Barcelona, the most difficult coaching job in world football

Barcelona players have, despite rarely, gone on record stating that Cules have become spoilt by success. He said that we used to win, on average, one League title every decade and a Cup every five years or so. The statistics confirm this. Before the success of Johan Cruyff’s “Dream Team”, Barcelona had won 10 La Liga crowns and no European Cups. Since then we have won another 12 league titles and four Champions Leagues / European Cups.

Johan Cruyff became coach of Barcelona at the start of 1988-89. His legendary “Dream Team” is credited with laying the foundations for the success our club has had since then. However, it could all have been so different. Had Barcelona not surprisingly beaten Real Madrid in the final of 1989-90 Copa Del Rey, Cruyff would probably have been dismissed after just two years as Barcelona coach. Fortunately, that did not happen and the next four years gave rise to the legendary Dream Team who won four successive league titles and the club’s first European Cup in 1992. That glorious era ended with Barcelona’s defeat in the final of the 1994 European Cup. To show that you have to keep winning to continue coaching at Barcelona, Barcelona’s then most successful coach was sacked within two years.

The next twelve years saw a succession of Barcelona coaches come and go. Bobby Robson lasted only one season despite winning three trophies. Louis van Gaal won two successive La Liga crowns but was unable to ever convince people that he was the right man for the job. He found that to succeed at Barcelona it is insufficient to just win. You also have to win in the Barcelona style and win with the players that the supporters want. People never accepted the number of Dutch players he signed. The less said about the number of coaches who tried to undo the damage of Luis Figo’s departure to Real Madrid the better. 

Finally, the appointment of Frank Rijkaard yielded some success with two La Liga titles and the Champions League in 2006 being won in his first three years as coach. However, his contract was not renewed at the end of the 2007/08 season. That was a terrible season for Barcelona where the lack of focus and discipline by players such as Ronaldinho and Deco made Rijkaard’s position untenable and led to his demise.

Going into the 2008/09 season most people thought that Barcelona would now have a “Special” coach. It was widely expected that former Assistant Coach and Translator Jose Mourinho would be appointed. It came as quite a surprise when B Team coach Pep Guardiola was promoted and appointed First Team Coach. It did not take long for people to have doubts as the team lost and drew his first two games in charge. Fortunately, his team then went on winning run which culminated in The Treble being won in Pep’s first year in charge. Pep became the most successful coach in Barcelona’s history with 14 trophies being won in his four years in charge. 

However, all good things invariably come to an end and this was no different. Pep ensured that a terrible week where Barcelona lost El Clasico at home to Real Madrid and were very unfortunately eliminated from the Champions League by Chelsea became even worse by announcing he would not continue coaching Barcelona at the end of his fourth season. He cited stress and fatigue caused by the pressure of being a coach at a club as demanding as Barcelona. However, there was a suspicion than an uneasy relationship with club president Sandro Rosell was a contributing factor. Pep had been appointed by the previous president, and Rosell’s rival, Joan Laporta. There is no doubt that Pep had a much more comfortable relationship with Laporta than with his successor.

Rosell made what appeared to be a great decision in appointing Pep’s much admired assistant “Tito” Vilanova to succeed Pep. Tito had been credited with being a major behind the scenes contributor to the success of Pep’s team. I must admit that I only knew him as a name until Jose Mourinho infamously poked Tito in the eye during a sideline confrontation in the Spanish Supercup. 

Initially, all seemed well as Barcelona made a great start to 2012/13 season taking a comfortable La Liga lead. However, in December 2012 Tito was diagnosed with having had a relapse in a parotid gland cancer condition. He missed a lot of the rest of the season as he received treatment although Barcelona still won La Liga with 100 points, equalling the record. Tito’s assistant Jordi Roura did the best job he could in his capacity as acting coach. Just when it appeared Tito have overcome his health problems he had another relapse and had to step down as Barcelona coach in July 2013. Tragically, the much loved Tito died on 25 April 2014 at only 45 years of age. He is sadly missed by everyone.

Because Tito stepped down with the 2013/14 season fast approaching, there was not much time to find a new coach. Within a few days, the well credentialed Argentine coach “Tata” Martino was appointed to fill the role. Again Barcelona made an excellent start to the season with Tata being praised for his calm, relaxed manner and for team adding some more directness into its play. However, Tata soon discovered how difficult it is to be coach of Barcelona especially if you are considered an outsider. After a convincing 0-4 win away to Rayo Vallecano all the focus was on the fact that Barcelona “only” had 49% and that the Barcelona style was being lost. 

Things became worse as the coach’s manner was blamed for a loss of hunger and focus by the players. Despite being given several undeserved chances to win La Liga, the team failed to take any of them. Not surprisingly, Tata left after just one unsuccessful season in charge. Tata is a good coach but was not what was needed.

This brings me to our current coach, Luis Enrique. Like Pep, he is a former great player with the club and a former coach of the B Team. He actually had more experience than Pep when appointed as he had coached Roma and Celta Vigo. It was felt he needed to restore discipline and I think he has done that. It has been a turbulent season with highs and lows. A good start was followed by some bad results which cost us the lead in La Liga. 

The nadir of our season came in a 0-1 away loss to Real Sociedad. The coach had made the baffling decision to start Lionel Messi and Neymar on the bench. That only added to the controversy. There were rumours of a rift between Enrique and Messi and it was not certain the coach would survive. Fortunately, behind the scenes damage control resolved the situation, at least in the short term. The team then went on a 12 match winning run and all appeared well. It only took last week’s loss to Malaga to again cause doubts about the coach.

I think that Luis Enrique will have to win at least two trophies to be certain of keeping his job. The Copa Del Rey may not be enough. Enrique’s position is made more difficult by the fact that Board Elections are scheduled for the summer and that Barcelona has a FIFA imposed transfer ban in the summer window. The coach is seen as the current president Bartemeu’s man and Bartemeu is unlikely to win the election. As players cannot be signed, a new coach could be part of a candidate’s campaign. Even the return of Pep has been mooted.

From this, it is obvious that coaching Barcelona is a very difficult, challenging role. Success is expected and it is expected with to be achieved in the Barcelona style and with plenty of Barcelona home grown players. However, the pressures are the same at all other big clubs. The only way that a coach keeps his job at a club is to win titles. Even that is not always enough. 

It reminds me of when an experienced coach here in Australia was asked if he any advice for aspiring young coaches. He said “Yes, Rent. Don't Buy”.
Guest Post by Drago

Now it's your turn: Do you trust Luis Enrique will be more successful than his predecessors? What are the key to manage Barca effectively?

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