Luis Enrique should get ready for turbulent summer at Barcelona

Only Lionel Messi, who signed his latest new and improved contract this week, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Neymar can be guaranteed to be at Camp Nou when the new season starts in August, writes Andy Mitten.
Barcelona hired Luis Enrique as its new coach on Monday, hoping the former player can help restore the club's recent success following its first season in six years without a major trophy. AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar
Barcelona hired Luis Enrique as its new coach on Monday, hoping the former player can help restore the club's recent success following its first season in six years without a major trophy. AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar

The applause for the new champions Atletico Madrid was magnanimous and genuine, but the mood turned quickly among Barcelona fans after Saturday’s game.

As Atletico celebrated in the middle of the pitch, so Barca’s players slunk off towards the tunnel and the dressing rooms. As they did, they were booed loudly. There were no heroes and the fans let them know how they felt after Barca finished the season without a trophy for the first time in six years.

In pictures: Atletico defy Barcelona and win La Liga

Applauded when they arrived at the stadium, for they were still in with a chance of winning the league, Barca’s players were barracked as they left the underground car park for their homes in the city’s best suburbs.

Coach Gerardo Martino resigned after the match after a season in charge, while club president Josep Maria Bartomeu announced that there would be profound changes at the club.

The first of those changes was announced on Monday evening with the news that Luis Enrique will become manager on a two-year contract after he stepped down from being Celta Vigo manager on Friday.

He will be unveiled on Wednesday at Camp Nou in the same room where his former teammate Carles Puyol said his goodbyes last Thursday. Barca was a club undergoing significant changes before Bartomeu’s words. Sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta has been planning for new arrivals for months and the first of their new signings, German goalkeeper Ter Stegen, 21, was announced on Monday evening after moving from Borussia Monchengladbach.

He will replace the outgoing Victor Valdes. Valdes’ deputy and recent first team goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto, 38, has not had his contract renewed.

Loan player Rafinha Alcantara, 21 will return from playing 32 league games under Enrique at Celta Vigo, as will striker Gerard Deulofeu from Everton, yet bigger name arrivals and departures are certain this summer.

Only Lionel Messi, who signed his latest new and improved contract which will make him the best paid player in football, and Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique – who signed a new three-year deal on Tuesday – and Neymar can be guaranteed to be at Camp Nou when the new season starts in August.

The club will listen to offers for every other player. That is not to mean that they will depart, but if Barca were to get a bid for Cesc Fabregas which would allow them to make a profit on what they paid Arsenal in 2012 then they would be predisposed to sell.

Enrique will speak about his own targets and preferences with Zubizarreta but it is the latter who has the larger sway over incoming players. The coach is given the ingredients and told to work with them.

Barca need strengthening, specifically in defence where they have failed to buy a central defender for three seasons now. Puyol has been injury prone, Javier Mascherano error prone, Pique off form and the home grown Marc Bartra not strong enough physically. Daniel Alves is sublime, but angling for a huge final contract – over which he’s unlikely to be indulged at Camp Nou.

In midfield, Xavi is 34, Alex Song has not shown that he is Barca standard, while up front Messi has suffered his worse run of form in the last three months. Wide men Pedro and Alexis Sanchez also face uncertain futures.

The funds are in place and the transfer ban imposed by Fifa has been lifted. Off the field, Enrique needs to try and calm the boardroom instability – an almost impossible task.

Barca’s directors are prone to falling out, but the club remains hugely attractive to footballers around the world, their philosophy of attractive, attacking football too. Enrique is a believer in the Barca imprint.

“I like teams which repeat their style, clubs that are synonymous with one style,” he said a year ago. He is now in charge of regaining that style before he can start to repeat it.

sports@thenational.ae

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Published: May 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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