Andres Iniesta has been called many things in his storied career, but "world heritage" was a new one. Then again, the performance that encouraged this eulogy was so good that it was difficult to think of a better alternative.
It was November 21, 2015 – a day that Luis Enrique said would go down in Barcelona folklore. They had just thumped Real Madrid 4-0 at Santiago Bernabeu, with Iniesta scoring a thunderbolt to cap a display that earned him a standing ovation from the home fans.
"He's unique, he's world heritage," the coach said of the Spain star, who had scored in a 4-3 win on Madrid's turf the year before. "He has magic and eyes in the back of his neck.
"This victory is glorious, especially in the way that it came about. This has been a very complete performance. It will go down in history as a memorable game for Barcelona."
It was, arguably, the last truly great Iniesta performance. It was also the zenith of Luis Enrique's Barcelona. This Sunday could see the nadir.
The Catalans drew 0-0 with Juventus on Wednesday to exit the Champions League at the quarter-final stage for the second year in a row. It was the first match in the competition at Camp Nou that Luis Enrique - who will depart at the end of the season - has failed to win and only the third time they have not managed to score in either leg of a knockout tie since the modern format began in 1992.
Either side of that preposterous comeback win over Paris Saint-Germain in the last round, there was a 4-0 loss in Paris and 3-0 defeat in Turin. In the group stage, they went down 3-1 to Manchester City. In LaLiga, Malaga, Deportivo La Coruna and Celta Vigo have all hosted Barca and emerged with three points. Athletic Bilbao won the home leg of the Copa del Rey last-16 tie, too, though they lost on aggregate.
These results are not aberrations; they are milestones on Barca's road to dwindling prowess. They have not turned up in the big away matches this season and there is little widespread belief that this will change when they take to the Bernabeu pitch this weekend.
The decline under Luis Enrique has been steady but irrefutable. Their brilliant treble triumph in his first season saw them win the league with 94 points and beat the reigning champions of England, France, Germany and Italy en route to conquering Europe.
The Clasico hammering that followed five months later spelled the beginning of the end for Rafael Benitez in the capital. Strangely, it did the same for his counterpart.
Barca won the ball back quickly and got it forward even quicker, allowing Iniesta, Neymar, Luis Suarez and substitute Lionel Messi – returning from a knee injury – to wreak havoc before the opposition could reset their defensive lines. It was a tactic that brought spectacular early success but got the shackles up of fans who hold Johan Cruyff's old possession ways sacrosanct. It was tolerated rather than embraced, as long as results didn't suffer. They did.
Three defeats in a row last term - which included Zinedine Zidane's first Clasico as a coach – left Barca clinging onto the title for dear life. Atletico Madrid dispatched them in two impressive quarter-final matches to end their hopes of making history as the first team to win back-to-back Champions Leagues. A domestic double is never, ever to be sniffed at but the chinks in the armour were clear. This year, they've been exploited.
Those grumblings about style have become full-frontal bellows of anger. Supporters who once watched Xavi and Iniesta pass opponents to death consider it nigh on sacrilegious that two centre-backs, Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique, have made the most passes of any Barca player in the Champions League this term. Against Real Sociedad in their last league game, they each completed more than Andre Gomes and Iniesta combined.
Luis Enrique hasn't helped his own cause. He has constantly rotated starting line-ups and formations but rarely used substitutions to his advantage (he made just one in that 3-0 loss to Juve). He has caused friction with Ivan Rakitic and Jordi Alba by dropping them without offering a clear explanation and kept Jeremy Mathieu involved despite the protestations of almost everyone watching.
His frosty relationship with the media has made matters worse. Fans enjoyed Pep Guardiola's passion and the comparative warmth of the late Tito Vilanova, but Lucho's cold and curmudgeonly news conferences have done little to change the perception of a pragmatist who puts results above all else; a Jose Mourinho-type, one might say. There are better things to be in the eyes of a Barca fan.
It's not all his fault, of course. Robert Fernandez's transfer dealings have let the coach down badly. There is even a school of thought that signings have been motivated by politics instead of team performance: Andre Gomes, it has been claimed, was bought because Madrid wanted him; Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal, injured for most of this season, were leverage tools for Josep Maria Bartomeu's presidential election bid. Paco Alcacer has done a serviceable job but he was widely acknowledged as Luis Enrique's fourth choice after Kevin Gameiro, Angel Correa and Nolito said no to being Suarez's understudy.
Regardless of Sunday's result, he will likely end his tenure with a third Copa in three years; even if they lose that final against Alaves, eight trophies in two seasons should never be decried. But if they succumb to another away-day collapse at a critical moment of the season this week, then Lucho's last Clasico will go down in Barca history for all the wrong reasons.
|´Shameful´ Bolivian side forfeit match at 7-0 down after fielding youth team|
|Henderson fired up for ´fantastic´ De Rossi battle|
|Klopp urges Liverpool fans to ´show respect´ to Roma|
|Juventus confirm muscle tear for Chiellini|
|Klopp key to surprising Salah success – Totti|
|Hartley to miss South Africa tour with concussion|
|Salah´s PFA award made more special by De Bruyne form – Klopp|
|Liverpool have earned the right to be feared, says Gerrard|
|Arsenal confirm ankle ligament damage for Elneny|
|Cubs´ Kris Bryant ´as good as can be expected´ after being hit with 96 mph fastball|
|Hector pledges future to struggling Cologne|
|´Crazy´ fans can help Roma knock out Liverpool, says Voller|
|Sharapova not short on desire despite struggles|
|South Africa to test unbeaten home record vs Pakistan & Sri Lanka|
|Kerr: Ginobili should keep playing another two years|
|He keeps getting better and better - Henderson full of praise for PFA winner Salah|
|Roma v Liverpool: Giallorossi have chance to write positive headlines|
|Prove you are the best - Povetkin promoter lays down Joshua gauntlet|
|Wenger will not be short of offers from clubs - Dein|
|LeBron hails Korver & Clarkson as Cavs square series|
|I may play the kids in the FA Cup next season, reveals bemused Pochettino|
|Simeone weighing up three-man defence for Arsenal tie|
|Kings wait for Bogut signing approval|
|Vieira refuses to address Arsenal rumours and Wenger departure|
|Cueto lowers historic ERA in Giants´ win|
|Spurs avoid sweep, Cavs edge Pacers|
|WATCH: Smith beats first-quarter buzzer with near full-court shot|
|Harden, D´Antoni hope Rockets regain top form|
|Man United star Pogba can win Ballon d´Or, says Ronaldinho|
|Silva loves me more than his girlfriend – Mendy|
|MLS Review: Timbers end NYC´s unbeaten start, Sounders claim first win|
|Flyers´ Couturier played with torn MCL|
|Emery praises PSG for maintaining motivation|
|Cavs´ Hill out for game four with back spasms|
|Oblak unsure over Atletico Madrid future|
|Klopp ready for ´different´ Roma test|
|Salah always determined to prove his Premier League worth|
|Landry earns first PGA Tour victory at Texas Open|
|City´s Sane named PFA Young Player of the Year|
|Salah pips De Bruyne to PFA Players´ Player of the Year award|
|Napoli bus spat at and insulted, Sarri claims|
|Navas will be at Real Madrid for many years – Perez|
|Juve still have the advantage, Allegri claims|
|Racing coach Labit ready for ´formidable´ Leinster challenge|
|Smalling not giving up on World Cup|
|Hard to catch Man City if they invest, Mourinho warns|
|Pogba: I have no problem with Mourinho|
|Koulibaly: Napoli have always believed in Scudetto|
|Bordeaux 0 Paris Saint-Germain 1: Lo Celso keeps champions on track for records|
|Atletico Madrid 0 Real Betis 0: More concerns for Simeone ahead of Europa League|
|Juventus 0 Napoli 1: Partenopei close the gap thanks to Koulibaly|
|Dominant Marquez maintains perfect record in Austin|
|Guardiola has no problem with Manchester City pitch invasion|
|Neymar must join Real Madrid to become the best - Rivaldo|
|There was no player better than De Bruyne - Guardiola backs City man for PFA award|
|Top managers should want Arsenal job, says Moyes|
|Manchester City boss Guardiola aiming to smash records following title triumph|
|Las Palmas relegated from LaLiga after 4-0 home defeat to Alaves|
|Archer and Gowtham combine for dramatic Royals victory|
|This won´t happen forever - dominant Nadal reflects on latest success|
|Andrew Bogut returns to Australia, signs with Sydney Kings|
|Manchester City break Premier League passing and possession records|
|Conte: Morata still important despite Giroud impact|
|Inter gave up against Chievo, admits Spalletti|
|Conte denies Mourinho rift ahead of FA Cup final|
|Levy claims fifth European Tour crown in Rabat|
|Diouf miss ´a turning point´ for both Stoke and Burnley|
|Hughes upset with lack of VAR after Southampton´s FA Cup loss|
|Manchester City 5 Swansea City 0: Guardiola´s champions turn on the style|
|Manchester United are FA Cup favourites, claims Chelsea boss Conte|