Barcelona’s interim president, Carles Tusquets, does not have the power to sack the coach – and that’s the only reason Ronald Koeman is still in a job right now.
Make no mistake about it: In a normal season, the Dutchman would be gone. But this isn’t a normal season and Barca is in an extraordinary situation, an unprecedented mess.
Koeman, of course, is not wholly responsible for the Catalans’ many problems – far from it.
However, while he knew he was being dealt a bad hand when he agreed to take over as coach after a summer of total chaos at Camp Nou, he’s played it horribly.
Granted, Barca were already through to the last 16 of the Champions League before Tuesday’s night’s shambolic 3-0 loss at home to an average Juventus team, but now they’ve given away their top seeding to the Bianconeri, meaning the Blaugrana will face a group winner in the knockout stage.
No matter who they draw, Barca has little chance of going through – not Koeman’s Barca anyway. He’s not influencing games in any positive way, shape, or form. Not once this season have they come from behind to win, and they never looked like doing so here.
Of course, Koeman could well be fired by February – if the cash-strapped Catalans can afford the pay-off. That’s certainly not a given.
But one wonders how long it will be after the elections on January 24 before the new president decides that a change of coach is essential – because this can’t be allowed to continue.
Whatever hope Barca had of convincing Messi to stay is all but over. It would require remarkable powers of persuasion to convince the six-time Ballon d’Or winner that he can claim another trophy playing for this team, under this coach. Don’t be surprised if he pushes to move again in January.
He’s been accused of already throwing in the towel, of course, but that’s unfair. He was once again Barca’s best player against Juve. He had more shots (11), more shots on target (seven), more touches (125), and more duels (19) than any other player on the pitch.
It’s almost as if he’s trying too hard because while he ended with no goals, his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo scored two, both from the penalty spot, after taking just three shots in total.
And that’s the difference between these two living legends at the minute. Messi is playing for a team in decline under Koeman, while Juve is improving under Andrea Pirlo.
Barca had the better of all the most important match stats except the one that really counts, on the scoreboard. That’s because this team specializes in the kind of self-destruction that their board has become famous for.
The first penalty may have been harsh but it was a clumsy challenge from a young defender (Ronald Araujo) only starting because Barca is so painfully short of cover at the back, which is why Clement Lenglet is now showing the effects of playing all the time.
A center-half once renowned for his reliability has morphed into an accident waiting to happen, so it came as no surprise when the clearly mentally fatigued Frenchman literally handed Ronaldo another penalty in the second half.
In truth, Juve didn’t do much after an impressive opening quarter in which they unsurprisingly overwhelmed Koeman’s two-man midfield, but then, they didn’t have to over-extend themselves, and that’s become a recurring theme of Barca’s campaign under Koeman. Defend well against this Barca and you’re always likely to be gifted a goal.
Remember, they went into this game on the back of a farcical 2-1 loss at Cadiz that has left them ninth in La Liga, an embarrassing 12 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid.
The one supposed saving grace for Koeman after Barca’s worst start to a Spanish season in 32 years was their perfect record in the Champions League.
However, Barca’s group was desperately weak, with Dynamo Kiev and Ferencvaros the quintessential whipping boys, and Juve in transition under rookie coach Pirlo.
Thanks to their earlier, Messi-inspired win in Turin, the Blaugrana could have been beaten 2-0 on Tuesday and still topped the group. In the end, though, they were lucky to only lose by three goals.
Just like Koeman is lucky he can’t be sacked for somehow making a bad situation at Barcelona even worse.