Ironman Luis Enrique runs out of stamina for Barcelona’s endless maelstrom

Luis Enrique has averaged a win every eight days as head coach of Barcelona. In that time he has won LaLiga and the Copa del Rey twice, a Champions League, the Club World Cup, the Supercopa de Espana, and the UEFA Super Cup.

Victory over Sporting Gijon on Wednesday took the Catalans back to the top of the league, so why would Luis Enrique pick this moment to announce his departure from the club?

Why would he countenance giving up such a gilded role at all?

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From the outside, managing Barcelona is the dream job that nobody could give up, but both Luis Enrique and Pep Guardiola have done just that within five years of each other.

The endless haul of trophies and accolades, adulation from a global fanbase, the massaged ego that comes with the biggest job in the game – none of it has been enough to override the exhaustion brought on by standing in the epicentre of a ceaseless maelstrom of politicking, the need to win at all costs and the nervousness brought on by one slip of the tongue being scrutinised for weeks.
 

A keen marathon runner and ironman competitor, Luis Enrique is clearly a man comfortable in his own company and this is something you can never quite be as Barcelona boss.

An Asturian, who played for Real Madrid and Barcelona, Luis Enrique is an unlikely candidate to take sides in Spain's partisan media war between the Clasico rivals and he has shown strain in the face of needing to feed into the evergreen spats between the two clubs.

Just this week, previewing the game against Sporting, his boyhood club, Luis Enrique was asked to comment on a refereeing decision that had been made two days earlier in a game that did not involve the team he coaches.

Of course, it was Real Madrid. Los Blancos had been awarded a contentious penalty against Villarreal.

Gerard Pique, entrenched in Catalonia, La Masia and 'Mes Que Un Club' naturally felt compelled to cry foul.

 

 

For Luis Enrique, there was no interest in contributing to a row that burns on even when the fires of the football season are embers in mid-summer.

He snapped: "I have nothing to say about the referees. I have already spoken this season and the previous ones. You already know my opinion and I will not change it. The rest I am no longer interested."

Not just with the media has Luis Enrique struggled. His first season was even more fraught than the one that has prompted his departure amid a row with none other than Lionel Messi, the most bedazzling of the jewels in the Camp Nou crown.

More than Tito Vilanova and Tata Martino before him, Luis Enrique had ideas of changing the suffocating, high-pressing, tiki-taka that Guardiola had ingrained in Barca's players.

The hustle and bustle of Luis Suarez's direct running gave the former Celta Vigo boss his perfect line-leader, but the Uruguayan's biting ban left Luis Enrique shorn of the vital cog in his tactical switch. When Suarez did return to the team, naturally he was short of practice and lacked cohesion in Barca's attack.

A defeat at Real Sociedad in January 2015 appeared to spell the end for Luis Enrique. Having failed to take advantage of Real Madrid's defeat in the round of fixtures, with Messi benched and Suarez failing to score for the ninth time in 12 Barca outings, the Asturian was a cert to go by the end of the season, if he made it.

But you need grit to run marathons, never mind complete ironman triathlons.
 

Suarez came to life, scoring 22 times in his next 31 games. Luis Enrique matched Guardiola with a sequence of 11 straight wins. Madrid were beaten 2-1 to snatch control of the title race. Messi flummoxed Pep's Bayern to secure a place in the Champions League final, and then scored an individual goal of astonishing brilliance – even by his own brain-bending standards – to win the Copa del Rey. Sociedad were beaten on the final day of the season to secure LaLiga and then Juventus were outgunned in Berlin and Luis Enrique had taken a season to win it all.

It surprised many that he did not leave then, having shoved words of brand infringement, alienating his stars and many other heinous crimes back where they had come from.

Real Madrid's brief incompetence under Rafael Benitez allowed Luis Enrique an easier ride in LaLiga last term, a renewed fight to keep up with Zinedine Zidane's bullish Blancos has seen him under strain again.

 

 

Guardiola said he was "drained" after four years as boss, Luis Enrique spoke of the need to "rest".

There will be many who covet the glitzy introduction, relish the chance to work with Suarez, Messi, Neymar and the gamut of stars on offer, want to test their mettle needing to win – and win big – in every game.

But once again it has proven, it is a job that chews you up and spits you out, wracked with scars that take time to heal.

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