A trophyless season. Rivals lauding it in the Champions League. La Liga lost to unworthy opponents. The departure of a manager favoured by the team’s star player. An incoming coach who fails to convince the fans. Not much was looking rosy in Barcelona’s garden a year ago. It is a situation mirrored by Real Madrid in the summer of 2015.
Even five months ago, Barcelona looked in enormous trouble with Lionel Messi on the bench, missing a training session and reportedly calling for the head of Luis Enrique. Not to mention the departure of the Sporting Director and early presidential elections being called to stave off a supporters’ revolt. Then Real Madrid’s previous supremacy of 22 victories in a row tanked unexpectedly and Barcelona put together a run that saw them run away with La Liga.
The traditional big two in Spain are on a permanent seesaw – when one is up, the other down. It is rare for there to be a situation when the are two in perfect balance, scowling at each other in the playground of La Liga.
Many fans would have liked to have frozen Messi in Carbonite during the goal celebration after the supreme effort in Saturday’s Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao. Almost the entire opposition squad was taken out, akin to The Bride dealing with an entire army with one sword.
The goal was the quintessential Messi moment, the brilliant, provocative street player taking on boys twice his size and making them look tremendously silly. He will no doubt score bigger and better goals, but this strike is the signature move of arguably the greatest player who has ever lived.
Messi now has the chance to reproduce the goods on an even bigger stage on Saturday in the Champions League final, despite Georgio Chiellini’s opining that Italian defences are made of sterner stuff.
With one team looking to put together a treble-winning campaign and another having sacked Carlo Ancelotti to replace him with Rafa Benítez, Real Madrid are almost certainly on the downturn in the La Liga seesaw. But all that can change incredibly quickly in Spain.
Benítez might actually turn out to be the right man at the right time at Madrid, the place where the Spaniard began his coaching career. The Bale Conundrum might be solved, Iker Casillas may finally stop haunting the dressing room and stadium and move to MLS, and Rafa might even be given permission to sign a defensive player or two.
Meanwhile, Barcelona’s medium term future is still uncertain. There is no guarantee that Luis Enrique will either want to continue as manager, or even be allowed to. The prickly figure was angered by what he perceived to be a lack of support from his leadership when times were tough in January and Frank Rijkaard was rumoured to be coming him to remove Enrique of his duties. The Barcelona boss has made a promise to get a few things off his chest after the Champions League final.
Presidential elections are due over the summer, which can see an institution like Barcelona tear itself apart. Even if Enrique chooses to stay, an incoming president may have other ideas. The FIFA transfer ban may well begin to bite hard, especially with Barcelona set to lose key figures of the past and present in Xavi and Dani Alves. Douglas probably isn’t going to cut the mustard on the right hand side.
This endless cycle of ups and downs in La Liga is both a curse and a crutch to the fans of the Big Two. Whenever it looks like life simply can’t get any better, that perception is probably quite true. There is almost always a drunken elk standing in middle of the Scandinavian road of La Liga. In the same way, a spell lying in the icky bits of la Primera’s freshly-drained bathtub may seem like an eternity, but the discomfort can quickly pass. Memories are short in Spain.