Luis Enrique’s announcement that he will quit Barcelona at the end of the season was expected, but the timing – at the end of a news conference after his side thrashed Sporting Gijon 6-1 – came as a surprise.
In fact, he had first considered not renewing his contract beyond next summer during pre-season, he said, after a dramatic slide at the end of the second campaign. Barca had exited the Champions League and could only claim a league title that had looked to be sewn up on the final day of the season.
That dip in form, which saw Barca lose three consecutive league games for the first time in 13 years, was the first sign that the wheels were starting to come off a spectacular machine that had rolled to the treble in his first season.
There was more than a hint of rumbling discontent in the dressing room. Heavyweights Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta publicly criticized the coach’s tactics in Paris, although the coach found an ally in Gerard Pique.
The coach also looked rattled after the game in a tense exchange with a Catalan television reporter, who he harangued for not giving him credit for the team’s successes.
While Luis Enrique has long had a prickly relationship with the media, it was becoming clearer that the stress of a role which had worn out predecessor Pep Guardiola was finally getting to him.
Messi’s bond with compatriot Sampaoli could be a deciding factor, however. Whoever Barca do appoint will have his work cut out in repeating Luis Enrique’s achievements, even though the coach never managed to satisfy everyone at the club.