Luis Enrique finally finds Lionel Messi is ‘more than a club’
A product of Barca’s youth academy, Messi is worshipped by the fans for underpinning the club’s most trophy-laden era and decisions made by the board of directors seem to be made solely with the intention of keeping him happy.
As long as Barca are winning and Messi is enjoying his football, scoring goals and happy with his team mates and the technical staff, the formula works. However, if the four-times World Player of the Year, a calculating professional who knows his value to the club, feels his position is under threat he loses no time in flexing his muscles, as coach Luis Enrique has discovered.
A former Barca and Spain midfielder, Luis Enrique took over from Messi’s compatriot Tata Martino at the end of last season but his attempt to exert his authority over the squad, and in particular over Messi, looks to have spectacularly backfired and his days at the helm may be numbered. Messi appears unhappy with the coach’s no-nonsense management style and tactics and local media reported the pair nearly come to blows during a recent training session.
Messi was also unhappy at being left out of the starting lineup for last weekend’s match at Real Sociedad, which Barca lost 1-0, and reports said there was another heated exchange in the dressing room after the match. “The question you have to ask is whether the top players have carte blanche. They train when they want, the play when they feel like it, they have longer holidays than the others and they choose the coaches they approve of. I have always believed that the group is much more important than individuals,” former Spain coach Javier Clemente wrote on his Twitter feed on Friday.
The breakdown in Messi’s relationship with Luis Enrique, labelled a “cold war” in Spanish media, comes at a delicate time for the club. A FIFA ban from the current and next transfer windows for a breach of rules on recruiting foreign Under-18 players led to a boardroom crisis that prompted the dismissal of sports director Andoni Zubizarreta. President Josep Bartomeu announced he was bringing elections forward a year amid widespread dissatisfaction with his running of the club, which failed to win major silverware last season.
Luis Enrique’s future at Barca will hinge on whether he can patch up his relationship with Messi. Failure to do so will likely see him follow Zubizarreta, the man who appointed him, out of the club and Catalan television have reported Messi has “asked for the coach’s head”.
“It is not about feeling the support or not it is about doing your job and I do my job 100 percent,” Luis Enrique told a news conference on Saturday as second-placed Barca prepare to host champions Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
“The one thing I can guarantee is that I will quit the day I see my players do not follow me but that has not happened yet in my career. I knew, clearly, what it means to be the coach of a club like this and there is nothing that can divert me from the route I have taken, nothing that can distract me,” added the 44-year-old.