Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola have a lot in common. They were Barcelona team-mates in the late 90s, played together for the national side, and, can both lay claim to being two of Barcelona’s most successful managers of all time. Having won five La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues between them, their statistics back this up, as well as the exuberant styles of play that they have brought to the Catalan giants.
However, there is another similarity: they both decided when they were going to leave their position as manager, something which seems to happen less and less these days. Pep, famously, stated in a press conference that he was going to take a sabbatical from football, citing exhaustion, both mentally and physically, as being a key factor. Enrique, has said something similar, although his future is less certain, especially with a possible Arsenal vacancy in the future.
At the time of announcing his intention to resign, Enrique’s men were still coming to terms with the 4-0 away defeat at PSG in the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie. It seemed to remind us, that even a side with Messi, Suarez and Neymar can lose concentration, can defend awfully and are certainly beatable. He resigned just after his side had beaten his hometown team (Sporting Gijon) 6-1 last week and followed it up on Saturday with a 5-0 victory over Celta. But nobody expected Barca to turn this La Liga form into an outstanding, almost impossible, victory over the French champions.
As so often happens in football, the impossible became possible. After going 3-0 up after 50 minutes, Barcelona were in a commanding, but not yet winning, position, but Cavani’s crucial away goal made the extremely difficult task even more complex. As so often, they proved their critics wrong, and in the most dramatic of ways. Goals in the 88th, 91st and 95th minute were enough to ensure that this game would go down as one of, if not the best, comebacks the Champions League has ever seen. And the winner? Scored by Sergi Roberto, a youth product who has played everywhere from centre-midfield to right-back to centre-back, and, ironically, had Barcelona not had a transfer ban, would probably not be in the squad, let alone the team.
A Champions League victory could now happen, nobody would bet against that. Barcelona are also one point clear of their arch-rivals Real Madrid (although Zidane’s side do have a game in hand), and are in the Copa Del Rey Final against newly promoted Alaves. There is a decent chance Enrique will, unlike Pep, win a treble in his final season.
But who will replace him? There has been much talk about this position in the last few days. Although critics joke that all the Barcelona manager has to do is make sure Messi is fit, the job is a lot more complex than this. Jorge Sampaoli, who is the current Sevilla boss after impressing with the Chilean national side, has been mentioned. His side are third, only three points behind Barcelona, and could progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League (although Leicester will have something to say to that). But it seems that his style of play does not match that of Barcelona’s. Ernesto Valverde seems to be rumoured every time that the job opens up, and this could well be his time. Ronald Koemen could be an outsider, someone who, like plenty of Barca’s managers (Guardiola, Enrique, Villanova, Rijkaard) played for the club. Eusebio who has done a sterling job at Real Sociedad (currently 1 point behind Atletico Madrid in fourth) is another name that’s been touted over the last few days.
Whoever gets appointed will need to change some things. Some of their signings from last season have been underwhelming to say the least, with Paco Alcacer, a £30 million striker, not being the guy Enrique wanted to bring on at the end last night in a match where they needed goals, says all that you need to know about his form. There are no major faults with this squad, just small things that need tweaking. That is why the Barcelona manager role is so demanding: it is their job to make sure every single thing is perfect, that the style of play is beautiful to watch, that Barcelona promotes youth players, and, of course, that Barcelona wins every major trophy they compete in. It is no surprise that Enrique and Guardiola felt tired after this.
Featured image: Getty Images