Barcelona wasted no time in appointing Luis Enrique as their new manager. As a former player, captain, and coach of Barcelona B, Enrique seems like the perfect hire to ensure Barcelona returns to its winning ways. However, his C.V. doesn’t necessary mean success is guaranteed; the coaches’ graveyard is littered with epitaphs of managers who seemed destined for success. In today’s game there are too many factors involved and too many unknowns for success to be a given for any manager.
However, for the sake of Barcelona’s future they had better hope they picked the right man.
Barcelona’s supporters have not only grown accustomed to winning, they have gotten accustomed to total domination. Since 2006 the team has won a myriad of trophies, including 3 European Champions League titles. Furthermore, blessed with watching some of the best and most creative players in the world steeped in Barcelona bravura, success is not enough for the team’s supporters. Victory must be achieved with a certain style and passion. Results and trophies are expected but the team must also be aesthetically pleasing to watch. In short, Barcelona’s supporters expect the club to win titles while being the personification of “the beautiful game.”
After a trophy less season that saw the team employ tactics that only a mid-table EPL team would be proud of, Barcelona supporters not only want to win everything but are also desperate to return to their artistic and free flowing (and wide praised) style of play. Immediate domination and beauty will be demanded of Enrique and thus, it is unlikely that he will enjoy a honeymoon period and anything but complete success (both in results and in artistry) will surely not be tolerated. A slow start and/or sloppy performances could mean a quick end to Enrique’s reign.
In this scenario, Barcelona would be looking for their 5th coach in 4 years (counting Jordi Roura). This instability is not what you would expect from one of the best teams in the world and thus, would not really be conducive to Barcelona maintaining a championship side. Therefore, this chain of events would ensure Barcelona was no longer among the elite in football as no top level player— as dedicated and loyal as they may be— would put up with such volatility. Players would leave and it would be harder to attract new signings, thereby guaranteeing Barcelona would turn into a shadow of its former self.
Speaking of players, Barcelona’s success next season (and in the near future) will depend on Enrique’s ability to win over the locker room. Barcelona has some of the best players in the world, who have reached the pinnacle of their careers, and are used to winning everything. As such, they believe they know what is best for the club and themselves. If Enrique is going to implement his strategy successfully, he is going to need the leaders of the team to buy into it (something that clearly didn’t happen with Martino). If he can’t gain their support it is doubtful he will be successful and as mentioned above, the consequences of that failure would be dire for Barcelona and its future.
On top of winning over the players, the new manager will have to deal with increased tensions between the players and the club. Messi was clearly not happy with the club this year and last week’s confusion over his contract is further proof that all is not well in Nou Camp. Furthermore the departure of Valdes, Puyol, possibly Xavi, and rumors of various La Masia alumni being sold means the bond that existed between the players and the club may not be as strong as it once was.
To be successful, Enrique needs to find a way to create a buffer between the club’s problems and the players’ performance while also ensuring his players are happy. Pep was able to do it for a few years before it burnt him out. If Enrique can as well, there is no reason Barcelona can’t continue to remain a favorite for every trophy, but if he can’t, he may be pushed out quicker than Martino was.
Finally, and most important is the FIFA instituted transfer ban hanging over the club’s head. Although the ban has been lifted while the club is appealing it, it is very likely to be enforced either after this transfer market or the next. This means that the players Enrique decides to keep and sign will form the roster of Barcelona for the next two seasons. Thus, each transfer decision this summer will have a long-term impact on Barcelona’s future. If the decision to let certain players go or the players Enrique brings in are wrong, Barcelona won’t be able to rectify their mistake. Consequently, Barcelona’s results may suffer and two more years of their top players’ primes will be wasted (Iniesta is 30 now and Messi will soon be 27). Moreover, three sub-par years for top professionals are unacceptable and if that happens transfer requests may start to swamp the Barcelona front office.
Every manager makes bad decisions on transfers; one of the benefits of working for a club like Barcelona is that they have the money and reputation to easily fix those mistakes. Due to the ban that advantage will not exist for Enrique, meaning each decision he makes needs to be right not only to ensure he is successful but also to ensure Barcelona’s future isn’t destroyed. Barcelona is a tough job to begin with; forced from the start to walk a tight rope with no net doesn’t make it any easier.
FC Barcelona is still one of the best teams in the world (and possibly the best team of the last 10 years). That being said, due to recent failures by the board of directors, the clubs margin of error to remain a giant in Europe is shrinking. The last few years Barcelona has stalled while other European clubs have gotten better.
Luis Enrique is walking into a club that needs and expects instant success. However, due to past mistakes by the club that task has become much more difficult. Any slip up by Enrique could cost him his job and Barcelona’s future. The speed at which Barcelona signed him and the quick decisions on bringing back players on loan and re-arranging the coaching staff shows the club has faith in Enrique and his vision. The club has better hope their confidence is well placed, if not, his signing could be the final error that brought Barcelona’s reign to a premature end.