are fourth and two points off the top. Is this crisis as big as the media would suggest?

A. Correct! Fortunately, the clubs in Madrid are not doing so well either. Real Madrid lost to Sheriff Tiraspol and Espanyol in a week. What is strange is that much less attention is paid to that from the media. The magnifying glass is always on Barcelona. Maybe we should take that as a compliment. Barcelona was great 10 years ago and that is indeed less the case now, but no club can stay at the top for that long. I am convinced that with the right decisions, Barcelona can reach that top again in 2-3 years.

Q. Taking into account what you've seen so far, what are Barca fans realistically hoping for this season domestically and in Europe?

A. Barcelona fans are realistic and know that there is not much chance of winning trophies this season. Top 3 in La Liga would be nice and from a European perspective, reaching the round of 16 would be nice. That will be difficult in itself, as Barcelona lost against Bayern Munich and Benfica. If there's a better team and better coach next season, hopefully we can aspire to more. And who knows, perhaps things will go very well when Dembélé and Pedri are back, then a lot might still be possible.

Barca will look to bounce back from two straight defeats this Sunday when they host Valencia at the Camp Nou. Los Murciélagos sit one place above them in 8th and on level points. As Axel mentioned, Kun Aguero is expected to make his official debut. Koeman will hope his team can put in a strong performance and achieve an emphatic victory if he is to stave off those calling for his head.

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