In Depraved and Insulting English, the authors show us a side of the English language that, like most of the English language, has fallen out with the times. It’s archaic, hilarious and it’s from here the word epicaricacy lands in our lives and, like many in the book, it suits our purpose well.
It means exactly the same as Schadenfreude but unlike the German word, epicaricacy has its origins in England. By that, it means that it’s a Latin word that has been stolen and adopted by the English which essentially makes it theirs. There are other ways to put the same point across with phrases like malicious glee, impish malice, rancorous rapscallion, morose delectation and many others living in a thesaurus. But they don’t seem to have the punch that epicaricacy has, which when down to the bare bones, essentially means the feeling you get from watching someone’s career go down the drain or the joy at the pain of someone you know.
And for many of the Arsenal, Juventus, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea persuasion and basically half the footballing world, nothing defines watching Barcelona this season better than that. It’s a cute and archaically brilliant word to have in one’s vocabulary but for Barcelona, it means nothing more than being utterly embarrassed. Like many great generations, dynasties and kingdoms around the world, theirs is coming to what looks like it might be an inglorious end. After more than a decade and a half of dominance, La Liga’s most successful 21st-century club is coming to the end of its era.
It’s been a magnificent, spectacular and an era-defining run for the Catalans but now every club in Spain and the world want their revenge. From Athletic Bilbao, Levante, Granada, Borussia Dortmund, Slavia Prague and even Osasuna have all fought tooth and nail to do just that. They’ve somehow managed to do just that this season and if it wasn’t for a certain Argentine, then everything could be a whole lot worse. That’s the point millions and maybe even billions have made about Barcelona. That without Lionel Messi the great Ernesto Valverde would be nowhere.
That Messi won them the titles and not Valverde or even their team and on it goes. And therein lies the biggest question Barcelona and their board have ever faced and will potentially ever face. With their greatest generation coming to an end, they need to find the way to walk through the flames with their dignity intact and transition seamlessly into gen-next. It’s much much harder to do than they think and one look at Real Madrid simply tells the story and that’s despite them spending in excess of €300 million over the last two windows.
Yet they’ve failed to replace a godlike footballer and may not have descended into mediocrity, thanks to the heavy spending, but they were on the verge of doing that. Even then, Real Madrid’s era was built on one single man, whereas Barcelona’s was built on a group of exceptionally good footballers. From Xavi to Iniesta, David Villa to Gerard Pique and Messi to Messi, every single player played their part brilliantly and finding a way to replicate that is near impossible. Especially when the transfer economy is well past their capabilities as their desperate chase for Neymar over the summer window proved. No longer does Barcelona command the status in the transfer market they once had and at the same time, they’re no longer the only super-club walking the earth.
Add that to La Masia’s lack of production or rather the lack of La Masia players in Barcelona with them opting for a better path to the first team. It seems, upon closer inspection, that La Masia has produced players who have the ability to thrive and make an impact for Barcelona but their, Barca’s, unprecedented success saw a path to the first team blocked. It’s why Thiago Alcantara, Mauro Icardi, Andre Onana, Hector Bellerin, Eric Garcia, Takefusa Kubo, Antonio Sanabria, Mac Batra and Jordi Mboula, all left. It’s why Rui Puig, Carles Alena, Carles Perez, Abel Ruiz, Oriol Busquets and others are all considering leaving.
And with just five former La Masia men left in the side, things look bleak. But like everything else, there is a method to the madness and for Barcelona, their answer lies within Lionel Messi. Because at 32, there is only so much football left in the Argentine. He may play for many a year but there are only so many years left for Messi to do Messi things. And that’s the problem. Because Messi growing older gives Barcelona only so many options to move forward.
Either they build the team around the magician and give him the end he deserves like others have given their legendary figures. Or they start the rebuild while he’s still there. Bring in the players they’ll need to eventually ease them into a Messi-less world. That part also includes bringing in men to replace Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and maybe even Jordi Alba. That includes a total revamp of their current squad and it's not the easiest group of players in the world to replace but that’s the conundrum that Barcelona faces. Yet, it’s not their only problem because somehow they need to find a way to stabilize everything around the team as well.
Eight managerial changes in six years, since Pep Guardiola left, maybe the modern way of doing it but it’s not the way to help establish a new generation. The club needs to figure out a way forward and decide as to whether or not Ernesto Valverde has a future in Camp Nou or not. Any new and budding generation needs stability to help them thrive and its why Manchester United thrived for so many years. It’s why AC Milan are now struggling to re-establish themselves and why Atletico Madrid have done rather well with Diego Simone. Only then can Barcelona proceed and give his successor or Valverde himself time to help bridge the past and the future.
It’s never going to be easy, especially with success flowing in everywhere else but with time and under the right manager, they’ll get their chance to re-establish something close to what they once had. That may not be enough but it gives them a chance to try and update the Barcelona way, making it more suited to the modern game of football. A high-octane, intense game of football that demands 110% per cent from every single player on the field. That has never been the Barca way but their own philosophy at the moment seems non-existent.
It’s more of a pass it to Messi and let him work his magic bit instead of letting the ball do all the work the way Johan Cruyff and his disciples imagined. But even passing it to Messi and letting him work his magic can only take the club so far and that combined with their struggles to adapt to their opponents have seen them fail miserably in the Champions League. It’s why the Stadio Olympico, Anfield, Turin and Munich over the last few years will always haunt their memories and this little generational swap gives them a chance to learn from those mistakes.
Because Barcelona are no longer tough. They’re no longer dominant in any shape or form in any game and that needs to change especially when it comes to knockout stage football. And them on a spaceship, hurtling towards the end of their era gives them a chance to add a little more punch and power to their panache. It allows them a chance to nip a problem in the bud and change the lack of dominance they’ve had and instead create new memories for themselves. Memories that bear a striking resemblance to what they once had but with a hint of something that could give them so much more. Memories fit enough to help them say goodbye to a king in the most graceful way possible. Because anything less is blasphemous.