Football doesn’t care about yesterday

Claudio Rainieri was sacked.

The decision was odd, and oddly timed as his team had turned its Champions League tie on its ear with a precious away goal. Yet he was sacked.

Everyone is familiar with the Cinderella story of Leicester City and the alchemist who built a championship from a pizza party. A kind, tacticurn man, Rainieri’s magical story was such that a great many people felt he should have hung it up at the end of last season — after taking a team that everyone said would be relegated to the Premiership title and Champions League, there was nowhere to go but down.

And down he went, because football doesn’t care. That championship, that amazing story was last year. This year, the Foxes are where they were predicted to be last year, but expectations have changed. Titles are the new standard, even for a team who had a fantasy season, that is pretty much where it belongs in the league table. Win or get out.

What’s fascinating about the Rainieri story is its parallels to that of Luis Enrique, who has gone from genius to pariah in less than a season. What happened?

With Rainieri, there are tales of his having lost the locker room, of players not being able to make sense of his decisions and roster moves, of the way of playing being different. He couldn’t figure out a way to replace the key figure of N’Golo Kante, as well as people finally figuring out that Leicester had one game. Stop that and you stop them. Rainieri didn’t have any ideas to stave off that tactical riddle and the next coach will have same dilemma.

Now look at Luis Enrique, and the talk that he has lost the locker room, of player decisions gone awry and key players suggestimg that the team has gotten away from playing as it knows how. Opponents have figured out how to deal with MSN tactically, and Luis Enrique seems to be fresh out of ideas to stave off the tactical riddle.

Rainieri won a championship last season. Luis Enrique, fresh off a treble in his debut season, grabbed a double last season, coming within a single away goal of making the Champions League final. Again.

This year, supporters and various media types can’t wait to see the back of him.

When a new coach takes over at Leicester City, what will be different except for the man with the whistle? Transfer season is over, so no changes there. The team has the exact same problems now as it had before Rainieri got the sack. What can a new coach do?

Formation changes? Sure. To what effect. Can changing a formation change the performance of the players who occupy that formation? Antonio Conte gets a lot of credit for making a simple change at Chelsea, going to three at the back. Forgotten are the transfers, astute decisions made by the club. Kante is doing exactly for Chelsea what he did for Leicester City, who lost a key player and couldn’t replace him. Leicester City’s defenders are journeymen and rejects, his striker a one-trick pony. Can a new coach alter that equation?

Yes, there will be the new boss spike, but Leicester City is what it is. So is Barça, which is a lot of the reason that people want its coach tossed on the waste heap.

Luis Enrique won’t be sacked, but it is difficult to see him wanting to stay at Barça, even if he isn’t pushed by a skittish board. When a new coach takes over at Barça, what will be different except for the man with the whistle?

There is an odd belief that a new face will bring about new ideas and a new way of playing. Okay. What happens next?

On the weekend was the Andalucian derby, an always-hot contest between Betis and Sevilla, coached by everyone’s favorite of the moment, Jorge Sampaoli. In the first half, Betis did exactly what they did against Barça, reducing Sevilla to long balls from the keeper that were intercepted in midfield and returned right to attack. Betis was up 1-0 but with the chances created, really could have put the match out of reach with better finishing.

One thought that came to mind was if Barça had played like that, a hit squad would have been dispatched to eliminate Luis Enrique. The commentator said that Betis was playing a lot like it did against Barça. This was true.

In the second half, Sampaoli made adjustments. Unfortunately, so did Betis, who went from playing like men possessed to a team with a lead in a derby, thinking about holding on. The two things conspired to bring Sevilla a tight win off of an offside goal. Barça had the reverse luck at the Villamarin.

Results aren’t the point, is what many suggest. It’s the football. The oddity of that notion is that the Bayern thrashing is still perceived as traumatic, yet the team played what so many consider Barça football, possession-based and midfield dominant. It outpossessed Bayern over the two legs. Yet the aggregate final was 7-0. So maybe it isn’t just the football. Maybe results have just a little bit to do with things as well, and “results don’t matter” is one of those theoretical luxuries afforded the supporters of a successful team.

But let’s look at the football. Both coaches, Luis Enrique and Sampaoli, made changes that allowed their teams more control of the match in the second half — even as Barça looked much more comfortable in the first half than Sevilla did against the Betis attackers. Prima facie, the only significant difference in the two matches was the outcome, decided in part by officiating decisions. But one coach has to go, the other coach has to come. It’s an odd thing, as is the detestation of Luis Enrique, a coach who players and club legends have come out in support of. It’s hard to pinpoint what he has done wrong to generate the almost savage dislike that so many club supporters have for him.

This isn’t like Rainieri (who shouldn’t have been fired), where the club is mired at the bottom of the table, battling relegation, out of the domestic cup competitions and looking at Champions League as its only hope. If Barça wins against Atleti it will be in the thick of the title battle. The team is also in the domestic cup final, the massive task awaiting it in Champions League — as in needing a miracle — notwithstanding. But what if that miracle happens. Then what? Will people put aside their dislike, or continue with, “I don’t care that the team came back. Lucho out.”

Genius is also in part circumstance. What if Barça had found that away goal last year and grabbed a double treble? Would Luis Enrique be a genius or a pariah? What if a new coach comes in at the exact time Vidal returns to himself, Gomes is fully assimilated, Denis Suarez blossoms and Alcacer figures out how to play at Barça? Almost every problem facing the current team will have been solved by the new person, in effect, doing nothing except showing up at the right time.

That’s the difficulty with seeing a single solution as the result to a complex problem. Recently, Pep Guardiola said that there is no way he would ever return to coach Barça, something that anyone would have already known had they been paying even an iota’s worth of attention to his career. But what if Guardiola returned to the team that made him a coaching deity? Again, it’s the single solution dilemma. He would have the same problems that Sampaoli might have, and the same problems that Luis Enrique has right now, outlined in previous posts. Without a vial of vampire blood to restore players to their youthful, magical selves, what is he to do?

The spine of Barça is not young. One of its most vital players should, by all rights, be sliding into an emeritus role instead of still being relied upon to make magic happen. The club’s superstar is a magnificent player still, but isn’t the player that he once was. The club’s superstar in waiting can’t be the player that he has the potential to become because he is limited by the resident superstar. Without a quality right back, the issues of that and a molasses-like RCB mean that opponents will, with regularity, be able to find happiness on that side of the Barça defense.

Its DM, really a hybrid midfielder has been found out by opponents, who attack him directly, limit his space and cut off his passing angles. And he can’t get any help because one of the people who should, has to help with defensive cover on the right side. Meanwhile his legendary AM teammate never had the range or pace to do what is demanded of him when opponents in effect, take Busquets out of a match.

It’s easy to demand “football,” but more difficult to come up with viable ways to implement it. Any coach will have that problem at Barça, which isn’t to say that the team shouldn’t make a coaching change in the summer. The game is forcing shorter and shorter cycles. Three years is about the maximum effective term for a coach, particularly at a club such as Barça, where all of football is trying to come up with ways to stop you from winning all the time.

Today’s tactical innovation is tomorrow’s limitation. This was as true of Guardiola as it is of Luis Enrique. So it’s time for the next person to come in. Whoever that person is, watching them attempt to solve the problems — and make no mistake, there are many, many problems — present at the moment will be fascinating.

Potentially, the solution could be as simple as, buy an RB. Then he does what he does, Raktic returns to Treble Rakitic and the team is off to the races. But an RB is only one solution to a series of difficulties. Pick your coach, any coach, and that reality isn’t going to change. How long will that new person have before a fanbase begins chanting for his head? A season? Half a season?

Rainieri got just over a half season after his year of fairytale triumph. Because the game doesn’t care. Luis Enrique got one season, as people were calling for his ouster last season, when his team won a double. The game can’t be patient because it is constantly changing, with players and tactics. But there will always be times when you wish that it wasn’t so heartless and facile.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

35 Comments

  1. luisthebeast
    February 26, 2017

    Nobody can tell what a new coach will do.Lets say Sampaoli is our new manager.I cant say if it will be a triumph or a disaster.
    When in 2003 we hired Frank i dont remember people be happy.
    Same in 2008 with Pep.Many wanted Mou.
    And also with Lucho the same story in 2014.
    So to say what the new coach will do is a mystery.

  2. Rami
    February 26, 2017

    What you’re describing is just a partial manifestation of a larger beast, It’s something that extends beyond just a coach, But also the players, There is no hiding that there is a toxic environment surrounding FCB, And this toxicity is generated by it’s fan-base.
    The demand of instant gratification, The demand of unattainable standards from their team, Is almost an impossible environment to work in, As a coach or even a player.

  3. Jim
    February 26, 2017

    Wow ! Three at the back. Wasn’t expecting this. Still, at least he’s trying something. Maybe not the best game to try it out though. Credit for trying something.

  4. Tata2
    February 26, 2017

    anyone with free live stream links?

  5. lala10
    February 26, 2017

    LE is a big big fool

    • Jim
      February 26, 2017

      Not for me. It’s not great but at least he’s trying something. We were always going to be under the cosh first thirty. And it’s not as bad as the Sky pundits are saying at the moment.

      I thought the three turning into four at times is working quite well considering we haven’t played it before. It gives us a bit more solidity in midfield.

      The disappointment for me is that we aren’t playing it better through the midfield. Our passes are also not crisp enough. Firing them about creates time for the receiver. Iniesta still looks a step off although I’d expect that to improve second half. He’s only a couple of games back from long injury. SR and Rafinha are going to have to improve their first touch. They’re not gonna get the time they want on the ball.

      The front three look good when they get the ball. Suarez looks up for it but still have a hankering to see Neymar running more centrally. Key for me is getting Ini on the ball more so they can’t concentrate on Neymar. Get the ball up to Messi and he’ll do it eventually.

      Still hopeful here.

  6. lala10
    February 26, 2017

    The Sevilla Betis/ Barca Betis were diff matches.

    Its not about hating/ liking coaches but being objective. Seville were outplayed in the first half but outplayed Betis in the 2nd half totally. Seville might not have won if not for the offside goal but regardless they had shown their face. Barca on the other were woefully woeful until Betis scored. They played well for 25 mins tops so lets not indulge in some revisionism

  7. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    I can’t remember this Ref’s name but I shudder every time I see him running our games. How AM escaped without a yellow card in first half his beyond me. Gabi’s kick on Ney towards end of half was ridiculous. Clear yellow. Nothing. The difference between AM fouls and Barca fouls is the cynical nature of AM fouls. No intent to play ball. So the first tough/cynical foul we commit 2nd half will be a yellow. Mark my words. Every time.

  8. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    Ter Stegan has been having a tremendous game. Luis seems to be back to wasting the easy opportunities this game. It only takes one for him to bury but he hasn’t even been on target.

  9. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    And there’s the yellow. I would argue Busi is at least trying to play the ball. Gabi just kicked Ney’s leg. Hack job & no yellow

  10. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    Ghost face hasn’t been his effective penetrating self. Still not match fit but also hasn’t had much space either.

  11. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    Rafina! So happy for him. Great hustle to be there

  12. TITO
    February 26, 2017

    Let’s hang on now till the end.

  13. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    Damn. I hate seeing Torres come on. He always presents a danger to our back line. His movement is almost as good as Suarez. Who I need to give credit to goal for. His position to receive that ball and turn once receiving it was gorgeous

  14. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    What a bullshit call by ref. Where was the foul? What a joke

  15. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    Not sure about that sub. Maybe before the goal but not now.

  16. TITO
    February 26, 2017

    Oh wait, Busi decides to be “Busi” today.

    • Messiah10
      February 26, 2017

      Haha. Yeah. He seriously has zero vertical jump. Look how much Diego out jumps him. Silly

    • Rami
      February 26, 2017

      From what i saw from the replay, It was a foul from godin, He pulled busi down as he was attempting to jump.

  17. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    Hate to beat a dead horse but Gabi should be gone. Way to pull out the yellows now with only quarter of game left.

  18. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    Cmon guys. We need all 3 pts. Big game. Not only for chance to win league but to keep Sevilla 2 pts behind us

  19. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    Love how beIN English decides to have Italian game on instead of Barca vs Athletic and then the Carling Cup final. Seriously? I could learn another language so I could understand Spanish commentators but I’m American so that’s my excuse.

  20. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    Goooooooooaaaaaaaaal!

  21. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    What a deft touch. Umtiti brilliant

  22. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    There’s Godin on Busi again. Pique & Umtiti have been immense

  23. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    Hell yes. What a win! Big effort!

  24. Rami
    February 26, 2017

    A while ago i said the league is hopeless, Because of our inconsistency, But it seems the whole team and those in charge are making me look like a complete idiot and a sell-out.
    Fantastic effort and perseverance, A performance to be proud of, 6 la liga in 8 season and we’re fighting for our 7th, Man oh man.

  25. Dar_vincy
    February 26, 2017

    This team most certainly could be discombobulating at times. All things considered, a win was a pipedream. Kudos to them for achieving this win at a difficult ground. Hoping the team recovers from its recent flump. If ever our La liga quest needed any fillip, this was it!

  26. lala10
    February 26, 2017

    Ter Stergen immense again. Its funny that so many doubted him. Bravo

  27. Davour
    February 26, 2017

    Great win, great effort from the team! Not fantastic, of course, but I – like Jim – will give credit to LE for doing something to shake things up, and we wone. The right side was quite disastrous during first half, though, Rafinha was awful and Sergi not much better, but we were the better team during 2nd half. Neymar creating all kinds of havoc and Messi showing up when needed. Iniesta cannot be fully fit, he could barely run. Rakitic brought some effort and Rafinha improved plenty when taking Iniesta’s place.

    A good fight and a fine effort from ter Stegen and the CBs. Well done! (and hope Mathieu’s injury is not too bad).

  28. Víctor
    February 26, 2017

    Madrid losing 2 – 0 against Villarreal now… still morw than half an hour to be played… but… if it happens then it’s a complete turn around this…

    Funny how a week can totally change perspective… not that it would definitelly mean a Barcelona championship but the doom and gloom will be gone for a while

  29. Víctor
    February 26, 2017

    Madrid getting awarded a penalty… how strange…

  30. Davour
    February 26, 2017

    Too bad RM managed a comeback (doubtful penalty, I heard); they use their weapons: getting penalties and converting crosses.

    Funny how quiet this space is after the game. A very important, hard-fought victory, and barely a whimper. Some contrast to the thunderstorm after Paris!

    Despite RM’s win, the Liga race is on – Clasico remains!

  31. Messiah10
    February 26, 2017

    That penalty was a complete farce. Not even close to hand ball. 1. It didn’t touch his arm 2. His arms were at his side, so even if it touched his arm it’s still not a penalty due to close proximity from where ball came from.

  32. luisthebeast
    February 26, 2017

    We fought hard to win and i was sure that madrid would have some help if things dont go their way.
    We cant control that but what we can is win our games and then go to Bernabeu and destroy them!!!!
    Bring us La Liga warriors!!!!

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