They say that 90 minutes is a long time in football and anything can happen between the first and 90th. This season Luis Enrique walked into a game with his Barcelona career balancing on a knife edge and many said that defeat would mean the sack. Rumours of arguments with star player Lionel Messi were daily stories in the Press and it all looked bad for the former Celta Vigo Coach. Yet, 90 minutes can turn a season on its head and Barca won that vital game and started a run which has just seen them win one trophy and are on the verge of lifting two more.
The season started with Barca’s biggest summer transfer recruit having to watch from the stands as he sat out a FIFA ban. Another player they signed was ruled out with a long-term injury and made his debut on the last day of the season. Then their bitter rivals Real Madrid, although they had a little stutter, went on an incredible run that had many predicting that they would win the League with weeks to spare. Luis Suarez would eventually make his debut in October and although he did have some good moments, the start to his Barca career was a little stop and go. He wasn’t the only one suffering.
The style that was adopted at Barca under Enrique is still being criticised to this day. At first many were dismayed by what they saw as a move away from the traditional style that is associated at the club but little by little he has won over his detractors, but not all of them. During the first months things didn’t look right at the club, though. Stories about rows in the dressing room became daily debates in the media and it all looked like it would end in tears.
It almost did and in January after losing against Real Sociedad, Enrique was on the ropes. Director of football Andoni Zubizarreta was fired, Carles Puyol walked and the President called elections for what he said was to ease tensions. Messi and Enrique had an argument and Xavi Hernandez would come out and make one of those unfortunate comments that will be remembered for seasons to come. Yet, just when it looked like the walls were going to crash down, Barca built them even higher.
The win against Atletico Madrid was Barca’s first in more than six games against Diego Simeone’s boys. It was also the first time that Neymar, Suarez and Messi scored in the same match. Barca came out fighting in that game and Javier Mascherano and Messi came out even more determined against the Press after it and slammed them for inventing stories. Barca were able to put their issues aside and dig deep and went on a run that saw them crowned champions 19 games later against Atletico. It was smiles all round. Past grievances appeared to be forgotten.
Now Barca stand on the brink of history. Win the Copa del Rey and Champions League and they will be the first team ever to win a treble twice. Enrique’s future is remains in the air with some still expecting him to walk. No matter what happens, nobody can take from him the remarkable achievement he has recorded. Something many thought as the players lined up that night in January to face Atleti was impossible. But as they say and Barca have just proved, 90 minutes is a long time in football.