In his first year in charge of his former club, Luis Enrique has Barcelona where they expect to be: heavy favorites to advance to the Champions League semifinals, in front and in control of La Liga, and finalists in the Copa Del Rey.
In levels of performance, Enrique has solidified the defense with only a scant 19 goals allowed in 32 league matches. Offensively, the team is hitting on all cylinders; Lionel Messi is back to his top form after a pedestrian (for him) year last season and the addition of Luis Suarez has been a massive help in terms of stretching opponents’ backline and creating space for all three strikers.
After a disappointing previous season and under less than one year in charge, Enrique has rebuilt and restored Barcelona into what its supporters demand the club to be— one of the top clubs in the world. One would then expect the board to be offering Enrique one of those premature contract extensions that always seem to happen. Yet, rather than talk of a new contract, the talk around Barcelona is that of a new coach.
The talk of replacing Enrique is real despite the fact that it is quite possible (and even more so if Bayern Munich can’t turn their tie around) that Barcelona will win the treble this year.
In the process, Enrique would achieve only what one other Barcelona manager was able to do. The man he would match is the legend himself-Pep Guardiola. Yet it seems that even a Pep-like year is not enough to save Enrique.
The first problem for Enrique is the style (or like thereof) that his Barcelona exhibits. The results of this style are eye popping yet the aesthetics of it are eye-covering. Under Enrique, the club is having one of their better defensive seasons in recent memory while simultaneously scoring almost 3 goals a game—an impressive feat hard to fathom or copy.
Yet, one hardly gets the impression watching Barcelona that it is an elite club. Rather, the team seems to struggle through games and rarely if ever is able to impose their will on their opponents.
Beyond that, Enrique’s strategy of using long and diagonal balls (though successful) has turned a club built on possession and movement to a team that looks like it is trying to parody a Premier League team. It has worked thus far, but the supporters (and one may assume the players) know they are capable of more. Enrique’s style has won games but has failed to win over supporters.
You can’t argue with results and Enrique has delivered them but his style has lacked the passion and love supporters grew accustomed to under Pep.
A few trophies, especially a European one, will help diminish that thirst for Pep’s Barcelona but it won’t completely erase it. Memories only grow fonder over time and there is no way after one year that Luis Enrique can avoid Pep’s shadow. The shadow of 3 trophies may help but it will not guarantee his safety.
More worrying for Enrique’s tenure is that of Barcelona politics—an entity that has caused more problems than it has promised to solve. To paraphrase the philosopher Homer Simpson, ‘Barcelona politics, the cause and solution to all of life’s problems.’
Regardless of his on field success, what happens at the ballot box over the summer is what will ultimately determine his fate and that of his team.
Barring a miracle, Football Club Barcelona will have a new president after the election and as all presidents do, Barca’s new one will promise better results and will want to put his own touch on the club.
If Barcelona comes home from Europe empty handed, this will mean promising a Champions League title next year and if the club triumphs in Berlin then the only promise the president could make is to guarantee that the team will be more dominate and more like the Barcelona the supporters remember and long for.
In both cases, the transfer ban makes only one major change possible, that of Enrique. It is not fair and maybe not even right, but as history has proven—rarely are the actions of presidents fair and just. They do want is best for them and keeping another man’s choice as the face of your team is hardly in a new president’s best interests.
Luis Enrique may or may not be the best coach for Barcelona but his record is hard to argue with. His team is winning and on pace to have a season that less than a decade ago would sound impossible.
Yet even a historic season may not be enough to save him. At Barcelona it is never just about results on the pitch. In June, Enrique may celebrate in Nou Camp and traverse the streets of Barcelona with more trophies than arms to carry them in but do not be surprised if a few months later he is carrying his last possession of out his former office. He should not take it personally, it is Barcelona and it is just politics.