Opinion: Luis Enrique – Barca success at a sad cost

by Umar Hassan

Luis Enrique won a treble in his first season as Fc Barcelona Coach and in the process, went on to shatter the club record haul of 40 victories in a debut season held by the only other person to have managed such, trioJosép Guardiola. He had won an impressive 9 out of a possible 13 trophies by the end of his 3-year stint at the club this season but what many may not have noticed is that he left the club in its worst state in years.

Altering Barça’s footballing philosophy came at a huge price. Whatever fears that arose from doing so in his first year on the job were wiped out by the epic treble he won but the harsh realities have caught up and there is no running away from them.
Luis Enrique shed some of the close and compact passing for a looser style that allowed for longer passes and swift counter-attacks bolstered in large by the fact that half the job was getting the ball forward to any of the devastating trios of Messi, Neymar or Suarez. Barça no longer enjoyed the uninhibited luxury of closing down opponents in record time which came from having more men in spaces around the ball and keeping passes short. The defensive aspect of their game became more individualised.

Players who perhaps wouldn’t have made it on board in the last dispensation were recruited especially in the midfield because they added more physicality and in all of Enrique’s 3 years in charge, no player from the club’s world acclaimed La Masia academy broke into the first team largely down to the fact that they were accustomed to barça’s customary tikitaka style of play. No one says Ivan Rakitic, Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal aren’t good players, its just that they don’t belong in a club like barça. Only Rakitic would as much as get a fringe role if one must be picked.

There is far less creativity in the middle and if not for the prolific trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar who create and bury most of their chances, things would have gotten out of hand.

The Xavi Hernández-Andreś Iniesta partnership was one of the best the game had ever seen and it was always going to be hard to have Iniesta hit those heights with any other player but the players he has hard to work with have proved grossly inadequate. While Rakitic and Turan are better defensively in a way both aren’t, none has come close to the string-pulling genius of Xavi or Iniesta’s incredible ability to weave through the opposition and create space for the attacking trio when he isn’t looking to give the final pass himself. What happens is barça going forward with an Iniesta that has assumed Xavi’s old role and another player behind the pointsman who compared to those before him, is a little too passive to be true.He adds nothing other than grabbing an occasional goal.

By Enrique’s final season in charge, Barça had become astonishingly easy to stop as more teams had learnt to exploit the weaknesses of its style. It became much easier to defend against as all its opponents had to worry about were just the movements of MSN and it also became much easier to attack against with a looser marking style and a porous backline to further compound its problems. Barça has always been vulnerable at the back and ironically, it was Enrique who seemed to have solved that problem in his first year but over time, Gerrard Pique has returned back to his erratic self while Jeremy Mathieu has not replicated the brilliance of his debut season and the little details still give Javier Mascherano away as an ‘unnatural’ centre-back; positional skills et al. Samuel Umtiti has looked promising but still needs time to mature into the perfect centre-back. He has faltered in very key games notably the one against PSG and none of the aforementioned 3 has proven capable of providing him with the right leadership. Something a Carles Puyol would have done quite well.

Barça’s transfer policy under Enrique was geared towards ensuring the viability of his style and now that he is no longer there, the club is left with players a lot of fans would want to see go-Paco Alcacer, heirachyArda Turan and Ivan Rakitic(I dare say).

That Marco Verrati is the club’s transfer priority to complement Andres Iniesta in the middle tells the hierarchy understand the direction things should take.Verrati is the closest in world football to Xavi in terms of style and it would be great to return back to the good old days.

Allowing Dani Alves leave (he said he wasn’t made to feel wanted by the way) without Adriano or Douglas to fall back on has to rank among the most outrageous transfer decisions in world football but Sergi Roberto has stepped up to fill the vacuum in great style. His excellent performances nonetheless, he would better serve the Blaugrana in a midfield capacity. The club seems to have jettisoned the idea of signing Nelson Semedo, the benefica right-back and Portuguese international (who suits its tikitaka play perfectly well) for Hector Bellerin, the Arsenal defender. That is a good step towards making things right but it is important some changes are effected in the central defence as well. Off loading a reportedly agitated Mascherano and Jeremy Mathieu could raise funds to get a quality centre back.

Ernesto Valverde is a quite good coach and I hope he is the man to restore Barça to its rightful place as Europe’s best team and ensure the entrenchment of a better playing style if not a full reversal to the old one. No club in the world rivals the effective utilisation of players from its lower ranks like Barcelona does and Enrique’s disregard for that was a huge low. Valverde must learn from that as well.
Visca El Barça.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Umar Sa’ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano. He tweets @alaye26

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