Everywhere you looked in Lisbon on Friday night there were the familiar images of a football empire in ruins.
The star player sat disconsolate in the dressing room after another underachieving season (can the greatest of all time finish up with only three Champions Leagues?).
The bewildered coach telling television reporters: it’s not just my fault, I’ve only been here six months.
And the president stumbling through a gentle pre-match inquisition saying that ‘some decisions had been made’, others ‘would have to be made’, but that this was ‘not the time’ to say what those decisions were – this was just the time to apologize to supporters.
The players want the president gone. Gerard Pique could hardly have been clearer in his post-match assessment when he said that change would be needed and that he ‘wasn’t necessarily talking about players or even the coach’.
The dressing room wants an election now with a new president, new board, new coach, fresh start.
Lionel Messi has no intention of actually walking away from the club but he will use ‘uncertainty over his future’ to help get to that desired end-game of summer elections.
Indeed, reports in Spain now collectively agree that Messi will refuse to sign another deal with the Catalan club until these elections are held.
Perhaps the threat of him walking away will force Bartomeu to call elections one year ahead of the end of his mandate. But It’s unlikely for two reasons.
Firstly, Messi chance to leave on a free expired in June and clubs would have to pay his release clause to get him now.
And secondly this board simply feel that they cannot walk away because the club’s finances are not in great shape and if they were to bring to an end their time in charge now then accounts would have to be settled and they maybe called upon to dip into their own pockets to make up for losses.
They want the chance to balance the books in their last season in control of the club. As difficult as that will be in the post-pandemic season due to start on September 12.
So where does no elections leave Barcelona? Bartomeu will have to distract those calling for his head by sacking Quique Setien, who, while not really to blame for a trophyless season, was an ill-thought out appointment always likely to be out of his depth. And a new coach will have to be brought in.
He has to be a Spanish speaker which rules out someone like the hugely impressive Julian Nagelsmann. He has to be big enough for the job, Setien was not, and he has to be available.
He also has to be okay about taking on a challenge that may only last one season because there will definitely be elections in 2021 when Bartomeu’s mandate ends and a new president could bring his own manager.
Mauricio Pochettino is favoured by Bartomeu. The two have an excellent relationship and the former Spurs coach was spoken to after Ernesto Valverde was sacked in January.
But the president needs an appointment that will be universally accepted. There will be some reservations about the former Espanyol coach despite his considerable back-tracking on saying he would never manage Barcelona in the past.
Xavi is the player almost all Barcelona supporters want but he has already said he will not return under the present regime. Laurent Blanc will doubtless get a mention sooner or later as will Leeds coach Marcelo Bielsa but Pochettino is the appointment that Bartomeu can make quickly, and he needs to do something quickly.
While supporters wait for confirmation that Seiten is history, and to find out who his replacement is, the inquest continues.
Barcelona have not made a single successful signing since 2014 when sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta brought in Luis Suarez, Marc Andre ter Stegen and Ivan Rakitic. Zubizarreta was sacked by Bartomeu – the first of many of his mistakes.
Current sporting director Eric Abidal could be another who is fired in the coming days. His record has been poor with last summer’s well-publicised and pointless trips to France to supposedly talk to PSG about signing Neymar and then falling out with Messi at the start of the year.
Messi has sustained this incompetent board. But the signs were there two years ago in Rome and last year in Liverpool that Messi was no longer enough. Friday night showed that a new plan is needed and it is needed now.
It’s no longer a case of ‘winter is coming’. Winter is here and, thanks to Bayern Munich and the worse European result in the club’s history, it’s one of ice-age proportions.