It's a strange thing to watch, the changing of the guard.
So often in sports, as in life, we become accustomed to, and even comfortable with, certain long-established truths.
Wayne Gretzky, for a time, was the best player in hockey-- a fact so irrefutable it was almost a source of security, something expected and predictable when so much else was not. It was the same with Michael Jordan, the San Francisco 49ers, Pete Sampras and the Montreal Canadiens.
All of them dominant and dynastic and embodiments of the routine and predictability we crave for the everyday.
But then, all of a sudden, they're not there anymore. They retire or are beaten and leave both a void and a new reality that takes some getting used to.
It's an awkward place to be--that space between Gretzky and Crosby, Jordan and James, the 49ers and the Coyboys, Sampras and Federer, the Canadiens and the Islanders.
As of Wednesday, FC Barcelona can be added to the list.
Between the fall of 2008 and this week's destruction at the hands of Bayern Munich, Barcelona were, without a shadow of a doubt, the best team in club soccer.
With the triangle of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta making hundreds of short, accurate passes over the course of a match, and with the whole squad pressing aggressively high up the pitch, they were dominant on their best days and very good on their worst.
And then there was Lionel Messi--the four-time Ballon d'Or winner, the gem in the crown, whose 50, 60 and even 70 goals per season ensured Barcelona were not only effective and efficient, but artistic and entertaining as well.
Over the three seasons between 2008 and 2011 Barcelona lost only eight of 114 Primera Division matches, won all three league titles and lifted the European Cup twice.
So firmly established was their supremacy that their 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich, which culminated in Wednesday's 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou, came like a shock to the system.
And while it would be foolish to write off their chances of silverware going into next season, it would be similarly irresponsible to assume that the status quo hasn't been dealt a severe blow, that the ground hasn't been shaken by the toppling of a giant.
Even the Spanish press has descended into a state of panic.
A Friday article in the daily Marca pinned the blame for Wednesday's Champions League thrashing on Cesc Fabregas, Dani Alves, Alexis Sanchez and David Villa--a quartet that typically comes under fire whenever Barcelona fail to excel.
Meanwhile, El Mundo Deportivo -- a publication typically sympathetic towards the Blaugrana -- hinted there might be a change in club leadership, with former president Joan Laporta set to challenge incumbent Sandro Rosell in the next round of elections.
And a column in El Pais suggested Barcelona fans would welcome significant summer changes as the team had become unrecognizable, "even when compared to early in the season."
Overreactions, all, but also entirely understandable.
While Barcelona had suffered the odd defeat before -- typically to a team who defended in two banks of four and got lucky on the counterattack, or simply on an "off day"--never in the era of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi had they been so thoroughly trounced, so decisively found out.
It was more than a loss they sustained over two legs against Bayern Munich. It was the conclusion of an era they had come to define -- the changing of the guard.
And it came in an instant.
So now, uncomfortable and insecure, we progress from a state of shock into that space between dynasties.
It's an awkward place to be.
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