Style is non-negotiable, something sovereign… This is often heard in football and hangs on the lips and keyboards of the many Barcelona journalists that monitor the life of the club. It comes from a broad circle we could dub Cruyffian or Guardiolista - a broad sphere of influence in both talent and position, the style of Guardiola’s Barcelona, or the Xavi and Iniesta Barça, if you like. A playing style woven around the supreme control of both those players, now long gone. The other footballers who have been drafted in to replace them are not just inferior – that was inevitable - they hardly resemble them at all, and are cut from a different cloth.
That Barça was unique, different; this one stands out because of Messi. When the Argentine is no longer there, this side, in addition to sorely missing his goals, will be indistinguishable from other ones; they could be Inter, Arsenal, Juve, Chelsea, just with a different shirt. An aggregate of good footballers doing what is asked of them by the latest coach to come in. No tiki-taka, limited homegrown talent, a box-to-box approach, the blueprint of other teams. It is precisely this assertion that has almost been too much for Bartomeu to process and explains why he went to Xavi first, the encapsulation of that style, or Koeman, back further to its origins, and finally Setién, a devotee of the Barça school.
The way the change happened was so abrupt, unravelling in a ten-minute spell that came after a formidable eighty, that it came as a huge surprise to us all. I get the feeling that the Madrid game, in which Zidane’s side were the ones wearing the tiki-taka hat, had something to do with it. Madrid can do it because they have Isco and Modric (James, Brahim, Odegaard, Kubo can also be thrown into that equation), players who fit the mould of the Barça of old. I don’t doubt that Setién has a desire to bring it back to life, but for the moment what he will find is a team with Messi as their ‘Mr Fixit’. Good luck to him.