Tuesday 12 December 2017

Sense of inevitability as Enrique walks away from Barca maelstrom

Luis Enrique Photo: REUTERS/Vincent West
Luis Enrique Photo: REUTERS/Vincent West

Ed Malyon

Pep Guardiola left sad but inspired, Gerardo Martino simply got fired and for Luis Enrique, well, he was just tired.

There is much more information to come on Enrique's departure from Barcelona, and that will now proceed to leak fairly heavily from the city's two sports-only daily newspapers.

But the announcement after last night's 6-1 win over Sporting Gijon felt inevitable.

Luis Enrique is a man who rarely felt particularly joyous despite having much reason to be so.

In his first year as Barca coach he won La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. The only way from there is down and so it would turn out, but that barely tells the whole tale.

Barca were, for around two-thirds of his second season, the best team in Europe. But they fell apart, blowing a defence of their Champions League title and nearly managing to squander their huge buffer in La Liga. A league and cup double felt like a disappointment.

This season, the difficult third, has fallen further. There are still those games when they are irresistible and slice teams to shreds but poor performances have appeared with greater and more concerning frequency.

Sporting director Robert Fernandez has already scoped out replacements.

Luis Enrique's contract has been a minor issue compared to the attempts to tie down Lionel Messi. He is still the finest footballer on the planet and apparently would like Jorge Sampaoli to take over.

Figures in the administration prefer Ernesto Valverde, while there are some who like Ronald Koeman.

The club have months to decide on that, but until then it's Luis Enrique who will be in charge and his first task is to reverse a Champions League last-16 first-leg 4-0 humiliation in Paris.

The next coach needs to fix some of the problems Luis Enrique is having with key players underperforming - notably Sergio Busquets - and being more tactically flexible.

But he won't be able to fix the recruitment issues of a regime, who spent north of £100m last summer and still entered the season with a central midfielder as their only right-back.

Politics threatening to ruin the famed La Masia academy as different names jostle for position. The scouting network suffers from similar issues.

As a coach at Barcelona there's only so much you can do. For a long time, managing their post-Xavi transition, Luis Enrique did that well. He transferred the focus of the team from their midfield to probably the greatest front three modern football has seen.

But as performances began to trend downwards, the transfer of power from midfield to attack was seen as losing Barca's identity.

Three years under the intense microscope of FC Barcelona, with its political in-fighting and intense media scrutiny would make anyone crave a break.

Luis Enrique has the medals, he's had the trophies and he served the club well. Now he is just tired. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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