Real Madrid’s domestic record since the turn of the millennium is rather underwhelming when you consider the scope of the club, as well as some of the players to have walked through the famous Estadio Santiago Bernabeu doors, yet the last four Los Blancos triumphs in LaLiga Santander have indirectly led to painful goodbyes at Barcelona.
In the last 13 LaLiga Santander seasons, Los Merengues have won four titles as Barcelona’s era of dominance has made life relatively uncomfortable on home soil for the Spanish giants.
If we look at these years in particular detail: 2008, 2012, 2017 and now 2020, it seems as though whenever Real Madrid win the Spanish title there is also a crisis at Barcelona, none bigger than the one involving Lionel Messi and Josep Maria Bartomeu at this moment.
Ronaldinho and Pep Guardiola’s dressing room cleanse (2008)
Frank Rijkaard rarely gets the credit he deserves for his work at the Camp Nou in the early stages of the millennium, not least getting the very best out of Ronaldinho with the loan signing of Edgar Davids, introducing the aforementioned Messi into the senior team and steering the Catalan club to their first Champions League since 1992, when they defeated Arsenal in Paris.
By 2007/08 though, things had turned sour for the Dutch coach as he appeared to have taken the team as far as he could. A disappointing Champions League exit at the hands of a tremendous Manchester United side in the semi-final was perhaps the moment his departure was sealed, yet finishing 18 points behind Real Madrid in LaLiga put him on perilous terrain.
Joan Laporta had been so centrally linked with this new era of success in Catalonia, despite having initially promised to sign David Beckham instead of Ronaldinho, but he took the bold decision of dismissing Rijkaard in 2008 and making a huge gamble on an unproven coach at senior level.
That coach, of course, was Pep Guardiola and the former Brescia midfielder immediately set about cleansing a dressing room that had gotten both comfortable and problematic.
Deco and Ronaldinho were fabulous footballers for the club, but it was judged they were becoming a troubling influence on a young Messi, as well as stifling his development on the pitch.
Both were sold, and it must be remembered that the Brazilian was one of the best players in the world at the time, but it was the traumatic exit that was needed to kick-start an even greater period of success.
Guardiola and the end of the golden cycle (2012)
Few would argue that the period between 2008 and 2012 was Barcelona’s greatest in club history, with Guardiola guiding the club to new heights and revolutionising the modern game in a very similar way to Johan Cruyff before him.
Jose Mourinho’s second season in Madrid brought with it a LaLiga title as Guardiola’s patience with Barcelona waned.
A difficult off-pitch relationship with the club’s board left it impossible for the Spanish coach to continue, and after 14 titles in four seasons he was to leave.
Neymar’s release clause and PSG’s revenge (2017)
Barcelona were put in a tailspin by Neymar’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain and in truth they have never recovered to this day.
After Champions League success the previous season, Zinedine Zidane publicly declared that bringing the LaLiga title back to Real Madrid was his goal and it was one he achieved in style.
Winning the Champions League and LaLiga double in 2016/17, Barcelona were once again forced to grin and bear their rare role as bridesmaid.
A memorable Champions League comeback against PSG did little to improve the mood at the Camp Nou, yet it was decided that a move for Marco Verratti would finally strengthen the club’s midfield.
This proved to be akin to poking a great white shark in the eye as PSG sought devastating revenge on the Catalan club, changing the transfer market forever with the 222-million-euro signing of Neymar.
It was this departure which set a certain Messi on his current path to the Barcelona exit door.
Messi and the Burofax (2020)
You could put all the aforementioned events into one single summer and you still wouldn’t have the crisis the scope of what Barcelona are facing in the summer of 2020.
Years of mismanagement by the Bartomeu administration has left the club’s greatest ever player hugely frustrated.
For the first time in 12 seasons the Blaugrana ended a season without a single trophy, as a tumultuous and long campaign ended with two coaches both being dismissed.
A catastrophic 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final merely served as the exclamation point on a sentence that had long been written.
Real Madrid took the domestic title with consummate ease in Zidane’s first full season back at the helm whilst Barcelona lurched from one disaster to another.
The club was stunned when a Burofax arrived from Messi in Argentina, indicating that he was to leave the club and that in his mind, due to an agreement in his contract, he was no longer an employee of Barcelona as he could terminate his contract at the end of each season.
The legal consequences for this will run long into the 2020/21 season and may even follow the Argentine to Manchester, yet this will be the most impactful departure Barcelona will have ever been forced to deal with, and once again it has been accompanied by their eternal rivals lifting Spain’s domestic championship.