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.
|Zidane not worried after Madrid lose ground on Barca|
|Casemiro calls for Madrid calm after shock Betis loss|
|Sane sends message to Guardiola as Manchester City shake off West Brom|
|Keep calm and carry on – Allegri backs Higuain to rediscover scoring touch|
|Bosz proud of table-topping Dortmund after Hamburg triumph|
|Montella points to schedule after uninspired Milan win|
|Conte confirms Luiz will be fit to face Atletico|
|Manchester City boss Guardiola hopeful Gundogan injury not serious|
|Real Madrid 0 Real Betis 1: Ronaldo´s return ruined as Sanabria stuns LaLiga champions|
|Wilshere is ready for the league - Wenger|
|Simeone lauds ´different class´ Griezmann|
|Mourinho praises United´s professionalism in EFL Cup win|
|Spurs to host West Ham in EFL Cup fourth round|
|West Brom 1 Manchester City 2: Sane at the double amid fresh Gundogan fears|
|Manchester United 4 Burton Albion 1: Mourinho´s men begin EFL Cup defence in style|
|Arsenal 1 Doncaster Rovers 0: Walcott hits winner for Wenger´s men|
|AC Milan 2 SPAL 0: Penalty double seals comfortable win for Montella´s side|
|Chelsea 5 Nottingham Forest 1: Hazard on form as Batshuayi claims hat-trick|
|Juventus 1 Fiorentina 0: Mandzukic on target as Bianconeri maintain winning start|
|Returning Gundogan limps out of impressive Manchester City return|
|Hamburg 0 Borussia Dortmund 3: Bosz´s men cruise back to Bundesliga summit|
|Athletic Bilbao 1 Atletico Madrid 2: Correa and Carrasco strike in second-half surge|
|I have nothing to prove - Paulinho|
|Prodl pens new four-year Watford contract|
|Monaco renew Subasic, Raggi deals|
|Sampson sacked as England Women´s boss|
|Manchester United to act against ´offensive behaviour´ after Lukaku race row|
|Atletico Madrid´s Wanda Metropolitano to host 2019 Champions League final|
|Chelsea confident of recruitment compliance amid FIFA investigation|
|Brighton seal permanent signing of Newcastle keeper Krul|
|Barcelona condemn Spanish crackdown on Catalonia independence vote|
|Benzema seals Real Madrid stay until 2021|
|Perisic promised Inter can match Manchester United|
|The race is on - Aubameyang lays down Lewandowski challenge|
|Cristiano Ronaldo´s Real Madrid return confirmed|
|Mbappe can prove he´s ready for Madrid at PSG - Morientes|
|PSG ´destroyed the market´ with Neymar and Mbappe - Elber|
|Coutinho withdrawal inspired Leicester to victory, claims Shakespeare|
|Valverde hopes Suarez benefits from Eibar rest|
|Wilshere returning to his best form - Wenger|
|Klopp: Liverpool are still a good football team|
|Pochettino hails ´top player´ Alli|
|Messi from ´another planet´, says Semedo|
|James performance pleases Ancelotti|
|Maestro Messi brings up 300 Camp Nou goals|
|Messi is extraordinary – Valverde hails Barcelona star|
|Inter eyeing Champions League return - Eder|
|Klopp ´sick´ of conceding as Liverpool tumble out of EFL Cup|
|Hodgson urges caution over Souare handling|
|Barcelona 6 Eibar 1: Majestic Messi leads romp with four goals for LaLiga leaders|
|Burnley 2 Leeds United 2 (aet, 3-5 pens): Lonergan the penalty hero as Championship leaders cause cu|
|I´m the first to trust young players - Conte defends Chelsea youth record|
|Matic and Fellaini have never been this good – Mourinho tells Carrick, Herrera to be patient|
|Tottenham 1 Barnsley 0: Alli sees off stubborn Tykes|
|Bologna 1 Inter 1: Contentious Icardi spot-kick maintains Spalletti´s unbeaten run|
|Leicester City 2 Liverpool 0: Okazaki, Slimani dump Klopp´s men out of EFL Cup|
|Schalke 0 Bayern Munich 3: James scores on first Bundesliga start|
|Atletico benefiting from competition of fringe players - Simeone|
|Manchester City have got two players for every position - Delph|
|Bayern could say they don´t need me – Lewandowski accepts football´s cut-throat nature|
|Montella to keep on rotating as he plans for long season|
|Billionaire investor announces he is ´done´ funding Hamburg|
|Wenger confirms Welbeck groin injury|
|Ljungberg sad to leave Wolfsburg|
|Ferdinand, McGregor and Curry - Sport´s most notable crossover stars|
|Messi has his story, I have mine - Dybala plays down compatriot comparisons|
|Hazard to start against Nottingham Forest as Conte prepares to rotate|
|New Real Madrid contract ´already done´ for Zidane|
|Chelsea won´t appeal David Luiz red card, Conte confirms|
|Mbappe and Dembele lead Golden Boy nominees|
|Dembele tipped for early January return after successful surgery|
|I hope it´s the last time – Zidane relieved to welcome back Ronaldo|
|Szczesny to face Fiorentina as Allegri calls for Juventus consistency|
|Gundogan fears he might never return to top form after Manchester City injury nightmare|
|Kick It Out contact Manchester United over ´offensive´ Lukaku chant|
|Bayern Munich goalkeeper Neuer ruled out until January|
|Cologne drop protest against Borussia Dormtund VAR goal|
|Ferdinand wants to recapture ´chemical of competition´ from boxing|
|Barcelona not planning January signings despite Dembele injury|
|Neville trolls Ferdinand as Manchester United great starts boxing career|
|Manchester United great Rio Ferdinand to launch boxing career|
|Oxlade-Chamberlain relieved to join Liverpool from Arsenal, says Klopp|
|Case closed! Tianjin Quanjian dismiss Aubameyang links|
|Tevez has not met expectations, says Shanghai Shenhua chairman|
|Socceroos pair Jedinak and Rukavytsya return to squad for World Cup play-off|
|Allegri not the reason for Bonucci´s Juve exit – wife|
|Hazard: I improved after a week with Conte at Chelsea|
|We aren´t far off Real Madrid – Herrera sees no reason for De Gea to head home|
|Manchester City obliged to win title after spending so much - Herrera|