Barcelona’s season took a new dismal turn on Tuesday night, as the Blaugrana were thrashed by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
Having been destroyed 8-2 in their last knockout tie – last season’s quarter-final against Bayern Munich – they succumbed to the phenomenal Kylian Mbappe, falling to a 4-1 home defeat in this year’s last 16 first leg.
“Their team are ahead of ours,” admitted Ronald Koeman, having seen his side comprehensively outplayed by Mauricio Pochettino’s men.
Both these teams were beaten by Bayern in the latter stages of last year’s tournament, but in footballing terms they have little else in common at present.
PSG have direction, financial strength and an all-consuming goal: Winning Europe’s biggest prize for the first time.
Barcelona, with a disgustingly dismal financial position, no president, Lionel Messi’s future far from certain, trailing some way behind Atletico Madrid in La Liga and on the verge of being KO’d in the Copa del Rey too – 2-0 down to Sevilla after their semi-final first leg – are on a road to nowhere.
So you could forgive Barcelona supporters if, amid the rubble that is their season and this latest debacle, they search for something to cling on to.
Koeman, in the bowels of Camp Nou after the destruction by Mbappe and co appears to have found it.
“Pedri at his age is already brilliant, but in five years he will be better than any PSG midfielder,” declared Koeman.
On a night where Marco Verratti was at his resplendent best and Leandro Paredes dominated with his passing range – playing a key role in two goals – it was a big claim to make.
But it is certainly not without merit and the boy from the Canary Islands, along with fellow teenage starlet Ansu Fati, offers supporters exactly what they need right now: Hope
Pedri was Barcelona’s best player against PSG prompting, probing, looking dangerous, taking the ball in tight areas and weaving away from opponents – doing all the things that have seen him shine this season, despite the volatile mess into which he has been thrown.
One pass to Messi early in the second half, fired through a barely there space, almost put the Argentine clean through on goal, his usually precise touch letting him down.
The 18-year-old has made waves this season, shining for the Blaugrana even amid their troubles. His talent has made him not just a starter, but almost undroppable; of all the hundreds of millions worth of talent Barca have in attack, it is he with whom Messi most readily identifies when out on the pitch, seeking combinations to unlock opposing doors.
Having arrived last summer from Las Palmas after a year in the second division, where he became the youngest goalscorer in club history at 16 years, nine months and 23 days – turning down Real Madrid in the process – he has already made 34 appearances. Even without Barcelona supporters being able to see him in the stadium, he is already a favourite.
There is no question he will go on to win many, many caps for Spain – potentially beginning at this summer’s European Championships – with Luis Enrique a fan, impressed by his talent and maturity.
A documentary on Koeman’s arrival at the club is due to be released, and sheds light on the first impressions he had of the squad he inherited.
The most notable of those is that on the teenager whom he had not seen play.
“There’s one, his name is Pedri, signed from Las Palmas,” Koeman said in the car on the way to training.
“I don’t know him, but they say he must be the new [Michael] Laudrup, the new [Andres] Iniesta, but I don’t know him. We’ll see.
“He’s the greatest talent in all of Spain.”
Given the gross financial mismanagement that has gone on in recent years, what comes next – with or without Messi – is going to be painful. When you’re over £800million in debt, there can be no overhaul.
But when the wreckage that is this current Barcelona is finally cleared out, it is Pedri around whom their future must be built.
Even on the night when the empire crumbled for good, that much was crystal clear.
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