The Unsettled Catalans
As this season comes to a close Spanish giants Barcelona appear ready for change again. Blaugrana are set to say goodbye to Argentinian manager Gerardo Martino after just one year at the helm. ‘Tata’ Martino has overseen what may be a trophy-less season for Barcelona. They were defeated in the Champions League quarter-finals by Atletico Madrid and lost the Copa del Rey final to Real Madrid.
The La Liga race is still on however and if Martino can lead his team to victory in their two remaining games they will be crowned Champions. Atletico Madrid may again prove to be this years surprise nemesis for the Catalan club. Barcelona face Atletico at Camp Nou in the final league game. Presuming both clubs win this weekend (Atletico at home to Malaga, Barca away at Elche) then a draw will be enough for Atletico Madrid to claim the league title. Barcelona have failed to beat Los Rojiblancos in their three meetings so far this season (two draws and a defeat).
The standards set at Barcelona from Guardiola’s tenure are at such a height that even the La Liga title may not save Martino. Guardiola led Barcelona to domestic and European dominance. He was of course directly succeeded by the late Tito Vilanova. However, such were the tragic circumstances of Vilanova’s spell that no one could claim Tito got to exert himself as he would have hoped with the club he loved.
Now its Bartomeu’s drawing board
But where to next for Barcelona and President Josep Maria Bartomeu? All fingers are pointing directly at former club legend, Luis Enrique, to take the reins from Martino this summer. A rumoured two-hour meeting with Sporting Director Andoni Zubizarreta in recent weeks has led to this talk.
Enrique is currently managing Celta Vigo in La Liga. Last season Celta just avoided relegation by one point, their first season back in La Liga. This season Enrique has Celta in an impressive 9th position, with their safety already well secured.
Roma and Celta
Paco Herrera had been in charge since 2010 and achieved promotion in the summer of 2012. Herrera did not get to complete a full season back in La Liga with Os Celestes as he was sacked in February of 2013, with Abel Resino taking over for the remaining three months of the season.
It was then that Celta Vigo sought out Luis Enrique. Enrique was unemployed for a year by this stage having left AS Roma in Serie ‘A’ after one disappointing season, back in 2012. Roma had finished in 7th position in Enrique’s only term as manager. They had also been knocked out in the playoff stages of the Europa League to Slovan Bratislava, lost in the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia to Juventus (3-0), and city rivals Lazio had completed the league double over them. Enrique had helped Roma find their scoring touch, sixty league goals were banged in, but they had been shaky at the back, conceding fifty-four. He had brought a more attacking style to the Italian league but results had not gone his way and he decided he needed a break for a year.
Enrique gave the following statement on his departure: “I’m going because I’m tired, I’ve always given 110 percent but I don’t think I’m able to recover my strength before the beginning of next season. That’s also why I know I won’t coach anywhere else. I need to recover after this difficult but beautiful experience. I’ve used up all my energy to try to get results and I’m sorry that we didn’t manage to get third place”.
AS Roma general director Franco Baldini also spoke out at the time: “His work was good. At a certain point it wore him out and he felt the need to stop. He won’t be training anywhere next season. We invited him to take all the time he needed to decide, hoping right until the end that he would stay”.
The ‘B’ Team
Previous to his stint at Roma Luis Enrique had been in charge of the Barcelona ‘B’ team. Enrique replaced former teammate Guardiola in this position when ‘Pep’ took over the first team in 2008 after Frank Rijkaard left. Barca ‘B’ were in the 3rd tier of the Spanish league. Enrique got them promoted in his second season. The following season he led them to the playoff positions for the step up to La Liga but they are ineligible for promotion to the same division as the Barcelona first team at any time. Essentially, Enrique had already taken them as far as he could.
To understand what Luis Enrique’s appointment would mean to the Barcelona faithful it is crucial to look back at his playing career. Enrique arrived at Barca in 1996 from Real Madrid. The circumstances of his transfer infuriated the Madrid fans. Enrique had finished out his contract and moved for no fee to their fierce rivals Barcelona under the then new Bosman ruling.
Enrique spent eight years at Camp Nou, some of that time as team captain. He was renowned for his versatility on the pitch, playing basically every position except goalkeeper or centre-back, during his time there.
Enrique always appeared to be an exuberant, extroverted and charismatic character on the pitch. These characteristics may be central to the thinking that he could provide fresh inspiration for a team of Barcelona stars, a team that seems to have gone off the boil over the last year or so.
Why another Barca old-boy?
So are Barcelona looking in the right place for their next manager? A successful playing career does not automatically mean a player will have the necessary qualities to make it as a manager. This topic has been discussed in the media in recent weeks with the possibility of Ryan Giggs being handed the hot-seat at Manchester United. It seems now that the Glazer’s however have made the wise choice of opting for an experienced ‘big-name’ boss in Louis van Gaal.
Enrique is still relatively inexperienced as a head coach. He has never managed a team in a major European competition, his Roma squad was knocked out at the playoff stages of the Europa League in 2011. Also, Enrique needed to take a break for a year after one season at Roma. The pressures at Barcelona would be far more than anything he may have faced in Serie ‘A’. AS Roma is a big club but Barcelona is the next level, a ‘super-club’, with the eyes of the world firmly upon them at all times. President Bartomeu will need to consider if he feels that Enrique can fill the role for a few years at least or they will be back at square one again this time next year. Enrique may embody the style and ethos of the club but his work thus far in La Liga with Celta Vigo has been done mainly in the shadows. The Spanish media focus almost completely on the top-three in La Liga for the most part of the season.
Man-management and a more personable approach may be Enrique’s strengths compared to that of Gerardo Martino. Some of these Barca stars have outlasted the last four managers however. It is going to take a larger than life character to fill these boots, boots that have never been properly filled since Pep’s 2012 departure. Again comparisons can be drawn with Manchester United and how David Moyes’ persona failed to fill the void left by Ferguson. Moyes arrived in a dressing-room where almost every player had won far more than him in all his years. The manager walking into Camp Nou will face this challenge to a greater extent. Stars such as Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique, Alves etc possibly feel they can take ownership of future successes but shirk accountability for the teams failures.
Is Enrique the man to change this? Or do Barcelona need to go back to the drawing board once again?
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