For a while now, I’ve had this feeling: this was not how it was supposed to go for Luis Enrique’s Barça. It’s not just that the team has lost games, or not played as beautifully as it should given the caliber of players at its disposal. It’s not even that Luis Enrique announced he will leave at the end of this season – that seemed likely even before Christmas. It’s that the evolution of this team over three seasons fundamentally has not made sense to me.
A brief history of Messi’s position:
2006-2009: Messi is a long-haired ball of fury playing on the right wing.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Barça under Luis Enrique, and especially how the current version compares to that magical 4-month period in the spring of 2015. Now, obviously, there is one simple answer – that team was just starting out, they had a point to prove and fresh legs. They steamrolled everyone in their way with a mixture of talent and relentless toughness. After two seasons of success and a mountain of games under those players’ legs, that lightning in a bottle is hard to replicate. Also there is the tricky matter of memory – a team even of just a year and a half ago will be idealized up against the 90-minute present of last Saturday. With those caveats in place, however, let’s explore.
Barcelona lost today, and the general consensus is that Luis Enrique did it again. He experimented with the lineup too much, underestimated Alavés, and cost his team the game. There is certainly an element of truth to that, but to simply write it off as a managerial cock-up seems a bit lazy to me. Luis Enrique is surely capable of mistakes – but he’s also a generally brilliant manager who knows his team well and is into his third season. He’s likely watched hours of tape of Alavés and knows how good they are. But he was under a different set of pressures from coaching Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, and Neymar.
With the signing of Samuel Umtiti, the return of Denis Suárez, and the imminent renewal of Javier Mascherano, Barça fans seem relatively happy about the start of the transfer window so far. While the rest of the window may yield a different conclusion, these first few signings hint at an interesting question: is Luis Enrique finally ready to plan for Barça’s long-term future?