The Death of FC Barcelona (Reports of Which May Have Been Exaggerated)

Sort of sums it up, doesn't it?

There's a gloomy atmosphere surrounding the club paying us a visit tomorrow. So one is forced to ask whether the pessimism is really justified.

Sandro Rosell is gone. The man who brought in corporate shirt-sponsorship against the wishes of Barcelona's members by claiming (falsely) that it was necessary to keep Lionel Messi then brought in Neymar Jr., in a shady transfer deal that eventually cost him his job and sees him under investigation.

The "Neymar Jr." on the back of the No. 11 jersey reading "Qatar Airways" on the front is perhaps representative of the problem. Neymar Sr. is a nobody, except that he is his son's father. But that insistence on the style of the name should have hinted at his ambition and greed, with the club admitting last month to making payments directly to him during the transfer of his son from Santos in Brazil and hurriedly paying back-taxes to make up for it. One could almost say the shirt is the problem at this point - a nearly physical reminder of the Rosell presidency. And if you are a fan who snapped up Neymar Jr.'s No. 11 jersey this summer, simply looking at it could bring back memories you may wish you could forget.

So yes, up top, it's all been slightly unpleasant and undignified and perhaps that leaks into pessimism - some would say unwarranted - over what is happening on the pitch. This is, or should be, a rebuilding period for the club, after all. There's a new coach, inexperienced in Europe; players like Carles Puyol nearing retirement because even Captain Braveheart couldn't endure another knee-injury; and players as brilliant as Xavi Hernandez rumoured to be leaving for the MLS, at a moment when the possessor of the world's finest footballing brain must be cursing the body it's attached to as it can no longer, quite, do the things we know he must want it to do. Other players, after years of terrifyingly persistent brilliance, look in need of a couple months on a beach. Pity about the World Cup then.

And yet, while possession numbers drop and players struggle through predictable form dips that leave them just off their brilliant heights, the team has just tossed a much-fancied Manchester City out of Europe, was leading the league only a few weeks ago (though the team was nobody's favorite going into the league season); and their inexperienced coach has them in the quarter-finals of the European Cup, the final of the Copa del Rey, and potentially (should they win tomorrow) back within a point of the top of the league.

And it may be the past 5 years of achievement, the record trophy hauls, the burden of being labelled (by some) as the greatest club-side ever, has left fans and the media greedy for more and feeling, perhaps, not as grateful as they should. You are only ever as good as your last game, and expectations can be sweeter than memories.

But there's every sign, in fact, that the death of Barcelona FC, so lamented by fans and a Barcelona-based sports media greedily scenting blood in the water, particularly where Tata Martino is concerned, has been more than exaggerated. Is the patient even on its deathbed? And would even a loss tomorrow - a game played in a difficult away stadium after managing a very convincing win in the primera vuelta - put it there?

One is inclined to think, not quite.

The game kicks off tomorrow at 21:00 at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

Writer's Prediction: 2-1.

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