One of the hottest topics in La Liga is the name of the next man to become King of the Camp Nou after Luis Enrique leaves – but the shortlist is getting ever longer
On February 14th, FC Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League embarrassing spanking in Paris (4-0) left the Culés bleeding on the canvas, almost knocked-out from arguably their biggest target this season.
Three weeks later, we all remember what happened: an historical comeback (6-1) which amazed the world and propelled Luis Enrique’s men on to the next round, where they will face mighty Italian Champions Juventus FC.
In the interim, however, *something* had changed. And that should be, obviously, Luis Enrique’s mind-blowing public announcement: he was leaving once the season finished.
Since then, things have run smoothly for the team on the pitch, winning most of their games and eyeing a potentially spectacular season capper with the Copa del Rey final against Alavés, hand-to-hand combat against Real Madrid in La Liga’s final stretch and only four games away from the Champions League final.
Issues are quite different once we move outside and enter the meeting rooms. The identity of Barça’s manager next season remains a complete mystery. The initial shortlist is not short anymore, as names keep piling up as weeks go by. Candidates come and go, and at this time, the only ‘official’ move by Barcelona’s board has been denying publicly that they are negotiating with Athletic de Bilbao’s boss, Ernesto Valverde.
The Blaugrana side has a solid core of four executives which will ultimately decide the candidate to pursue: president Josep Maria Bartomeu, Sporting Director Robert Fernandez, Vice President Jordi Mestre and the Professional Sport Area director Albert Soler. Right now, it has been agreed that the new coach must have plenty of experience and that having a strong background on Barça’s idiosyncrasy –preferably as a former player- will be a plus.
Therefore, Ernesto Valverde is joined in the list by other former players, such as Eusebio Sacristán (Real Sociedad), Ronald Koeman (Everton) or even Luis Enrique’s assistant manager himself, Juan Carlos Unzué.
But other options are still being considered. Sevilla’s amazing season, though it plunged a couple of weeks ago after getting knocked-out of the Champions League, still is impressive enough to grant Jorge Sampaoli a shot at getting the job. Finally, Borussia Dortmund’s own Thomas Tuchel has also been rumoured as a candidate recently.
Anyway, choosing the appropriate candidate is only the first step. Negotiations will ensue, and even if Barça provides one of the five most attractive benches in the world for any manager, teams like Athletic Club, Sevilla, Borussia or Real Sociedad won’t make things easy. Barça will have to pony up the big bucks in order to assure that the move will take place. Then, another rock in the road: FC Barcelona’s star-spangled locker room.
Back in the day, former coach Pep Guardiola took drastic measures to ensure that he would be able to control the locker room: before moving in, he demanded that Ronaldinho Gaucho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o should be transferred. He got granted two thirds of his wish and only Eto’o remained, though the Cameroon forward would ultimately become a key player in the amazing Treble which Barça conquered in the 2008-2009 season.
Nowadays, the players remain a tricky business to deal with. Luis Enrique knows it well enough: after all, he has had his fair amount of tensions and conflict with superstar Leo Messi, especially in his first season in the job. Again, football can be an ironic sport: the side once again conquered Liga, Copa and Champions League that same year (2014-2015).
The search continues while Luis Enrique makes the most of his final months on the Camp Nou bench. Three years in the job have taken a toll both in his bitter mood towards the media and his physical looks. Such a demanding club can burn out any single individual very quickly, indeed.
But the Asturian manager, while the name of his replacement shapes up to become of our favourite soap-operas in La Liga, insists on not straying away from his target: conquering the Treble for the second time in three years and becoming the only coach in the club’s history to achieve such a feat.