The last two years of Champions League football have indicated a sort of shift in power. With the giants of England, Germany and France getting a hold in the game, is the tide turning?
Before Liverpool became the Champions of Europe in 2019, the prestigious trophy had been lifted by a Spanish side for the five previous seasons. Four times by Real Madrid and once by Barcelona. Even before that, In the era of tiki taka football introduced by Johan Cruyff, later established by Pep Guardiola between the likes of Messi, Ronaldinho, Xavi and the rest, it looked like the Catalans would dominate football for decades. Not to mention the Galacticos who were the most exclusive and world-famous group of Real Madrid stars. Much so the second generation of Galacticos, the likes of Cristiano, Benzema, Modric, Casemero and Toni Kroos. It was becoming increasingly likely that the two Spanish power houses would run football.
Sure enough, they did. They were and possibly are, the two biggest clubs in the world. This title helped them attract the best of the best, which would prove to be a blessing as well as a curse. The top honors whether team of the season, Ballon d’Ore, Player of the season awards were always dominated by the two clubs. Not to mention each club had arguably the best players of each era of football. Even before Messi and Ronaldo, Barcelona had Ronaldinho while Real Madrid had Ronaldo Luiz Nazario. It wasn’t a surprise that the 2010 World Cup winning Spain team was dominated by players of both sides.
It wasn’t a surprise that no one wanted to face either of these clubs in any major tournaments. Just ask me, a Manchester United fan, how many tears I cried in 2009 and 2011. Barcelona had a tack for destroying teams in this particular competition. So too did Real Madrid who beat their City rivals Atletico twice in a row in the final in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Real Madrid themselves won it thrice in a row towards the end of the 2010’s. It looked so easy for them too. They did so with Zinedine Zidane who to be honest is no master tactician. Rather he just man-managed the wealth of talent he already had at his disposal into a group of thrice Champions league winners, a fete only ever achieved before by Ajax (71, 72, 73), Bayern Munich (74, 75, 76) and Real Madrid themselves (56, 57, 58, 59, 60). Barcelona, were busy dominating their domestic league over Real Madrid who as we have established themselves were rampant. Their head to head, the El Classico, the most iconic matchup every single season with front threes like Messi, Neymar, Suarez and Bale, Benzema, Cristiano, defenses around Europe were shivering at the prospect of facing them. Similarly, with defenders like Puyol and Ramos at the back even having a touch in the box for the opposing team was unheard of. They were the untouchables, unbeatable, best of the best, Kings of the world.
But every King has their tenure, and theirs seems to have elapsed. With all their stars aging, abysmal recruitment and evident lack of coaching prowess, the curtains seem to be closing on these Tyrant teams.
For one with Barcelona, everything is crumbling. Since Neymar left for a world record fee to Paris Saint Germain, it’s been downhill from there.
For one their stars, Iniesta and co, have aged. Transfers have just not gone their way. Overspending on Dembele, Coutinho and Griezmann and all three have not delivered thus far. Not to mention the disastrous business deal that was the Arthur-Pjanic swap deal which devastatingly angered the Barcelona faithful and even Messi who went on to make comments about the board.
After their embarrassing crash of the Champions league at the hands of the new big boys, Bayern Munich, it became clear that things at Barcelona are not okay. Not to mention they bottled the La Liga, having been ahead going into lock down. First season, they didn’t win a trophy since 13/14. Messi commented controversially after the league game against Osasuna in which they surrendered the league title to their rivals in Madrid.
“We didn’t want to end the season like this but it represents how the season has gone. We were a very erratic, very weak, low-intensity team”
“We were inconsistent during the season. Real Madrid did their thing. We lost a lot of points. We have to do some self-criticism. We are Barça.” he said.
It was clear at this point that all was not well at Camp Nou. They added insult to injury by playing so amateurishly against an in the mood Bayern Munich who punished them severely and this spelt the end for the club’s relationship with its stars.
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) August 25, 2020
It opened the floodgates. As Messi asked for a move away, Suarez was told to find a new club. Both players now looking to move to the premier league, with Jose Mourinho interested in Suarez while Messi is looking to link up with his old boss Pep Guardiola in Manchester.
With Barcelona now hiring their sixth manager in eight years in Ronald Koeman, it’s all becoming quite toxic behind closed doors, and it is starting to show on the pitch. Granted, they still have their world-famous pull power so they are sure to get replacements but replacing Messi is no man’s job. And with its academy there is sure to be more talent coming through. All in all, it will take a massive re-build and backing from the board. The board which is heavily angering the Barcelona fanbase.
Now let us turn our attention to Madrid. Their situation though not as dire as that of their Catalonian counterparts, they are still in trouble of falling off. The Management situation is not as bad as In Barcelona but there are still some issues in the Madrid camp. One is the Gareth Bale conundrum. On about 600k a week and two years left on his contract, he is a liability. Seems to be out of favor with the manager and isn’t doing much on his part to force himself into the side. The pictures tell the story.
Even After Bale being crucial to one of the Champions leagues won by Real Madrid, Zidane still doesn’t rate him apparently. Similar to the Neymar situation going on further north, since Ronaldo met, they surely haven’t looked the same. The talisman after leaving Madrid for Juventus left a gaping hole which Real have so far failed to fill. In my opinion that position was tailor made for Kylian Mbappe. Madrid however, like Barcelona, have a habit of ruining talent. Kaka, Anelka, Sneijder just to name a few. But also, the age of the mercurial stars is quite worrying, with Ramos, Modric and Benzema all 32 and above it’s looking like they are heading for quite the decline. But like Barca, Real Madrid still have the pull power and the academy. There has been glimpses of talent by their youngsters, particularly Vinicius Jr., Rodrygo and co. But their expensive talent also needs to start showing in the form of Eden Hazard who had barely kicked a ball since arriving at the Bernabeu.
The apparent decline of the giant clubs is only further highlighted by the rise of others. For one the strength of the premier league has significantly shown. With Klopp sparking a revolution at Anfield, Pep pricing his way through stars in the Market and even Chelsea making moves transfer wise it will not be business as usual in the Spain v England match ups. Also, Germany are looking like coming in hot. Bayern of course winners of the Champions league this season showed the type of damage they can do to any club. Dortmund, themselves accumulating and developing young talent with the beast that is Erling Haaland at the front line and Jadon Sancho supporting him, will undoubtedly pose a threat. Not to mention Julian Nagelsmann who is lowkey making moves at RB Leipzig.
France also are slowly putting behind the ‘farmers league’ tag slapped on them and as they showed in this season’s Champions league they shouldn’t be forgotten when talking about the big boys. Also, Italy themselves are bringing the heat. With Conte at Inter, Pirlo at Juve their tactics galore. Not to mention goal machine Atalanta who is cementing their presence in Europe. It’s all becoming very competitive in here. Even clubs from remote countries, football wise, like RB Salzburg are obviously doing something right as they are forcing themselves into conversations.
But football is the most unpredictable sport and we never know what exactly can happen. Spain also, is not just Barcelona and Real Madrid. With the rest, suddenly becoming the best, it’s hard to call where the wind is blowing. As for now we have to do with Bayern Munich, who are rampant, scary, talented, hungry and most of all Champions. But with the shortest off-season ever, it won’t be long until we can watch all the drama unfold.
Cheri Mukiiri is an aspiring football journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. Currently going to High School, she has her own blog where she writes more articles. You can find her writings here