Arsenal was not the only club on the end of a European hiding last week. Barcelona’s 4-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain has ensured the clock keeps ticking for Luis Enrique at Barcelona, though some might say it has been ever since he joined.
Let’s not forget that six months into his Camp Nou career, the coach offered to stand aside following a row with Lionel Messi. At the same time, the club's sporting director and the coach’s ally, Andoni Zubizaretta, left the club. Luis Enrique ended that first season with the treble of league, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles, and last season he won the double, missing out on the Champions League crown. But questions have never gone away, mainly over the change of Barcelona’s style under its coach.
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Luis Enrique was offered a new deal before the Paris debacle, but it seems increasingly unlikely he will take it. Spanish pundits said they saw the PSG result coming. Critics speak of a loss of identity. There is less pressing. Ball circulation is down. Luis Enrique puts his attacking chips all on his front three of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
The club “has sold its soul to the tridente,” wrote El Pais columnist Ramon Besa.
There are reports of disconnect between the coach and his players, who are unhappy with the tactics. Both Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets made pointed comments to that effect after the PSG game.
The problems go deeper, too. The club has failed to replace Dani Alves properly, some of the new signings have simply not worked out and the production line from the famed La Masia academy is not producing first-team players like it used to. Too often, the club has had Messi to bail it out, such as he did in Barcelona's last-gasp 2-1 win over Leganes, a result that pulled Barcelona back within a point of first-place rival Real Madrid, though the Blancos have two valuable games in hand. The Argentine maestro still has his contract to sort out, which has 18 months left to run. No wonder the fans were getting restless during the Leganes match. They resorted to booing the much-maligned Andre Gomes, which the coach said was out of order.
So who is on the list to replace Luis Enrique? The top two candidates appear to be Sevilla’s Jorge Sampaoli, who Neymar reportedly wanted as Brazil boss–and whose assistant Juanma Lillo was Pep Guardiola’s coaching mentor–and Ernesto Valverde, Athletic Bilbao’s understated coach.
Whoever it is will have to not only win trophies but to restore “the Barcelona way.”