Barcelona coach Luis Enrique insists he will quit the moment he feels he does not have the support of the dressing room.
The Catalans have the chance to lift the crisis talk engulfing the club by claiming a morale-boosting win over one of their Primera Division title rivals on Sunday. They welcome Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp looking for a first league win of a year which has started with reports of dressing-room unrest and speculation over the future of Lionel Messi.
A number of players are said to be unhappy with Enrique’s tactical and coaching methods since he replaced Gerardo Martino in the summer. The Catalan club began 2015 with a 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad and the following day sacked sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, with former captain Carles Puyol leaving his role as Zubizarreta’s assistant hours later.
A week earlier the club had lost their appeal to overturn a one-year transfer ban imposed by FIFA for violating rules for registering youth players. President Josep Maria Bartomeu announced in the week that the club would hold early elections at the end of the season, bringing them forward by 12 months in order to recover "stability."
He also stated that neither Messi nor Enrique were going anywhere, but that message has done nothing to stop the possible exit talk. Enrique did not want to get drawn into commenting on the reports of unrest, telling a press conference: "There are so many spiteful comments and speculations going around, and if I was to confirm or deny any one of them, then I’d have to do the same thing for all of them. And that’s not my game. It’s a dangerous game and I don’t intend to play it."
He added: "I work every day 100 percent, but I assure you that I’ll quit if my players don’t follow me," Enrique said. "That hasn’t happened during my career as coach. The players and technical team, we are not involved in these aspects."
On the pitch, Barca got back to winning ways with a 5-0 Copa Del Rey win at home to Elche on Thursday night. The former Roma boss was booed by supporters at Camp Nou despite their thumping win, while Frank Rijkaard, who gave Messi his debut back in 2004, has been tipped as a possible replacement.
Sunday’s La Liga clash against Atletico will be a different proposition. The two sides are level on points in pursuit of leaders Real Madrid, with Atletico beating their city rivals in the cup in midweek. There was some booing from the crowd during the Elche game, but Enrique believes they are also fed up with the crisis talk.
He added: "Our fans aren’t daft, and they’re also getting fed up with everything that people are saying. What we need to do is work hard to make the Barca fans happy."
Enrique knows next opponents Atletico are genuine contenders to win a second straight crown.
"Last season (Atletico boss) Diego Simeone was saying at this stage that he didn’t think his team were real contenders for the title" he said. "But he ‘tricked’ us. Now he’s saying the same thing again, and we’re not falling for it."
Fernando Torres could make his second league debut for Atletico at the Nou Camp, having featured against Real following his loan signing from AC Milan. Midfielder Cani has also arrived on loan to play for Simeone’s side, from Villarreal, and is looking forward to playing alongside Torres.
"I know Fernando personally as well as professionally," Cani told the club’s website. "He can provide everything, from the excitement we experienced the other day, with the packed stadium for the presentation, to the many years he’s provided football-wise. It’s a terrific signing."