Barcelona manager Luis Enrique informed the media following their 6-1 win against Sporting Gijon that he would not renew his contract which expires at the end of this season. Lucho has already won eight titles out of a possible ten and might get to win more silverware when he departs from Barça.
When Tata Martino left Barcelona after a failed La Liga campaign and a defeat in the Spanish Cup final to their arch rivals Real Madrid, things were looking quite bleak. Madrid already secured a Spanish Cup and UEFA Champions League double that season while Barça went trophyless.
On top of that, they were slapped with a transfer ban until summer 2016. As the management sought to improve the situation, they appointed former Barcelona captain and the-then leaving manager of Celta Vigo, Luis Enrique as the head coach.
The appointment was received with mixed reactions, something that Enrique has harnessed till today as the Spanish media is still divided in their opinion about him. However, following his appointment, many started to draw parallels with the former Barça manager Pep Guardiola. Fans were eager to know whether he would excel at his job like Pep or fail to rejuvenate Barcelona.
Enrique had a very hard time in his first few months. A 3-1 defeat to Real at his début El Clasico as a manager, a 3-2 defeat against PSG at France and the notorious 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad at Anoeta (a curse that he very recently broke in 2017); all these along with his constant rotation of the squad left people fuming. The #LuchoOut movement was garnering more supporters day by day.
However, the 1-0 loss to Sociedad in January turned things around for Barcelona. Barcelona went on to create history as they won the Treble (League, Cup and UCL) becoming the only team ever to do it twice!
His forward line of MSN was just lethal. Their goal scoring habit along with playing off from each other’s efforts paid dividends for the team. Despite a humbling loss over two legs to Atletico Bilbao at the Spanish Super Cup, Barça managed to win the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in 2015, ending the year with five trophies for the second time in their history.
On their way to glory, Barça defeated the Premier League champions (Man. City), French league champions (PSG), Bundesliga champions (Bayern Munich) and Serie A champions (Juventus); a near impossible feat by any team. Statistically, the team was better than Pep’s team of 2008/09.
Enrique’s second season also saw him win the domestic double of the league and cup. Despite being the favorites to retain their UCL trophy, a slump in form during March-April saw Barça get eliminated from the quarterfinal of UCL by Atletico Madrid. A thin squad left most of the players fatigued or injured during the later part of the season which cost them dearly.
His third season started with more silverware as Barcelona won the Spanish Super Cup. However, the season did not go as planned for him as Barca dropped points earlier in the league and fell down to second or even third place. They made their way to the final of the Spanish Cup once again but shockingly lost the away leg of the 2nd round against PSG 4-0 at UCL.
The 4-0 defeat was shocking for the players and fans alike and drew a lot of criticism towards Enrique. This was the last straw for him as the critics were growing impatient at every strategic and tactical mishap of Enrique.
Firstly, though Lucho’s rotation of the squad ensures more playing time for all the players, it takes longer for them to work as a unit. This was clear from the performance during the earlier days of his tenure. At times, this made the fans impatient as they demanded instant results.
Secondly, Enrique’s vision is vastly different from Pep’s vision, i.e tiki-taka. While Pep preferred build-up from the back, Lucho opted for a more direct approach. The aim was to get the ball to MSN as quickly as possible and wait for them to score. This led him to signing Rakitic and Suarez as well as a keeper like ter Stegen.
Direct football does not in any way go with Barça’s style of play. Granted, Lucho won the treble in his inaugural season at Barca, but he did so with the remnants of the Guardiola era. During that season, Lucho opted for Rakitic in the starting XI but brought on Xavi during the dying minutes of the high quality games to kill the tempo of his opponents and stall their barrage of attack. But when Xavi left the club, there was no one to fill his shoes.
The problem also aggravated when Iniesta and Busquets got injured or played poorly. Lucho seeing this, did not go to the market and buy the best possible option for that position; Marco Veratti. Rather, he brought in Denis Suarez, André Gomes and Rafinha but none were able to successfully replicate Xavi’s performance. Letting go of Thiago Alcantara earlier was also a wrong move on Barca’s part since he could have filled in the void created by Xavi’s absence.
Thirdly, Barca’s move to sell Alves was another huge mistake. Aleix Vidal is not an Alves and whilst he was a good backup in that position, Lucho opted for Sergi Roberto as a right back. Although Roberto did an okay job against below average or even average oppositions at times with his work-rate, he was beaten every time he played against quality opponents or fast-paced wingers.
Fourthly, with these problems occurring regularly, Enrique did nothing on the surface to tackle them. His work in the transfer market was questionable. This coupled with his poor relationship with the Catalan press did not make life easier for him. Rumors were always afloat of him not enjoying a healthy relationship with Messi, something both have denied constantly.
Nevertheless, all these did take a heavy toll on him. In his second season Lucho conceded to the fact that managing a club like Barcelona was not an easy task. At the start of his third season, speculations arose that Lucho would leave once the season ended. The speculations became true last night.
In declaring his exit earlier, Enrique has done the right thing. Barcelona are yet again in the middle of another close La Liga race as they lead Madrid by one point having played a game more. They are already in the final of Copa del Rey too.
But most importantly, they trail PSG by 4-0 at UCL. This announcement of Lucho leaving will lit a fire in the minds of his players who will do anything they can to give a proper send-off to their boss. Lucho knows that a 4-0 loss is almost impossible to overturn but with nothing left to lose for his squad, they would surely give that one last fight left inside them. Only time will tell the results but he as well as the players and fans will find solace in knowing that they fought tooth and nail in the return leg at Camp Nou.
Whatever happens against PSG, Barça will still be in contention to win the domestic double again. That glory will be the proper send-off by the players to Luis Enrique and he would want nothing short of that; a final hurray before bidding goodbye to the club where he has already won seven titles as a player and eight more as a coach.