Why Barcelona needs change to maintain success

Before 2003, Barcelona was a mess, the club was like the twin brother of Arsenal’s last 10 years. They played Johan Cruyff’s football – total football but most times ended up faltering at crucial stages both in La Liga and Champions League. The now celebrated club’s mantra “Mes Que Un Club” which means “More Than A Club” was in ghost mode and was as oblivious as the sound of /p/ in psychology.

Since 2003, there has been a dramatic turnaround in the club’s fortunes; they moved from being perennial underachievers to the benchmark of excellence.  Franck Rijkard was appointed after a disastrous season where they finished 6th in the league. He spent five seasons, the first four being successful winning back to back league titles as well as the Champions League in 2006. However, the fifth season would turn out to be more disastrous than a goat who ventured into a lion’s den; finishing third in the league, 18 points behind champions Real Madrid and also crashing out in the second round of the Champions League to Liverpool.

Next up was Guardiola, a man who would redefine modern football after spending four seasons at the club. His success requires little analysis; he brought in fresh ideas that questioned sanity and got rid of players who were cancerous to the team. In turn, he won more trophies than the strands of hair left on his head before going on a sabbatical.

“Four years is an eternity as Barcelona coach…… I have given everything and I have nothing left and need to recharge my batteries” –Pep Guardiola

Luis Enrique took over in 2014 when it seemed like Barcelona’s dominance had finally reached its crescendo. He came with a style slightly different from Pep’s without altering the philosophy and thus far has been very successful with eight trophies already. The team now plays with more directness and less dependence on the midfield.

Coaching Barcelona can be very easy and very tough depending on how you look at it.  The easy part is having Lionel Messi, a quality support cast and the tendency for other teams to accept defeat before stepping unto the pitch. The coach’s job is streamlined to mentally preparing his team alone, every other thing (except tax) is being taken care of by competent hands. The club has an almost unchangeable style of play and any coach employed has to develop a philosophy from the main philosophy – that is like leaving your foot print beside the ocean shore, and expect your mark not to get washed up.

Barcelona is not a sacking club, but the demands placed on every coach is immense and mentally draining. You don’t only have to win; you have to win while playing well. There are little rooms for tweaks, because there is already an established template and the smallest form of deviation is seen as a crime greater than that of Judas Iscariot. Every opposing team know the way Barcelona will approach and play every game, hence they prepare without expecting much surprises. Against stubborn teams, the manager has to device a way to tweak the style without particularly changing it. The team consist of players who have won all for both club and country; and have you ever wondered how difficult it can be to motivate them?  What does he say to them when they lose form? How does he convince Messi to drop deep to create space for Suarez? How does he manage the egos in the dressing room?

After four years, Pep thought he had done enough- he knew he had to move on and he left when the ovation was loudest. Rijkard wasn’t smart enough to deduce this when he stayed for a fourth season at Barcelona. He had given his all and won almost everything, but that extra season puts a dent on his stint at the club. This probably explains why Luis Enrique is calling it quit at the end of this season. He understands that there is little left in his tank to push the team further, so before he experience a season that will make Ladan Boso more appealing than him, he is taking a walk.

The only constant in Barcelona is the philosophy and to a lesser degree, Messi. Any coach that can work effectively with both factors is what is really needed. The idea of changing coaches after 3-4 seasons is definitely not intentional but almost unavoidable because of the high standard the club and previous winnings has set for it. Who cares though? It has produced immense results and is surely a fit.

Why not continue with it?


Written by Ewuola Olushinaola- follow on Twitter @Shinaspeaks