Barcelona responds to Luis Enrique's departure with season-best showing
If there was any concern over how Barcelona might respond to last week’s announcement that Luis Enrique was standing down as coach at the end of the season, it did not last long. Barcelona hit the post twice before taking an early lead against Celta Vigo and ended up winning against a tricky opponent 5-0. It was the team’s best performance of the season.
Even a repeat of that will probably not be enough to pull off a comeback, in the Champions League this week after the 4-0 away loss at Paris Saint-Germain. But the performance does give hope to Barcelona’s chances of pipping Real Madrid to La Liga's title. It would be an impressive way for Luis Enrique to bow out: the team is currently one point ahead, but Madrid has a game in hand, though a trickier run-in, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and, on April 23, a potential decider against Barcelona.
Luis Enrique should be more beloved than he is. The club has won back-to-back league titles, and a Champions League–eight trophies from a possible 10, a treble followed by a double–but the coach has been worn down by accusations that his style is not the Barcelona way. Such is life as coach at Camp Nou, where the failures are yours, but the successes belong to others.
“The Barça job is so hard, you have to take decisions all the time and I find it hard to disconnect, to switch off,” he said before the Celta Vigo game. “I need to disconnect now. There are some coaches that spend a lot of time in their jobs and enjoy it but that's not my case.”
The likelihood is that he will take a sabbatical just as Pep Guardiola did when he left Barcelona.
And so talk turns to replacements: Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli is said to be the man wanted by Neymar and Lionel Messi. His style of play would restore some of the "Barcelona way," but it’s not always that simple. The club likes to appoint coaches with some Barcelona history behind them; that gives Ernesto Valverde, Athletic Bilbao's coach who played in Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team, an edge. He is also out of contract in the summer.
An outside candidate is Juan Carlos Unzue, former goalkeeper and current assistant to Luis Enrique. He is the coach’s pick and would be a continuity candidate.
The problem is that Barcelona wants a change. There is still plenty of work to do if Barcelona will end this season with a big trophy, starting against Paris on Wednesday.