What can be expected from Barcelona under Enrique next term?
Barcelona, 11/10 to win La Liga next season, are in a period of transition. Having lost their leader, Carles Puoyl and heartbeat of the team, Xavi Hernandez’s future undecided, they have turned to a disciple as the Catalans begin what could be deemed the new testament at the Nou Camp.
Installing Enrique as manager has echoes of the appointment of former managers Frank Rijkaard and then Pep Guardiola, who both played for the club, and then took it back to the top as boss. The last couple of years have clung onto the ends of that era, with Tito Vilanova succeeding Guardiola, and then Gerardo Martino taking over in July 2013.
The likes of Puyol and Xavi, who really came to the fore under Rijkaard, have been inspirational to the club’s success, the former retiring and taking a coaching position at the club, while Andres Iniesta, who is a couple of years younger than Xavi, could well think about his future soon.
Guardiola propelled superstar Lionel Messi into the limelight, as well as Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Pedro Rodriguez, all of whom are now entering the peak of their careers, while goalkeeper Victor Valdes has been released.
Enrique has been active in the transfer market since he took over. Goalkeepers Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo have joined Barca, upgrading the level of depth and arguably increasing the standard of competition.
Creative midfielder Ivan Rakitic has joined from Sevilla, and will no doubt replace Xavi in midfield. Whether it is a like-for-like replacement, is perhaps too soon to tell. Having not come through the prestigious youth academy, La Masia, where players are taught to play the ‘Barca way’, a pass and move nature may not be fully ingrained in the Croatian.
A more natural successor could well be Sergi Roberto who, by contrast to Rakitic, has rolled off La Masia’s production line, as well as Gerard Deulofeu. The latter spent last season on-loan at Everton, however Enrique has iterated his desire to keep the 20-year-old, possibly giving some clue as to what his plans are.
While 30-year-old centre back Jeremy Mathieu has arrived from Valencia, and Luis Suarez from Liverpool for a club record fee of £75m, it may be that Enrique is keen to carry on Guardiola’s philosophy of bringing youngsters through.
One thing players can expect is that they will be worked hard in pre-season. Their new boss turned to marathon running, after retiring from football, and when that wasn’t challenging enough took up triathlons and subsequently Ironman’s. Therefore, it is fitting to assume fitness is going to dominate pre-season. Whether Barca stick with the same approach they have enjoyed so much success with is something Enrique and his advisers are going to have to work out, after the club finished trophy-less for the first time in six years last term.