The Covid-19 season is also the season of the decline in the hegemony of Spanish football, a trend that has given some symptoms in recent years, but has just been confirmed in Lisbon, and of which the collapse of Barcelona is metaphor and hyperbole. For the first time in 13 years, no Spanish team will be in the semifinals of the Champions League, the tournament that defines the aristocracy of world football. With the Latin American championships drained away, more mediocre than ever, and those emerging in Asia far from top competitiveness, it is in Europe where the elite are concentrated, which gives the Champions League an absolutely global character. The data, by itself, could be circumstantial, but accompanied by other factors it responds to the end of an era marked by a dominant game, record investments,Messi and Cristiano . Spanish football won everything and nothing of all that does it now.
The century that was born augured a great emergence for our football, with the first Spanish final of the Champions League, between Real Madrid and Valencia, in 2000, after the second had defeated Barcelona in the semifinals. The white team won again two years later, with Florentino Pérez in the presidency and still with Vicente del Bosque . The galactic era left a Champions League, the Eighth, the records in the hiring of the new King Midas of football, the economic growth of Madrid and a lot of confetti, but the model itself was prey to divism that ended up devouring it and Florentino left, fed up with what he had created. Barcelona, in need of a replica, imitated a part of its model after the arrival of Joan Laporta andSandro Rosell , with the signing of Ronaldinho , a strategic player. He won the Champions League in 2006, but the story ended in a similar way.
Madrid and Barça thus achieved successes at the start of the new century, but to mark a time like the one lived, more things were necessary, and they all coincided, then, in a narrow margin of time, between 2007 and 2009. They were the march from Fernando Torres to Liverpool, the triumph of Luis Aragonés’ team in the Eurocup, the arrival of Pep Guardiolato Barça, the return of Florentino to Madrid and the signing of Cristiano. Each one put their ingredients to compose a perfect cocktail: the competitiveness of Spanish footballers, a game model, club and national team titles, the economic leadership of the market and the two best players in the world. Of all that, there is hardly an autumnal Messi left, with the gaze of a castaway who has lost sight of the horizon.
Barça still managed to return to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2008, but they were already a decadent team, after the best stage of Rijkaard , and fell to Manchester United, finally champions. Messi grew overshadowed by Ronaldinho and Cristiano raised his first Ballon d’Or. Xavi, Pujol and I niesta began the concentration of the Eurocopa with the thought of leaving the Barcelona club, depressed. Luis Aragonés, on the other hand, made them leaders of the game of his peculiar revolution. To Casillas , overshadowed by Raúl in Madrid, something similar happened to him. The triumph in Vienna made them internalize a hierarchy that they had never felt before. They were other players, the same as the striker Torres orXabi Alonso , hardened away from the heat of his family, at Anfield. The Spanish footballer was no longer only competitive, but also valuable in the market. Del Bosque, Luis’s replacement, had the ability to know how to manage success and improve the work on the way to the climax of this era, the World Cup in South Africa, which has been 10 years old.
Back at Barça, where the board did not congratulate them on their success with Spain, Xavi, Pujol and Iniesta met an old alter ego, Guardiola. Joan Laporta made a risky decision, since the coach only had experience in the subsidiary, but nobody knew the game, the club and the environment like Cruyff’s sporty son . Sacrificed Ronaldinho and Decoand imposed a non-negotiable game, based on the infinite conservation of the ball, pressure and attack. The ‘folie’. In addition to the champions of the Eurocup, he also found a recent Olympic gold in Beijing 2008: Messi. All were returning from a triumphant summer and were the pieces of his last. Guardiola stepped onto the Bernabéu with a 2-6 and won the Champions League in his first year to repeat two later, in 2011. In addition to that, he had an influence, and there were many teams that tried the same as Barça but without his quality, on the way to scaffold. However, thanks to his criteria and that of Luis, the valuation of the technical and often physical footballer improved, like Silva, Villa or Mata , not just the Barça players.
The return of Florentino, a year after Guardiola’s appointment, came with the purpose of a re-foundation that began with the signing of Cristiano, whose path Ramón Calderón had already started . The figure, 90 million, was a world record, after those established by Florentino with in his first stage. The Portuguese found extreme competitiveness in the midst of a Barça outbreak, but from his appetite a rivalry for history was born against Messi. In a decade all the individual prizes were distributed. As of 2014, with the Décima de Lisboa and a Barça already without Guardiola, three more Champions would arrive, until 2018. Two he played against Atlético, where Diego SimeoneAs of 2011, he emulated Guardiola with his own hallmarks to elevate Atlético, with a counter-current game model, to the world elite. There he continues, despite his fall in Lisbon, less irregular than the rest in the Argentine era. The same can be said of the middle class that Sevilla leads and their dominance years ago in the Europa League.
The Catalans, however, would raise one more Champions League, in 2015, with Luis Enrique on the bench and Neymar in their ranks. The PSG takeover bid that snatched the Brazilian already announced one of the symptoms of the change of era, the impossibility of competing with the ‘club-states’, injected by the Arab capital, coming from the great energy reserves of the planet. One of them has Neymar and Mbappé today ; the other, Guardiola on the bench. This Champions was his occasion, although only the first candidate remains, failed in previous attempts. Soccer has its own rules.
Spanish footballers continue to emigrate, and the proof is that they are present in the current semifinalists, with Olmo in Leipzig, Ander Herrera and Sarabia in PSG or Thiago in Bayern, among others, but not with the leadership that they did in the Liverpool or Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal. The game model based on possession has been flawed to the point of losing efficacy and, above all, faith. It has been shown by the short era of Quique Setién, a nostalgic, like the last match of the national team in the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The debacle that began in Brazil, after two European Cups and the World Cup, has not ended yet, the management of the national team in a nonsense ever since.
Kiev, in 2018, was Madrid’s last pike in the Champions League. It is recent, true, but then Cristiano’s departure took place, without which he has not been able to pass the second round in the two successive years. Replicating Cristiano is, today, impossible for Madrid, which focuses its energies on a new Bernabéu and dreams of Mbappé’s fatigue. Barça suffered it by losing Neymar, but to this he added his own incompetence, as shown by the way of squandering everything that was entered by the Brazilian. Looking at 2008, at your own identity signs, is good advice to start over, although it will be difficult to generate a generation like the one back then. It’s not all money. Bayern are an example, reinventing themselves on their usual principles.