It’s pretty well known that Barcelona fans can be a hard bunch to please. They’ve been so spoilt by success in recent years that it wasn’t that unusual to log onto Twitter last season and see comments along the lines of “Luis Enrique has completely ruined the club.”
This is the same Luis Enrique who, in three years, won three consecutive Copa Del Reys, two league titles and a Champions League. A nightmare for Barça’s harshest “critic-fans” would probably equate to the most glorious three years ever witnessed at the majority of clubs.
As a fan of a similar sized club in England whose stock has fallen quite sharply in recent years, the temptation was to tell these fans that there was still some way to fall.
It’s true, however, that the vocal fans on Twitter don’t always represent fans in the stadium. Some Barça fans from afar have only witnessed the last, sparkly 10 years or so. They might be too young to remember the slightly less glamorous periods that came after Cruyff stepped down and before Guardiola took charge. From my experience of going to the majority of games at Camp Nou last season, the average match-going fan isn’t quite so fatalistic.
Still, it’s clear from glancing on social media and speaking to Barça supporting friends in Barcelona that this is arguably their slowest, most underwhelming summer in recent memory.
One friend texted me last week to say that Marouane Fellaini had been linked with a move to Barça, followed by an assortment of emojis ranging from open mouthed astonishment to a full-blown tantrum with tears.
Marouane Fellaini? The Belgian arriving at Camp Nou seems about as likely as Donald Trump becoming President of the United States.
But seriously, although the Fellaini rumour has subsequently been quashed, the majority of fans seem almost equally perplexed by the ongoing chatter surrounding a move for Paulinho. That one appears to be pretty legitimate.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the Paulinho move isn’t the fact that he’s spent the last two years in the relative wilderness of the Chinese Premier League. It’s more where he plays. Midfield is perhaps the most overcrowded area of Barça’s squad.
It’s easy to imagine Marco Verratti arriving and walking straight into the first team. But would Paulinho really start ahead of Rakitic, Iniesta, Busquets, Rafinha or Suarez?
It seems a long time ago now that Verratti was photographed on holiday with a copy of Barcelona based newspaper Mundo Deportivo with him on the cover. Smiling somewhat nervously as he held it up to the camera. Back then it seemed like a matter of time. Now it seems PSG have made it clear he’s going nowhere.
The lack of progress in the Verratti deal is just one more factor that has contributed to making this summer a slightly disappointing one for FC Barcelona.
The blues began in the spring, with them being outplayed by Juventus in the Champions League, which was somewhat of a downer after the euphoria of the PSG comeback. That was followed by missing out on the league title to Real Madrid. They then had to sit back and watch as Los Blancos dismantled Juventus in the Champions League final just over a month ago. Finally there’s Valverde, who was seen as sensible appointment rather than a special one.
The truth is that it’s still early days and there’s plenty of time for Valverde to get his feet under the desk and turn the despondent mood amongst fans around. But he’s got plenty to do.
Although the tweets accusing Luis Enrique of ruining the club might have been slightly exaggerated, there are plenty of legitimate claims that Barça have lost something in the last season or so. Fans talk of the club losing its soul. Its identity. This is an identity that’s routed in Cruyff and Guardiola. It will be interesting to see whether Valverde attempts to reclaim it or whether he’ll want to try something new.
Any Barcelona manager will be measured up alongside the two legendary coaches who are most synonymous with playing “the Barça way”. The bar is set incredibly high, and that helps to explain the slightly underwhelmed feeling amongst fans.
When you speak to Barça fans in Barcelona, you really get a sense that they feel that they’re the biggest club in the world. They have Messi. They bought Neymar and Suarez. They expect to be linked with the biggest names in world football. Paulinho isn’t one of them.
Twitter has created a bit more of a panic around summer transfers. It used to be that fans would try to relax a bit and forget about football for a couple of months. Maybe they’d pick up the odd paper and read some rumours. Now they wake up in the morning, reach for their smartphone and type in the hashtag of players names, before getting disappointed if they’re still no closer to signing them.
Valverde might be sure that Paulinho can do a job at Camp Nou. But for his sake he might hope to get a slightly more marquee name in before the end of August too. Otherwise the pressure might be on before the season has even properly begun.