The football world was stunned on Wednesday night as Luis Enrique confirmed he would be vacating his post as Barcelona Coach at the end of the season. The worst-kept secret in Spanish football it may have been, yet it was the timing of the announcement that had caught everyone out by surprise. Football Espana runs down the likeliest candidates for the top job at Camp Nou this summer.
The name on the end of everyone’s lips, Jorge Sampaoli is widely accepted as the perfect fit for Barca. Having taken Sevilla to new heights this season, in onlt his first season at the helm, the 56-year-old is a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa and is assisted at Sanchez Pizjuan by Juanma Lillo – the man that helped pioneer Pep Guardiola’s ‘tiki-taka’ style during La Blaugrana’s golden era of 2008-2012. There’s also the small matter of his positive relationships with Lionel Messi and Neymar.
But is he that perfect? Not so much, according to respected journalist Guillem Balague, who claims the Camp Nou hierarchy don’t believe Sampaoli’s personality to be compatible with that of the club, given his vibrant nature and preference for tracksuits over Armani suits. Furthermore, Barca’s links with Catalan independence goes against the more-liberal politics of the former Chile boss.
Unfairly seen as the safe option, Ernesto Valverde in ticks most of the boxes needed for a prospective Barca Coach. The Athletic Bilbao boss is out of contract this summer, possesses the Catalans’ DNA from his spell in Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team and has yet to prove what he can do with significant financial backing. He is also Cadena COPE’s favourite for the role.
Athletic’s results haven’t been that impressive this season, but Valverde did guide them to Europe in all of his previous three campaigns at the helm, including qualification for the Champions League in 2014. In addition, the 53-year-old has done all of this while fielding only Basque players, in turn prompting him to nurture plenty of young talent. And of course, he is on record as ignoring possible interest from Real Madrid in the past.
A similar candidate to Valverde, given he is a man that too played in Cruyff’s Dream Team and manages Real Sociedad – another Basque team – Eusebio Sacristan also has the distinction of being a former Barca B Coach, making him the natural heir to Enrique and Guardiola and being Cadena SER’s tip for the post.
Granted, he has revolutionised La Real this season after the shambles of David Moyes’ reign in San Sebastian, but his lack of experience in senior management prior to succeeding the Scot little over a year ago leaves question marks over his ability to handle the Cules’ squad of superstars. Worse still, some fans will surely remember his disastrous 2014-15 campaign with the B team, which led to them dropping out the Segunda Division.
Another of the Dream Team contingent, Ronald Koeman certainly has a case for being Barca’s next Coach. Like his fellow contenders, the Dutchman demands high pressing and fluid football from his teams. That philosophy led the Everton manager to Eredivisie titles with Ajax and PSV, while Southampton remain one of the best ball-playing teams in the Premier League thanks to his impact.
On the other hand, his last spell in Spanish football almost saw him take down Valencia, although he did have a Copa del Rey to show for his efforts. Regardless, the traditionalists at Barca will be relishing the prospect of Dutch fever returning to Camp Nou. The question is, how many of them are still around?
Leading the rest of the pack is Laurent Blanc, who is said to be highly regarded by the Barca board thanks to his treble-winning 1996-97 campaign with the club as a player, bolstered by his unattached status and domestic domination while in charge of Paris Saint-Germain. Further down the line are Arsene Wenger, someone long admired and who could be a contender if he departs Arsenal, and his north London rival Mauricio Pochettino, despite his links with La Blaugrana’s neighbours Espanyol. And while it may seem unlikely, Pep Guardiola should never be discounted.