Dubai: Luis Suarez probably summed it up best when he explained that Barcelona were made to look like infants by Liverpool during their 4-0 Champions League semi-final humiliation at Anfield on Tuesday night.
Liverpool forward Divock Origi got the fourth goal that completed a remarkable 4-3 aggregate win, netting a quick pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner and leaving the Barca defence flat-footed.
“For their fourth goal we looked like schoolboys, we have to be ready for all the criticism that is going to rain down on us now,” Suarez said.
“We are very sad, we are in a lot of pain, we feel this pain even though we are professionals.”
The harsh reality is that, while they played like kids, this was most likely the last chance many of the old boys to lift the cup the Camp Nou faithful covet most.
Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Ivan Rakitic, Jordi Alba, Thomas Vermaelen, Suarez and Lionel Messi are all the wrong side of 30 now and a summer clear-out after this disappointment may see some of them depart.
The one who will be really hurting — the one who knew that this was a massive chance to get his hands on the trophy once more — is the one who pledged to bring it back to Catalonia. The one called Messi.
Strangely, for such a game-changing character and icon of Barcelona — just look at the first leg at Camp Nou last week where he turned the game on its head with a sublime free-kick — he was anonymous at Anfield.
He led Barca out onto the field, most probably thinking about whom he might face in the final in Madrid on June 1. Wouldn’t it be great to win in the back yard of rivals Real? And draw level with long-time nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo in Champions League winners medals?
But it all fell apart for the Argentine who is not getting any younger and has already adapted his game to cope with a slight loss of pace in his ageing legs.
While Messi will always be regarded a hero at Barca and was partly responsible for a poor show from Barca on Tuesday, one man who may ultimately count the cost is Ernesto Valverde.
The coach — who only a matter of days ago secured La Liga title and was odds-on for a treble-winning season — is suddenly facing the prospect of unemployment, such are the demands and expectations at Barca.
After the capitulation on Tuesday, Barca president Josep Bartomeu dodged guaranteeing the future of Valverde.
“We are all very emotional now because of the elimination,” said Bartomeu. “We have to raise our spirits because there is a Copa del Rey final to come. There will be difficult days for everyone but we have to lift our heads.”
A domestic double-winning season will not heal these wounds. La Liga, which Barcelona have now won eight times in 11 years during the Messi era, is no longer enough.
He has led the club to four Champions League titles, one fewer than Ronaldo, but painful exits in the past four years have cranked up the pressure to deliver. Until Tuesday night, he had been delivering with flair, bagging 12 goals in the tournament — only a couple short of his highest return in 2012.
His masterpiece in the first leg should have seen them through to the final, with Liverpool exhausted and without two of their first-choice forwards, Mohammad Salah and Roberto Firmino.
However, the baying Anfield crowd and the relentless determination from the depleted men in red to fight until the end made it a game too far even for the mighty Messi.
Suarez had the last word when he defiantly stood by his coach who has delivered consecutive doubles, lost two games in the Champions League and only four in La Liga.
“No way,” said the Uruguayan when asked if the coach was to blame. “The players are the ones who were on the field. If his approach was good in the first leg, it was good again now. We have to do a lot of self criticism because we are the ones that played the game.”
That belated defence may not be enough to save Valverde, and Messi’s last chance at Europe’s biggest prize may have departed, too.