4 lessons from Barcelona's 2017
2017 was Real Madrid’s year, that can't be argued. Barcelona still enjoyed a better ending. Los Blancos have added five trophies to their cabinet in 2017 but turned the calendar 14 points behind Barca in the new Primera Division campaign.
Barcelona was the mirror image. Luis Enrique was unsettled. So was Neymar. The team endured a pair of humiliating losses in the Champions League round of 16 and quarterfinal. It amazed the world by recovering from the first but couldn't pull off the same trick twice. Then Paris Saint-Germain forced the Blaugrana to sell Neymar. Barcelona doesn't take well to being forced. It threw a tantrum. La Liga tried to help by refusing PSG's reserve-clause payment. That didn't work. Barca and the RFEF were left to pressure UEFA into investigating the French club's possible Financial Fair Play violations. No one likes a tattletale.
When new boss Ernesto Valverde bought Paulinho from Guangzhou Evergrande and the former Tottenham midfielder couldn't even juggle the ball for Camp Nou fans, it looked like the side was going from bad to worse. Except Paulinho has come good and the Catalans are unbeaten in all competitions.
Here are four lessons we can take from their recovery:
No one is immune to a decline
Remember when Pep Guardiola was at the helm? Barcelona was a terror to all of Spain and Europe. That squad was nigh unbeatable, too, lifting six trophies in 2009. In 2017 only the Copa del Rey came their way.
The 2016-17 season was mostly forgettable, save for the comeback against PSG. The squad's stats dipped. Vain pursuit of Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho before Neymar left made the club a laughing stock.
It had been a long time since Barcelona had looked impotent. Then again we all have bad days. Ask Theresa May.
Getting back on the horse
Never underestimate the mighty. Napoleon Bonaparte finally lost a battle. He was deposed and exiled. Then he returned to Paris to be Emperor again. How one handles defeat is the measure of greatness.
Like a moment stuck in limbo Barca won't want to repeat the first half of 2017 anytime soon, if ever. The heir apparent to Lionel Messi's throne had abdicated just when the little Emperor was beginning to look mortal. Questions were being raised about the backroom staff after a second home-grown coach had left abruptly. When they finally landed Dembele hope was rekindled but the French starlet had barely begun his Camp Nou career when he was shelved for the year.
Only, Valverde didn't panic. He organised the other ten squad members into a defensive unit that rivaled Atletico Madrid and set Messi free to be himself. It was the right recipe. Barcelona are once again the alpha-team in La Liga.
Messi is still at the top of his game
Lionel Andres Messi is not of this world. He might not have won a sixth Ballon d'Or before Cristiano Ronaldo could draw level but it was one of those years where the Argentine was less able to count on his team. Even gods need angels. With a team behind him again he is 19 points and 13 goals beyond his nemesis.
The Argentine has 17 goals in 19 Liga matches. He has another half-dozen in nine matches in other competitions. Add 11 assists to the mix. All that noted, a large chunk of Messi's contribution is invisible on the statsheet. Take a look at Barca’s opening goal against Madrid in El Clasico.
Ronaldo may finally be slipping but Messi remains the best among his peers.
The past will always remain in the past
It's said time heals all wounds. Barcelona proved as much to end 2017. After a dismissive season was compounded by Luis Enrique and Neymar taking their leave in the summer, no one would have blamed the Catalans for taking a year or so to sulk. Instead they put the past and future in their proper places: the former buried the back of the mind, the latter fully in front.
Barcelona is looking forward to a great season. So should we all.