In his final game in charge of Barcelona, Luis Enrique will aim to make it three Copa del Rey triumphs in as many seasons.
That medal would rest alongside two LaLiga titles, the 2014-15 Champions League, the 2015 UEFA Super Cup, the 2015 FIFA Club World Cup and 2016 Supercopa de Espana.
Ahead of Saturday’s final against Alaves at the Vicente Calderon, seeing his Barca record under scrutiny despite this magnificent return would undoubtedly draw a familiar response from Luis Enrique.
The 47-year-old – who has established himself as the most cantankerous man in Catalonia over the past three years – would plant his cheek upon a clenched fist, roll his eyes almost into the back of his head and then reply: “I have nothing to say about this subject.”
Unfortunately for everyone’s favourite grumpy Galician, normal measures of success do not always apply to Spain’s stratospheric heavyweights and a closer look at his report card reveals a mixed bag.
Luis Enrique’s reign at Camp Nou can be chopped into three uneven chunks – one bad, one almost unimaginably glorious and this current fractured, stuttering phase.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 21, 2017
He succeeded Gerardo Martino after the Argentine coach demonstrated that collecting trophies with this superb Barca vintage was not a guarantee in 2013-14 and the former Roma boss’ tenure appeared to be in grave danger at the midway point of his first season.
The Blaugrana began a 2015 in which they would be so handsomely rewarded with a 1-0 defeat to David Moyes’ Real Sociedad at a rain-soaked Anoeta.
Neymar and Lionel Messi being rested on the bench was not a good look in the circumstances and, with reports of a bust-up between Messi and Luis Enrique emerging during the following week as ructions behind the scenes saw sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta and club great Carles Puyol depart, the talk was of turmoil and not trebles.
Next time out in LaLiga, Barcelona showed their teeth by beating recent bogey side Atletico Madrid in commanding fashion at Camp Nou. It was the beginning of Luis Enrique, phase two.
Neymar, Luis Suarez and Messi were all on target and MSN would soon trip off the tongues of football fans globally as a catch-all for the devastating trio. Barca only lost once more in the league all season and completed a clean sweep of major honours by beating Juventus 3-1 in the Champions League final.
On they marched into the next campaign, winning 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu to land a body blow against Rafael Benitez’s ill-fated Real Madrid reign.
But Luis Enrique was still not celebrated in the manner of predecessors such as Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola.
Long-serving midfielder Xavi was credited with being a key mediating influence when relations with Messi broke down. In the eyes of detractors, the best player in the world was talked into line by a colleague and Luis Enrique reaped the benefits.
Barcelona made it back-to-back doubles but stumbled over the line in an unbecoming fashion after Clasico defeat to Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid began a run of four losses in five, including Champions League heartache against Atleti.
And so began phase three, one of dazzling performances and yawning vulnerabilities. This season, the tactical tweaks once celebrated as Luis Enrique’s finest achievement have been lambasted as damaging to Barcelona’s ethos.
Adopting a more direct playing style allowed Messi, Suarez and Neymar to wreak sensational havoc when their on-field alliance flourished. Barca were a little less predictable, not so dependent on the Cruyff and Guardiola school of relentless passing and immaculate positional play.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 22, 2017
But by the time the humiliating 4-0 Champions League loss at Paris Saint-Germain arrived in Feburary, MSN looked like a castle built on quicksand.
Barcelona’s squad has been haphazardly retooled, with Andre Gomes, Arda Turan and Denis Suarez so far unable to pick up the slack left by Ivan Rakitic’s patchy form and Andres Iniesta’s career winding down.
The expected appointment of Ernesto Valverde is a mark against Luis Enrique. Erstwhile number two Juan Carlos Unzue was touted as a replacement but the club clearly feel a coach of significant top-flight pedigree is required.
This is not the well-oiled machine Guardiola was able to hand on to Tito Vilanova. Surgery is required to wrest LaLiga back from Madrid, while the air of inevitability as Barca eventually succumbed to Juventus in the Champions League was unacceptable for a club of their stature.
If appointed, how successfully Valverde tackles his task will directly impact upon how Luis Enrique is remembered at Camp Nou – either as the man who kept a glorious era turning, goals and champagne flowing plentifully, or a careless incumbent who fumbled supremacy back to Barcelona’s bitterest rivals.
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