For the first time since the 2003-04 season, F.C. Barcelona will compete in Europe’s second-tier club competition, the Europa League. Long among the world’s best, the team was eliminated from the Champions League a week ago. Fans worldwide were disappointed by the result, and followers in Miami felt the same way.
Miami is among the American cities that most passionately follow European soccer due to the International Champions Cup, a friendly tournament held during summer, which has hosted marquee matches in South Florida.
Ricardo Troconis, 21, a Barcelona fan who studies at Barry University and plays at the school soccer team, accepts that the Catalan club is currently a step behind the elite. He cited striker Lionel Messi’s departure this past August.
“Of course, as a Barça fan, I’m sad and hurt for the club’s situation and with everything that has been going on since Messi’s departure,” said Troconis, who lived in Barcelona between 2008 and 2013.
Despite being dissatisfied with Barcelona’s performances, the Barry student prefers to see the team compete against others of its level.
“But I’m also realistic,” he said. “If Barcelona cannot compete in the Champions League, [it] is better for us Barça fans to at least see the team compete in the Europa League.”
Other fans criticized the team. Matias Lacau, 19, a student at Florida International University, has been a Barcelona fan for more than 10 years, and his expectations of Barcelona were shattered after the tragic loss against Bayern Munich.
“I’ve seen them decline in recent years, losing from semifinal to quarterfinal to round of 16,” he said. “And this year they didn’t even make it to round of 16, they were just eliminated straight-off in group stage, and I find myself very sad that I follow a club that is this way today.”
Though disappointment has reigned among Barcelona fans in recent days, it is not only Catalan supporters who saw themselves in shock of their team’s elimination.
Rodrigo Samaniego, 21, who studies sports management at FIU, has been a soccer fan since he was a kid. He was surprised to see the Catalans knocked out in the early stages.
“I think that Barcelona’s elimination from the Champions League is most definitely shocking as growing up I could’ve never imagined Barcelona being eliminated from the group stages of the Champions League,” Samaniego stated.
His perspective is in line with most soccer fans, as Barcelona had been one of the strongest forces in the world of sport for over 10 years, but he signals an interesting aspect of the Catalans’ downfall.
“Although it was shocking, in hindsight one can see why ultimately Barcelona is not heading into the Round of 16 in the Champions League this season,” Samaniego explained, “This was a result of years of poor decisions from Bartomeu’s board not only in the sporting side but in financial terms as well.”
Samaniego and most of the soccer community do not believe the Catalan Club will compete strongly this season. He sees Barca finishing between 5th and 8th in the domestic league, a position that, at best, will allow Barcelona to qualify for the Europa League group stages for next season. At worst, it would make the Catalans miss a season of European competition. The club currently sits 8th in the domestic league, 18 points behind leaders Real Madrid, but with a match in hand.
Samaniego’s expectations may not be far from reality, as Barcelona is in no condition to fight against heavyweights. During the summer, the Catalans were dealt a heavy blow when Messi, their star player and captain, was forced to leave the club as it faced financial issues that made it impossible to offer the Argentinian a new contract.
[Messi’s departure] probably is [a key factor],” he said. Last year’s team was probably the same team but with Messi, and they still competed for La Liga, won la Copa Del Rey, and passed the UCL group stage,” said Troconis.
Another departure also hurt the team, he said, that of Antoine Griezmann, who returned to Atletico Madrid after two seasons with the Catalans. He had the second-highest register for Barcelona in goals and assists (20 and 12) across all competitions during the 2020-21 season, behind only Lionel Messi in goals (38). Both forwards were tied behind Jordi Alba in assists (13).
Troconis called Griezmann “a’ highly underrated player that gave everything in the pitch, scored goals and had assists.”
But Barcelona picked up Memphis Depay and Sergio “El Kun” Agüero. The former has been the main force in the Catalan frontline this season. At the same time, the latter was only able to play two games after returning from an injury and was set back to the sidelines after being diagnosed with arrhythmia.
Camp Nou has seen a disastrous season, and it has not yet reached halfway. For a club in shambles, a top 4 finish in La Liga would be an achievement, as they would be back in the Champions League next season. Elsewhere, they can defend their title as the Copa Del Rey champions, which is their more realistic chance to obtain silverware this season.
Unfortunately for new coach Xavi Hernandez, his team has been stuck in second gear, and he has little to no time to turn things around before it spirals into something worse.