The only good thing about Barcelona’s inglorious Champions League round of 16 first-leg 4-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) is that they will have a new manager this summer. Luis Enrique has run his race and is living on borrowed time. Even by Barcelona’s exalted standards, it requires a football miracle to overturn this four-goal deficit in the return-leg at Camp Nou. The Catalans’ European Cup campaign this term is done and dusted.
A humiliating loss is not the biggest concern here. Barcelona had a wretched evening at the Parc des Princes. But it can happen to the very best. Problem is that the club is fast losing its soul under Enrique. Against PSG, they sat back and allowed the hosts to play high press football. Enrique looked Jose Mourinho in disguise (pun intended), manning the Barcelona dug-out and plotting strategies. Apologies to the Cules (Barca fans), for they could take this as a serious affront… But everything Barcelona did that night, or have been doing throughout the season, was contrary to what the club stood for. Beautiful football, relentless pressing game and building from the back are ingrained in this club’s philosophy. This club cares a hoot about the managers who revel in trophy count and become self-styled ‘special ones’. At Barcelona, you have to play football the Cruyff way. Enrique seems to have forgotten that.
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Unai Emery, PSG’s Spanish coach, is good-looking enough to pass a French movie screen test for the lead role. On the football front, however, he had beaten Barcelona only once in 23 attempts before this Champions League fixture. But he has now set a template for other top coaches to follow. PSG showed that Barcelona were seriously vulnerable against high-pressing game from the first minute. Of course, very few clubs can play this type of football against the game’s most respected outfit. Thankfully, Barcelona won’t have to face Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus in the Champions League this season.
PSG’s organisation was so good and their pressing so intense that Lionel Messi finished the night without a single touch in the opposition penalty area. Luis Suarez looked peripheral. Only Neymar tried to do something, but a quiet Messi took the sheen off the gilded ‘MSN’ trinity. The excellent Adrien Rabiot had the world’s greatest footballer (forget the Ballon d’Or choice) in his back pocket. Messi lost the ball 18 times on the night, one of which set up PSG’s second goal. He was even nutmegged once.
Angel di Maria and Edinson Cavani ran Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti ragged. Julian Draxler toyed with Sergi Roberto. And how weird that Enrique preferred Andre Gomes’ mediocrity over Ivan Rakitic’s composure in the Barcelona midfield! Spanish paper AS is right, Enrique has signed his own “death warrant”.
Enrique had presided over Barcelona’s treble, including the Champions League, two seasons ago. But all along, he has been betraying the club’s philosophy. True to the club tradition, he was supposed to thrive in the La Masia graduates. He chose big-money signings instead. Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona or even Louis van Gaal’s Barcelona would have never spent £30 million for Gomes. They would have promoted an academy graduate to the first team in their pursuit of finding the next Xavi.
At the moment, even the La Liga title appears beyond Barcelona’s reach, although they are trailing their arch-rivals Real Madrid only by a point. The team hasn’t been playing well. Wins have had been coming basically through individual brilliance. Team play is missing.
Barcelona had suffered such reverses before. They lost to Bayern 7-0 over two legs in the Champions League semi-finals in 2013. But that was a season of transition following Guardiola’s departure. They bounced back to win the tournament inside two years.
Things are a little different this term. Whoever takes over from Enrique might have to redo the whole set-up to re-establish the club’s football philosophy. There could be four-five contenders for the job, but at the moment, it’s difficult to look past Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman is currently managing Everton and he is in the first year of his three-year contract with the Merseyside club. But you simply can’t say ‘no’ to the Camp Nou job, especially if you are a Football Club Barcelona man by heart.
Koeman knows Barcelona inside out, thanks to his 192 appearances for the club between 1989 and 1995. He also served as assistant coach for two years. The 53-year-old is one of Cruyff’s direct disciples. Ladbrokes has placed a 3/1 odd on him to replace Enrique.
Mauricio Pochettino appears to have a chance as well, because of his easy on the eye football at Tottenham Hotspur. And there’s Jorge Sampaoli, a Copa America winner who is doing an excellent job at Sevilla. But maybe, Barcelona need one of their own to recoup. They need to go back to move forward.