Two days before Barcelona were due to face Juventus in the Champions League, their toughest match in Group G, the Catalan club were still bemoaning the one thing they said won the Clasico for Real Madrid – VAR.
There was no talk Monday of Barca’s lack of creativity that meant Madrid, as the away team, had more shots at Camp Nou, nor their timid response that allowed their opponents to coast through the last half an hour with a one-goal lead.
There was no admittance of failure from coach Ronald Koeman, whose substitutions proved ineffective or, worse, counter-productive.
There was no addressing the question of defeat, or a single question at all, by Barca’s senior players, not even captain Lionel Messi, who has now gone six games without scoring against his team’s greatest rivals.
The players had just lost their fourth match in 10 games including the dismal end to last season, and their new coach has overseen only three wins from his first six in charge.
When the president Josep Maria Bartomeu sacked Ernesto Valverde in January, Barca were top of the table. Under Bartomeu’s first replacement they capitulated at the end of last season. Under his second, they sit 12th.
The disappointments keep coming for Barcelona, but those prepared to take any responsibility continue to shrink from view.
Up next are Juventus on Wednesday, when another set-back would not be irretrievable thanks to last week’s 5-1 drubbing of Ferencvaros.
But a growing sense of deflation and injustice — initiated by sections of the Catalan press but now adopted fully by players, coach and president — will be harder to be rid of, regardless of the result in Turin.
After the final whistle blew on Saturday, Koeman was not with his team in the dressing room but waiting for the referee.
After the match, his press conference was less an assessment of his team’s performance than a tirade against VAR.
“Koeman explodes” read the front page of Mundo Deportivo on Sunday.
His anger ignored the fact Sergio Ramos’s controversial penalty put Madrid just 2-1 up, hardly out of sight, and there were still 27 minutes plus added time remaining to retrieve something from the match.
It also conveniently masked Koeman waiting too long to make three substitutions, none effective.
“Was it a penalty?” Koeman asked a reporter, who responded he thought that it was.
“Well we disagree. Hopefully one day you can explain the issue of VAR here in Spain. We have had five games and VAR has only intervened against Barca.”
Unlike Koeman, Barcelona’s senior players did head straight down the tunnel, leaving the 19-year-old American Sergino Dest, having just played his first Clasico, to field the post-match media duties with an interviewer who thought he could speak Spanish.
“I’m just pissed we lost,” Dest said.
Messi chose not to speak, despite having a lot to say in recent months about the failings of the board.
Neither did Gerard Pique, despite giving an interview the day before to La Vanguardia in which he also listed his criticisms of the club.
Then the team lost to Real Madrid, nobody spoke at all.
Meanwhile, Bartomeu was still cursing VAR on Monday night, even after more than 16,000 of the club’s members signed an official petition to say the one really to blame was him.
That petition should mean a vote of no confidence too, but Bartomeu and the board have been playing for time, avoiding the one process of accountability set in statute by crying foul over signatures and claiming logistical problems due to coronavirus.
“Resigning has never passed through my mind,” said Bartomeu, whose refusal to take responsibility comes as a surprise to nobody. The concern is he is no longer the only one.