Even before the Messi scandal hit Barcelona, new man in charge, Ronald Koeman, would’ve been under no illusions as to the task he had ahead of him.
The Dutchman was taking over a group of players who had come off of the back of an 8-2 defeat against Bayern Munich in the Champions League and who were clearly at their lowest ebb for a decade.
To turn around the collective mindset was, in itself, a huge job.Then the two weeks of intense speculation that Messi was heading out of town no doubt saw the Dutchman poring over what his line up was going to look like without the Argentinian in situ, only for him to do an about turn.
Regardless, under Quique Setien the squad had become used to training for only 60 minutes at a time, and not really paying the coach or his staff any respect whatsoever.
Eventually that showed in matches, particularly after lockdown.
Since Koeman’s arrival, he’s been handed the sobriquet ‘Sargeant’ Koeman, but that’ll sit just fine with him.
Known as a stickler for the rules, he’s just what Barcelona need.
Forget the fact that being a former player of the club affords him a little latitude, Koeman will not suffer fools gladly and won’t care too much if he upsets anyone – and that includes Messi.
For far too long now the squad has been lacking direction and discipline, and what’s noticeable is that their most successful recent periods came under coaches who pulled no punches. Who always expected total commitment in training as well as matches.
Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique were two different beasts entirely, and Koeman will change the dynamic once again, bringing back some structure to the team with no more of the ‘friendliness’ that Setien brought to the team but which was never going to work.
There’s bound to be push back from certain senior members of the team, whereas on the flip side, the youngsters will be keen to impress their new coach. Not forgetting he remains a club legend.
If Koeman can – and he will – show the players who’s boss, and follow through and bench anyone who isn’t playing close to their maximum level, he should find that as a collective, the motivation of the squad will rise and the competition for places will return.
There’s no doubt that the 8-2 was Barca’s lowest point, but when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel in any situation, the only way is up.
Barca could surprise an awful lot of people this season.