'The Biggest Embarrassment in History': Spanish Press Savage Woeful Barcelona

Richard FitzpatrickSpecial to Bleacher ReportMay 8, 2019

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona reacts during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final second leg match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield on May 07, 2019 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Let there be no mistake—it doesn't get any worse than this for Barcelona fans.

After Tuesday's 4-0 defeat to Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg, resulting in a 4-3 aggregate loss, the front page of Diario Sport, one of Catalonia's two sports newspapers, went all black.

Writ large across the page in yellow font was the damning verdict: "The biggest embarrassment in history."

Barcelona have endured many nights of pain in European football. For decades, they were a big club that struggled in Europe, unable to match, for example, Real Madrid and Liverpool's multiple wins in the European Cup.

They lost a particularly shameful final in Seville—effectively a home tie—on penalties to Steaua Bucharest in 1986, and eight years later, they also suffered a wretched 4-0 final defeat to AC Milan in Athens, Greece, that led to the end of Johan Cruyff's Dream Team.

Now—after a decade of triumphs under Xavi, Andres Iniesta and a younger Lionel Messi, including four UEFA Champions League titles in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2015—these dark European nights are happening again for the club with alarming regularity.

There have been four catastrophic defeats in the last three years, as Diario AS noted in one of its post-mortem articles on Wednesday morning: thrashings away in Paris (4-0, 2017), Turin (3-0, 2017), Rome (3-0, 2018) and now a night of despair in Liverpool, which tops them all in the misery stakes.

"Monumental fiasco of Barca in Anfield" is how El Pais, Spain's newspaper of record, summed up the occasion on its front page under a picture of a forlorn-looking Messi, ambling alone on the turf at Anfield.

El Periodico's front-page headline had a similar theme: "Disgrace in Anfield," alongside a large photo of Barcelona's goalkeeper, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, covering his face in dismay. "Historic flop" was Marca's conclusion against a cover-page photo of the 4-0 scoreboard at Anfield.

Football⚽️InfoData @FInfodata

🇪🇸 Front page of #Sport 📰 2019-05-08 #edicola #primapagina #Real #Barca #Atletico https://t.co/cGn6zodawO

According to Alfredo Relano, writing in his editorial for Diario AS, Barcelona's defeat to Liverpool ranks above any of the other "disasters" in their history, and he evokes European Cup final defeats going back as far as Berne, Switzerland, in 1961 (when Barcelona lost their first European Cup final 3-2 to Benfica), the penalty-shootout fiasco in Seville in 1986 and last year's humiliation against AS Roma in the quarter-final.

This one, reckons Relano, is more difficult to bear because Liverpool were shorn of two of their three strikers, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Relano said: "Now that Barca have fallen, it is worth reflecting again on the unique merit of [Real] Madrid, with their persistent success in this unique competition."

In the player ratings, Marca was merciless, awarding only four Barcelona players one star (out of a possible three): Ter Stegen, Messi, Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal. The team's other eight starters and three substitutes drew blanks.

For Liverpool, Marca awarded three-star performances to Trent Alexander-Arnold, Georginio Wijnaldum, Fabinho and Sadio Mane, and two stars to double goal-scorer Divock Origi, among others.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker—who was signed by Liverpool from Roma last offseason—is singled out and applauded in an article by Marca for "repeating a feat one year after the Roman comeback," referring to how Roma overturned a 4-1 first-leg defeat to progress in last year's quarter-final.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool FC looks on during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final second leg match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield on May 07, 2019 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty
Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

The loudest plaudits were reserved for Jurgen Klopp, whose club are undefeated now in 22 games at Anfield in European competition.

Klopp's Liverpool were name-checked earlier in the week in a press conference by Manchester City manager and former Barca boss Pep Guardiola as one of the two toughest teams (alongside Luis Enrique's treble-winning Barcelona team in 2014-15) he has faced during more than a decade of football management.

"Klopp mowed down Barca" wrote Mundo Deportivo director Santi Nolla, calling to attention the way in which Klopp has "infected" his players with his positive spirit.  

Vidal, who battled to the end, is Barcelona's sole player to emerge from the game in credit among the Spanish press corps. "Only Arturo Vidal fought," wrote Ramon Besa in his match report for El Pais. "The Chilean excelled in an intense game and one that was out of Barcelona's control."

Spain's press has been baying for blood. Ivan Rakitic, a consistently good performer year after year for Barcelona, was savaged for his no-show.

Diario Sport marked Rakitic with zero out of 10 in its player ratings, criticising him for leaving "huge holes in the middle of the pitch" from which Liverpool prospered. It looks as if two long seasons, including heroics at the World Cup with Croatia last summer, have finally caught up with him.  

The Barcelona newspaper also doled out a zero to Philippe Coutinho, castigating him for his "indolence" and once again drawing attention to the fact that he hasn't lived up to his price tag as the most expensive player in Barcelona's history. 

Both Diario Sport and Mundo Deportivo fingered Jordi Alba as the culprit for the first two goals that Barcelona conceded.

Undoing the good work of a fine season—arguably the best in a long, glittering career with both club and country—his mistake in coughing up possession with a wayward header to Mane ultimately led to the first goal. Alba let Alexander-Arnold filch the ball from him, which ended in Liverpool scoring their second goal shortly into the second half.

Alba's errors pale in comparison, however, with the calamity that befell Barcelona when it conceded the fourth and decisive goal on the night.

It was "grotesque," according to Besa. "The corner of shame" in the words of a Mundo Deportivo headline, referring to the way in which Barcelona's goalkeeper and defence fell asleep, allowing Alexander-Arnold to rifle a quick corner kick into the path of Origi, who finished for the all-important semi-final-winning goal. 

There are moments in football that become immortalised instantly because of their setting, their significance and their high drama. Goals like Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" in the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals or Karim Benzema's steal from Loris Karius in last year's UEFA Champions League final. Now, Alexander-Arnold and Origi's piece of chicanery joins that catalogue.

The goal left Barcelona's president Josep Maria Bartomeu dumbfounded. "I can't explain it. There was a certain confusion or disorientation...I don't know. The goal totally knocked the stuffing out of the team," he said, sounding like a dazed man who was stumbling around at the scene of a traffic accident. 

"We defended like kids on the fourth goal," said Luis Suarez, beginning the self-criticism that will plague Barcelona's squad until the end of the season and through the summer. The blame is being apportioned to several specific quarters.

"What an embarrassment!" thundered Lluis Mascaro in his column for Diario Sport. "There are many people to blame for the failure. Too many. Starting with the board who were unable to plan the season properly. Moving on to the coach who has renounced Barca's style. And ending with the players, who were useless on the pitch. No one is safe from this. No one.

"Because no one was able to avoid the embarrassment. Because no one was able to avoid a defeat which will mark a before and an after for this team. For [Ernesto] Valverde. For Bartomeu. And, sadly, for Messi. The Argentinian star had fought so hard from the start of the season for 'the beautiful trophy.' Now he has a very bitter pill to swallow. Tremendously bitter. We will see if he can come back from it."

footballespana @footballespana_

Wednesday's front page headlines from Marca, Diario AS & El Mundo Deportivo, in English! https://t.co/2zOwOPHwIn https://t.co/6REPK1wYNX

Valverde, who was dressed like a funeral director in a suit and grey jacket as he patrolled the technical area during the match, is in the crosshairs. It may well be that he ends the season with back-to-back domestic doubles—if Barcelona can overcome Valencia to win their fifth consecutive Copa del Rey trophy at the end of May—after two seasons in charge. 

Those achievements may well count for nothing. On Radio Marca, David Sanchez, quoted in the publisher's print newspaper, said he believes Valverde will "go down in history as the trainer who has overseen two of the greatest humiliations in the history of the club."

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: Once might have been unfortunate, twice seems like carelessness. Although the club renewed his contract in February for an extra year, it will be difficult to see how he will survive this debacle once the knives come out.

The cartoonist Kap couldn't help putting the boot in. In his cartoon of Wednesday morning's edition of Mundo Deportivo, he sketched an image of Valverde, and looming over his head is a giant, God-like hand pointing at him over the chilling words: "This is the man who took two Champions League [titles] from Leo Messi."


Follow Richard on Twitter: @Richard_Fitz