As Xavi lofted the big-eared trophy into the crisp, Berlin air, with Neymar and his ‘100% Jesus’ headband front-and-centre of all the photos, Barcelona had risen to the heights reached by few other clubs in the pantheon of greats.
The 2015 Champions League triumph completed their treble that season, proving to be the final chapter in an extraordinary period of European dominance.
Between the Ronaldinho-inspired side of 2006 and Luis Enrique’s 2015 vintage – with Pep Guardiola’s own revolutionary side sandwiched in there as well – Barcelona could lay claim to four of the ten continental prizes on offer.
Yet, in the five years since that victory, Barcelona have endured a spate of failures, greatly wounding this proud establishment.
Now, of course, ‘failure’ is a relative term. In this time span the club has won three league titles and three Spanish Cups but in the era of the ‘super clubs’ – where dropped points are considered just cause for a crisis and domestic dominance is treated as a foregone conclusion – Barça’s at times spectacular failings, both home and abroad, have inflicted significant damage.
Barcelona’s second official fixture of the campaign following their treble brought the Blaugrana rather quickly back down to earth. In the traditional opener for the Spanish domestic season, Athletic Club – led by future Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde – demolished their opponents 4-0 at the San Mamés.
Inside 15 minutes, defensive midfielder Mikel San José had lobbed Marc-André ter Stegen from inside the centre-circle before the 34-year-old Aritz Aduriz bagged a hat-trick against a side boasting the talents of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez.
Barcelona’s run to the quarter-final against Atlético Madrid had progressed without much incident and when a Suárez brace gave them a 2-1 advantage going into the second leg, the Catalans seemed destined for an eighth semi-final in nine years.
But Diego Simeone’s side were well worth their 2-0 victory as Antoine Griezmann’s goals settled a bitty, ill-tempered contest. Messi was oddly quiet on the night – failing to register a shot on target or even a touch in Atléti’s box throughout the 90 minutes as the holders meekly bowed out.
For many, the abiding memory of Barcelona’s 2016/17 Champions League campaign will be their implausible comeback (remontada) against Paris Saint-Germain as they recovered from a 4-0 loss in the French capital to ultimately progress 6-5 on aggregate.
However, that extraordinary reversal didn’t garner a trophy but instead passage to the quarter-finals, the setting of a convincing 3-0 loss to Juventus in Turin one month later. The second leg would not provide any repeat of events from a few weeks prior and Juve held Barça to a goalless draw (incidentally, this was the Italian champions’ eighth clean sheet of the competition that season).
The power of propaganda and hijacking of ‘narrative’ have seen this exit brushed under the carpet in place of the heroics against PSG from Neymar and co but in the end, Barcelona recorded back-to-back quarter-final exits from the Champions League.
Going into the quarter-final second leg against Roma, Barcelona were flying high. They boasted a 4-1 aggregate lead in the tie, were through to the Copa del Rey final and were yet to suffer a La Liga defeat.
But 12 months on from their own Champions League comeback heroics, Barcelona were dealt the same fate which befell PSG as Roma, enshrined in as much myth and legend as Peter Drury could conjure, toppled Ernesto Valverde’s side.
Edin Dzeko opened the scoring inside six minutes and, fittingly, Roma’s two other scorers on the night had both put the ball in their own net in the first leg. The Roman-born captain Daniele De Rossi converted a second half penalty before Kostas Manolas sent the Giallorossi through on away goals in the final ten minutes.
After getting past Manchester United to end their run of three consecutive quarter-final exits, Barcelona somehow managed to top the humiliation dished out by Roma 12 months earlier.
Barcelona won the first leg against Liverpool by a flattering 3-0 scoreline but that performance, along with Messi’s exquisite free-kick from 30 meters out – his second of the night and 600th for the club – was swiftly eclipsed as Jürgen Klopp’s side ran out 4-0 winners on Merseyside.
The swaying, singing wall of fans and flags in the Anfield stands almost sucked the ball into Barcelona’s net as Liverpool inflicted the heaviest defeat an English side has ever registered against the Catalan giants in European competition.
Throughout the turmoil in Europe, Barcelona could always fall back on their success in Spain’s domestic cup competition. Three weeks on from the Anfield debacle, Barcelona were 90 minutes away from five triumphs on the trot until Valencia shocked the clear favourites.
Despite Messi’s best efforts – he pegged Valencia back to 2-1 with 15 minutes to go – the underdogs ended Barcelona’s 1,456 day reign as Copa del Rey champions.