In the wake of the Barcelona’s 6-1 demolition over Sporting Gijon in midweek, Luis Enrique confirmed what everyone was suspecting, that he would be stepping down at the end of the season as Barcelona boss.
The reason given is exhaustion and this is a familiar story as this has happened with Pep Guardiola before him, the job itself seems so intense that the later even ended up taking a year sabbatical to refocus his objectives, whether Luis Enrique will do this himself, only he knows.
The decision itself does not come as a surprise, nor the timing. There were early season rumors that Enrique was thinking of leaving as early as pre-season but decide to see how the campaign took shape. The 4-0 defeat against PSG in the Champions League only intensified the rumors that he would leave and eventually it has rung true.
Luis Enrique, himself is a former player of the club and has the DNA of club in him and this was why he was the outstanding choice to replace Pep Guardiola, he took the same path to first team manager as Pep did by managing the youth team but had a stint in Italy with Roma which helped shape his managerial appetite and managed Celta Vigo before arriving in the Barcelona hot seat.
Upon his arrival, he inherited a team of world class stars, many of whom had themselves graduated from the famous La Masia youth academy that has been very fruitful for the Catalan club. Whatever Pep can do, Luis can do just as well.
In his first season Luis Enrique’s team swept all before them clinching a treble and in his second season a domestic double followed along with the UEFA super cup and FIFA club world cup trophy. Luis Enrique had taken Barcelona back to the level’s that Pep Guardiola had first taken them too.
Despite this Luis Enrique is not given the same universal credit that Guardiola received. Why? partly down to his demeanor, Luis Enrique has often cut a cold and distant figure when dealing with the press something that Guardiola did not. Enrique has the feeling of the former professional who sees’s the press as more of a distraction than a helping hand.
Recently the question of the style of play has also been brought into the spotlight. the long favoured and highly successful possession play, tiki-taka, triangle football has been replaced with a more direct approach, effectively bypassing the midfielders, much to the dismay of the Barcelona faithful. However, this has not happened by accident.
In Enrique’s first season in charge, his midfield three was Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi, and Messi would sometimes drop in behind Suarez to help open defences up. Four world class players that made the team tick.
Xavi and his beautiful passing is something of a work of art a similar player to Paul Scholes, pure poetry in motion. Andres Iniesta the same, a deft turn, and a frightening turn of pace and he was gone. Both players knew exactly how to look after the ball. A telepathic understanding that seemed natural. No description is needed for Lionel Messi who the Barcelona faithful, along with the rest of the world, still have the pleasure of watching.
Compare that to this season. Iniesta has struggled with injury and Xavi has now departed.
Andre Gomes and Ivan Rakatic have been brought in and while both are very good players, none are of the level of Iniesta and Xavi, so Barcelona and Enrique have looked to get the ball forward quicker to either Messi or Neymar and then allow Gomes and Rakatic to join in with the attacks.
This being said Barcelona now have the title back in their hands with Real Madrid dropping points in midweek against Las Palmas, Madrid still have a game in hand but have to travel to the Camp Nou in April which is effectively a title decider. Disappointingly it looks like Barcelona are out of the Champions League after a humbling 4-0 defeat to PSG.
So who’s next for Barcelona?
Jorge Sampaoli – Sevilla
The Argentinian is most bookmakers favourite to take over at the club. After masterminding a Copa America win for Chile against his native Argentina in 2015 he has since joined La Liga rivals Sevilla and he has given them an outside shot at the title. Currently sitting in third place in La Liga and still, in the Champions League, he has the pedigree to take over at Camp Nou.
Sampaoli is also a very good friend of Messi, Neymar and Suarez but the board remain split about appointing him as Enrique’s successor. His style of play is what the fans want to see, possession based attacking football which he currently promotes at Sevilla, but there questions over the personality of Sampaoli and whether he has a strong enough personality for the job. Sampaoli also never played for Barcelona during his career, something the club try to incorporate when appointing managers.
Ernesto Valverde – Athletic Bilbao
Valverde is believed to be the club’s preferred choice, a former player of the club and with his contract at San Memes expiring in the summer it could be the perfect move. The job he has done at Bilbao is nothing short of exceptional and he also has a very good track record of promoting youth players, a philosophy that fits the club.
Valverde has already turned down the job on two separate occasions and would find it difficult to do so a third time. His media handling and respect for the clubs DNA make him top choice.
Laurent Blanc – Free Agent
A bit from left field this one, Blanc is currently without a club after leaving PSG last summer. He dominated the French league with Parisians but failed to deliver the Champions League which ultimately cost him his job.
A former player of Barcelona he would fit the philosophies of the club but Blanc is seen as an outside choice.
A few other names have been linked with the post, Ronald Koeman who is held in high esteem from his playing time with the club, Arsene Wenger who could be leaving Arsenal in the summer and Mauricio Pochettino who has transformed Tottenham into one of the most exciting teams in the Premier League.
Whoever comes in to replace Luis Enrique will no doubt be inheriting a world-class team, a team which could still be Spanish champions this seasons. A great opportunity and one of the worlds greatest clubs.
Luis Enrique should be remembered as one of the greats for his achievements no question about it. Gracias Luis!