Coaches, cults, perfection and reality

There is no such thing as a perfect coach.

But in this, the day and age of coach as icon, in which some of the minds on the bench are as revered as players, an odd sort of iconography has come up, born as much of the armchair tactician era, where social media talks about formations and tosses about numbers in a cyber coaching confab.

Coaches are people paid to get results. Just like players. Coaches are also, for the most part, as good as their players. Diego Simeone is a magnificent coach. But at the end of it all, his players came up short. And we need look no farther than the Premiership for another way of illustrating grim reality as a trio of new coaches, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho took over at clubs. Two of them won silver. All three worked to instill their philosophies with a new group of players. But Conte had the season, with his Prem-title-winning Chelsea, that many expected Guardiola to have.

Conte came in, identified problems, identified players who could help fix those problems, made some tactical changes and won a championship. So the cult of coaching works, right? Not so fast. It all depends on the coach.

There was a comment in the last post, made by Omoh, that is worth unpacking and digging into as Barça waits to announce its new coach.

Lucho has had them for 3 consecutive seasons and managed a treble only once which coincidentally was when the greatest midfielder in the history of the club was still present. Xavi.

This comment quite clearly speaks to the expectation present when you have the three best attackers in the game at your beck and call, while also answering a host of other questions, including why top attackers such as Gabriel Jesus opted not to come to Barça. Expectation is a a brutal thing. Also embedded in this all is the idea that players win matches and coaches lose them.

History will be kinder to Luis Enrique in the future than his detractors are in the present. Pep Guardiola won 14 trophies in four seasons at Barça, an astounding record. He also did the treble once, and the double once.

Luis Enrique will have — should his team win the Copa final — nine trophies in three seasons, which doesn’t exactly suck. He, too, did a treble and a double.

The difference between the two coaches is, in supporter lore, a chasm. But here’s something worth considering: If Luis Enrique is poor for having only won a single treble with Messi/Suarez/Neymar, what might the same person say of Guardiola, who won “only” one treble even while having prime Xavi, Iniesta, Alves, Valdes, Puyol, Abidal, Messi, Eto’o (who was discarded for the Ibrahimovic experiment), in addition to a supporting cast that included the likes of Pedro, Alexis Sanchez and David Villa.

If you believe in the concept of a team, Luis Enrique has done quite well given the players he has had at his disposal, particularly if you consider the prevailing notion that his transfers have sucked almost as badly as he does.

If a team is a unit, Barça went from a back line of Alves/Pique/Puyol/Abidal under Guardiola, to Alves-Sergi Roberto/Pique/Mascherano-Mathieu-Umtiti/Alba. I know which back line I want. The midfield under Guardiola was Xavi/Iniesta/Busquets. Now it’s Iniesta/Raktic/Busquets. Again, that choice is an easy one.

This isn’t to defend Luis Enrique because he doesn’t need defending. A treble and a double and a possible 9 trophies in 3 years speaks for itself, even if you worship the white-robed purity of a Method of Play. If you want to believe that it was only Messi propping up Luis Enrique, then what happened over the past two seasons? Barça is a team that can call upon, is driven by and defined by the best player to ever play the game. Messi has propelled his team to results that the group didn’t deserve, to be sure. But the team also pulled out some matches that the group didn’t deserve. Messi can’t do everything, which is why the rest of the team also matters. It isn’t enough to have the three best attackers in the game, send them out there and wait for trophies to rain down.

Anyone asking seriously what happened, bereft of narrative, from treble to double to Copa would have to look at what for me are the two most significant things: too many transfers and poorly timed injuries. In the treble season, Xavi was coming off the bench. In the double season, Iniesta stayed fit and Alves was a key player who functioned as much as a midfielder as a fullback. This season, right as the team devised a system of play, one of the crucial cogs, Rafinha, went down. Again. And again. Iniesta was in and out of the team due to injuries. And right when the team looked to have figured out how to get some life from the right side, an ill-timed tackle removed that option. Mathieu could never find form because he was injured all the time. Turan was injured a lot as well.

Transfers enter the frame in the form of too many players needing to learn too much too soon, the effect being that you always someone trying to pick up a difficult system mentally. Gomes wasn’t as good as he was going to be. Complicating things is that he needed to be better than he was at those crucial times. The same could be said for Alcacer. Would the team have been better off keeping Munir or Sandro, who were already versed in the system? Would they have been better off replacing Alves with an RB and using Sergi Roberto in midfield? Valid questions all. As it was, this season felt like one where nobody was where they needed to be, on the pitch or on the lineup card. The consequence was instability.

This doesn’t even take into account the rather different ways that opponents began playing Barça, which really began in earnest under Guardiola as Inter and then Chelsea decided they were happier giving Barça the ball, then sit in the low block and hit off the counter. Any time a team didn’t play Barça like that, they got smoked. And this was true under Guardiola or Luis Enrique. Don’t forget the calls for a Plan B that began under Guardiola, as Barça was thwarted by low blocks.

A coach’s job is to win matches and trophies. The other things that supporters crave are tertiary to those big two. If a coach manages to gild Masia players and turn them into solid first teamers while playing exquisite football of the type that resembles a positional play diagram but Barça finishes fourth in the league and exits early in the Champions League group stages, what do we think will happen to that coach?

Luis Enrique has been the most successful abject failure in coaching history. As he leaves, the general consensus is that he sucked, underperformed and good riddance. Just where that idea gained traction is difficult to understand, particularly in light of the view of his transfers and the players on his roster. Barça is about to announce a new coach and the first #valverdeout hashtags are already popping up on Twitter amid the general view that he isn’t good enough, is a conservative choice, will lead to stagnation and doom.

And he hasn’t even been announced yet. Ernesto Valverde is still but a rumor.

Of course, there are perfect coaches. Tuchel, Oscar Garcia to name just a couple. Setien suddenly became trendy via late rush — anybody except Valverde, a coach who has done quite a good job during his Athletic Bilbao tenure, including schooling Barça in the SuperCopa. Athletic’s worst finish has been seventh (twice), which is impressive given a limited recruiting pool becasue of the Athletic restrictions on player background, and a usually much smaller transfer kitty compared to the other top Liga clubs.

But assumptions have already been made of Valverde, based on what? A coach will always adapt his approach to the players that he has at his disposal. Tuchel would be fun, but would he be the best choice for a team entering its athletic dotage, so to speak? Oscar Garcia has done really lovely work at Red Bull Salzburg, but what has he done to be rated more highly than a coach who has had success in La Liga? Part of it is where the cult of coaching comes in, and the theory that theory is superior to almost anything else. The coach you don’t have is better than the coach you have. So Oscar Garcia or Tuchel will press, bring back positional play, turn Masia talents into superstar first-team players, things Luis Enrique wasn’t interested in, and Valverde is incapable of.

It’s worth repeating at this juncture that we don’t know. Anything. Zidane took over Real Madrid, led them to a Champions League victory and has them poised to not only do the double this season, but be the first repeat Champions League winner in a very long time. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t rated as a coach when he was handed the whistle by Florentino Perez. But the biggest reason to question the cult of coaching is the sideeye thrown about when a certain Pep Guardiola was named Mister at FC Barcelona. Look what happened to him.

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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.

21 Comments

  1. sumitd0704
    May 25, 2017

    Another great article Kevin! Agree with you almost on all the points you’ve made.
    As I’ve said before Valverde playing pragmatically away from the home with Athletic is not a great indicator of the football he’d eventually play with Barcelona. A small sample set but looking at the away records of Emery’s Sevilla, Valvarde’s Athletic and Marcelino’s Villareal, I found a clear correlation between manager’s tenure at the club and the progressive dip in the team’s away record.

    The context here is that many mid-table teams have very good first season with the new coach in place but struggle to maintain the momentum in the subsequent seasons.

    In fact, Valverde’s Athletic played rather well away from the home in his very first season as the manager, scoring 24 goals, conceding 21 and creating a respectable sum of 144 chances. Also note that this was the same team that was battered the previous season finishing 12th under Bielsa.

    Case in point: Emery’s Sevilla
    Emery’s Sevilla played breathtaking football in his first full season (14-15). However, in 15-16 season, Sevilla was one of the worst away teams, scoring 13, conceding 29 and more importantly not winning a single away game. Were it not for Europa League (they won just on penalties in Semis, curiously, against Athletic), it was not a particularly great campaign.

    This is not to play down Emery’s achievements but to add a context that managers changing tactics over time to suit their players should not be held against them.

    I also dug a little deep to analyse Valverde’s time with Valencia. Admittedly it is a small sample size as he was in charge for just about 7 months. But he did remarkably well to steady the ship. Before Valverde took charge, Valencia had not won a single away game and scoring just 2 goals in the 7 away games they played. Under his charge, Valencia showed a clear improvement in their away record (6W, 3L, 3D) with 23 goals scored and 18 conceded.

  2. sumitd0704
    May 25, 2017

    The point here is that it is very difficult to make judgement on the coach’s tactics by analysing his time with mid-table teams. It is not uncommon to see the same coach applying completely different tactics with different teams or with the same team in different seasons. There could be several reasons for this: budget constraints, no scope for refreshing the squad, lack of continuity due to the player churn or players simply losing steam / motivation over time.

    Valverde’s achievements (or lack thereof) should be read in this particular context. I think he has undoubtedly done an exceptional job, stabilising the squad and maintaining the consistency over 4 seasons. I still maintain that Barcelona does not need a tactical genius to oversee a revolution but someone who knows how to fit the parts together. Valverde fits the bill. Hence, a cause for optimism!

  3. dl
    May 25, 2017

    Lucho has done a fine job, though there were no end of head-scratching moments. Memory is a fickle thing, though, and just as the pain of childbirth is said to quickly fade, so have our frustrations at Pep, to give just one example. He’s now seen as that greatest of greats, that visionary of visionaries, etc etc. I’m disappointed we didn’t win the league, but I honestly feel that RM deserve it more, and this inspite of all the dodgy calls, last minute goals, etc. that went their way. They were simply more consistent, and won when they had to, and we didn’t.
    There are certainly areas where Lucho did not do well, but the ideal decision is only known in hindsight, and even then it is often just a story we tell ourselves. I have many incredible memories from his three years, and I hope he continues to do well. Just imagine, 30 years from now he’ll be on the list as one of the coaches of one of the greatest teams of all time.

  4. Jim
    May 25, 2017

    I wasn’t gonna bite at the LE issue because I’m aware I maybe have a rather particular slant on it but this is the second article suggesting he doesn’t get the credit he deserves so one personal viewpoint on the way. Apologies in advance !

    First of all, Pep’s teams. I have never in my life seen football played so well , in ALL his seasons. They moved as one and everyone contributed. Yes, LE has had inferior players to work with. However, the only reason Pep’s team struggled in his last season was that we had started to pride ourselves on the fact that we could win games without anyone actually entering the opponents’ box. We had no CF to push the CBs about and out of position so they smoked the smug cigar all game. However, we were good enough to hang around their box squirting the ball about without worries and I for one appreciated it. Don’t know why Pep didn’t get the message – or maybe he did and was undone by the lack of motion of Zlatan. Either way we struggled.

    Move on to LE. He inherited basically the same team if a little older and I could have been persuaded to cut him a little slack for that had he shown an intention to try to preserve what made us the greatest team on earth. However,

    He came in determined to be the hard man. Wrong.
    He picked self inflicted fights with Pique, Messi and others in his first six months. Wrong.
    After Anoeta Xavi , who had been easily our best midfielder in the first half of the season, became largely a sub to be used from the bench to calm things down and take control of the game. Even writing that it seems daft. Wrong.

    And so began the era of the diminished midfield. We were told time and again, here and elsewhere, that the game had moved on from the midfield and all we had to do was get the ball forward asap and they would do the necessary. They did for a while and it wasn’t a surprise. At the time when some were doubting that Suarez should ever have been purchased it was obvious to others amongst us that he was the missing piece to give the CBs a hard time and that they would be unstoppable. And they were . . . But at the same time the hoof forard made Xavi feel less useful and he decided to go at the end of the season. Not to retire but to go elsewhere rather than stay to oversee the next generation of midfielders. This was the guy who saved Lucho’s skin, remember , and would have had something to say about downgrading the midfield.

    The midfield started to become a quick conduit to the front three, Rakitic looked half decent because he wasn’t asked to do anything other than run ( honestly, is there a slower player in La Liga and we bought him to add pace to our slow midfield ? ) and Iniesta suffered the indignity of having to hoof it forward to feed MSN. It wasn’t just me saying we’d live to regret devaluing the mids. Even Balague was saying it clearly and reasonably eloquently about “automisms” and how we’d regret it later.

    And we did. As defences became aware that we now struggled to hold the ball under pressure and were on guard against the long ball we started to struggle and it has really just got worse since ( with the possible exception of recently when LE belatedly freed Iniesta in a few games to roam and control the ball movement. Immediate improvement.

    LE then had the opportunity last summer to strengthen the team. If anything suggested to me that he was out of his depth it was the list of journeymen ( Umtiti apart ) who arrived. Vidal, Turan, Rafinha, Suarez, Gomes to add to Rakitic. They smacked of no vision as to how he wanted us to play. Again, we were told by LE and others that this was the strongest squad in ages and they arrived as heroes. Didn’t see it then and said so and don’t see it now. After possibly the worst season a £30m player has had in a while, Gomes, we are now told, is showing clear signs of finding his feet. Well, maybe, but even if he does what do you see him offering ? Do you see him receiving hospital balls and turning them into good possession , running past opponents to break the lines, getting the time he seems to need to get his brain into gear ? I don’t. SR was his wonder move. After one game everyone seemed to leap on LE’s marvellous vision in turning him into a FB. Except he didn’t, not really as we found out to our cost. I love his runs with the ball breaking the lines as much as anyone but that’s not enough and it doesn’t happen enough.

    He also had the chance to try out the best passer in La Masia to see if he would make it in the firsts, Samper. How much of a chance did he get ? Again, we were told here and by Lucho that he needed to play so they sent him to Granada, a team entirely comprised of loanees who every week set out to display their wares in the hope of attracting buyers by running about like the proverbial chickens , dribbling wherever possible and eschewing the sordid thought of ever playing a return pass. None of this should have been a surprise. After I watched my first Granada game I remember posting that had I been in charge of them I wouldn’t play Samper either as there was no point unless you want to pass. So he has spent most of the season on the bench and if it will take LE’s departure to at least earn him a chance then good but there is just as big a chance that he will return traumatised and take half a season to remember that once you pass a ball you can occasionally get a return pass.

    So, no, with some exceptions I’ve not really enjoyed the football on offer during LE’s time. I have marvelled like everyone else at Messi, occasionally but not as often as some at Neymar and at just about everything Iniesta does but as a team we’ve lost our way. We shouldn’t be getting cuffed away to PSG or Juventus or losing meekly to rotten teams in La Liga. It might happen once in a blue moon but I’ve spent most of the last two seasons watching Madrid build a whole side, relying more and more on their mids while we sideline ours and are reduced to hoping rather than believing.

    Madrid’s possible double is depressing for me but it has been coming. We could have avoided this but we didn’t and although LE must by dint of being coach get his share of the credit for the treble, he leaves us a much worse team than he found, in my opinion, and way more dependant on Messi.

    Valverdi ? Doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm but I don’t know a lot other than Bilbao for me don’t light up the world with their style of play. However, we’ll know more when we see who goes, who comes in and get an idea of how he wants to play. Make no mistake, this is a crossroads for us. Unless we go back to our basics ( does Valverde even know them?) that style of play will be lost and good luck then once Messi retires.

    (Sorry for the grouchiness but I was beaten on the last green in a golf tie tonight by a guy who spent about half an hour trying to tell me that Messi should have been locked up for his tax fraud . . .)

    • himanshupdsharma
      May 26, 2017

      Finally someone has the balls to not bother about being politically correct. Beautifully pointed out most shortcomings. Also it cannot be ignored that kroos was available b4 moving to Madrid for cheap and last year pjanich was too but we chose to buy players which I feel were not needed. This clearly tells me that idea was from the beginning to bypass the midfield and I cannot help but to point out the coach. Add to this many bizzare incidents like not giving opportunities to players like Grimaldo and I am forced to conceive that there was actually no long term plan.

      • himanshupdsharma
        May 26, 2017

        And it is really annoying to hear people again and again citing results to hide the glaring weaknesses of lucho. I simply fail to understand how playing beautiful football , smartly building for future and winning cannot be aimed together specially when you have MSN in your team.

    • Seconded, Jim 🙂
      we decided to bypass midfield and RM decided to strengthen midfield. look who benefitted.
      I remember commenting here, when Isco looked like an upcoming Iniesta with Malaga. For me he was our big miss in the transfer market.

    • Half and Half
      May 26, 2017

      Superb post, Jim. Agree with virtually all of that. I said the other day that, win (mostly) or lose the performances have been far too chaotic and reliant on the front three. Eventually such shaky foundations get found out.

      The guys above Lucho don’t care though about style of play and what goes into those 90 mins of football or having to construct a team. It is all about the now, money, status, and winning. I have little faith of things changing.

    • sumitd0704
      May 26, 2017

      Hey Jim,
      I remember you advocating Unzue a little while back to take the mantle from Lucho. Sure enough that would have meant continuity as the players are already accustomed to the setup. What I am trying to understand is why you think Valverde is a worse choice than him. This is specifically with regards to your concern that Bilbao hasn’t exactly lightened up the Liga. Would Unzue not be an equally, if not more, risky choice given he has little top-level experience? And if Lucho hasn’t exactly left the team in the best of the conditions, why do you think continuity is more desirable than ‘refreshing’? I am not saying it either way. Just wondering that if we decide to apply the same yardsticks to both the coaches here, which boxes you think Unzue ticks (that Valverde doesn’t). Pls don’t take it in a wrong way, I am genuinely interested in knowing why you think so!

      • Jim
        May 26, 2017

        Hi Sumit. Nice to see more folks commenting . Never worry about folks here taking things the wrong way. They’re all just opinions and if you put some up you need to be able to hear and think about opposing views. I think when I spoke about Unzue I was clear to say I really didn’t know much about him. He might have agreed with everything LE did or just had to go along – don’t know. What appealed was the fact that all season he has appeared more motivated during pig games than LE, that it always seemed to be technical stuff, I saw him roasting both Pique and Masche at one point and his hug with Messi at the end of the PSG return showed warmth on both sides.

        I actually, if true, loved the fact that Unzue fell out with Neymar during training about the effort he was putting in. I’m totally mixed up about Neymar. He is certainly second or third in the world talent wise ( not sure I’d put him above Ini but he has more energy) . I love his ability to dribble at pace yet am frustrated by the number of times he stops he ball ( not just his fault btw, see comments above re lack of midfield ) . His distribution needs to be much closer to Messi’s if he is ever going to claim best in world but I know he can do it. That means he needs to see that is what is valued so he needs someone to be on his case if he rests with what he has already.

        I feel that if we want to recapture some of the passing game and control we need someone who knows what everyone’s job should be rather than an incomer . He would be continuity but hopefully would jig things around to get the best out of the time we have left with Iniesta and Messi. I’m not denying we’d still need to spend big on the right midfielder but the rest is shape and position . I liked what we did with the three at the back ( wouldn’t be averse to giving Pique, Umtiti and Alba a shot – plenty of pace but we’d need to watch the height. Maybe Marlon if he shows up well ?) . That gave us an extra person in midfield freed up Ini to go where he liked which meant we were less predictable and Messi didn’t have to drop ALL the time.

        So I can see advantages to Unzue but you’re right, it’d be more continuity and emphasis than radical change. You change something radically you take a season to establish it. As I said I’ve nothing against Valverde but giving an ordinary team organisation is much easier than finding the tweaks necessary to make a great team the best again. Wouldn’t be averse to him but I’d be disappointed if Barto swerved Unzue just because of the spat with Neymar. As I said I think we’d get a better idea once he comes and decides the comings and goings during the close season because we also need someone hard enough to tell one or two mids they are on their way. Necessary both to maintain standards and raise money for new purchases.

        About experience I think it’s a close thing whether running your own team at a lower level or being completely involved in the decision making and taking training at a top team plus analysing what needs to be done against, for example, a packed defence suits you better for Barca. We are unique in world football in that teams are scared of our ability to take them apart if they open up the game. You just don’t even think about that at other teams.

        So, all in all, I think I would have gone for Unzue but it’s not like I’m thurled to that decision. I can see both sides of this, just don’t know much about Valverde. If we think about it, Pep didn’t do badly stepping up, nor Tito. They both hit the ground with their own ideas despite having been here before.

    • May 26, 2017

      More thoughts:

      EVERYBODY has a slant on the Luis Enrique issue. It is, generally, he is shit. That isn’t something that I agree with, even as I believe he made lots of mistakes on the bench and in the transfer market.

      It’s also worth noting the Gerard Pique comments from today’s presser on Luis Enrique. Very laudatory, and talks about how Luis Enrique won the entire team over, etc. But yeah, what do players know?

      Guardiola’s teams played beautiful football in part because people hadn’t yet figured out how to play them, and they boasted some of the best players in the history of the game, in their prime, led by an excellent coach. As noted above, Chelsea and Inter started the process of figuring it out. That process continued.

      So much of what was written above is ignored in favor of another “Lucho sucks, and here’s why” treatise. But the way the team was playing the game had to change. Opponents began to figure it out under Guardiola, and that process continued under subsequent coaches. Bayern in Champions League, even given the mess that group was in, laid it all bare in the most brutal fashion. And a fanbase that doesn’t want to let go of a certain period finds anything that doesn’t mirror that period flawed. The game moves on. So should we. Guardiola has. Look at how he coached Bayern, and Manchester City. But so much of this fanbase is still stuck in a time when a great team comprised of iconic players was at its prime.

      That team, with those players, could have pretty much played any damn way it wanted and still won matches. Those players were astounding. We forget that.

      Luis Enrique had ideas, and implemented them to more or less success. Everyone clamored for a 9. He got the best 9 in the game. He also made Neymar evolve, made Sergi Roberto into a legit first teamer, helped build Iniesta 2.0 and improved most of the players under his charge. Busquets hasn’t played better than he is right now. Neither has Rafinha. He also brought in Ter Stegen, Umtiti, Rakitic and a host of other difference-making transfers.

      People act as if his tenure was an unmitigated disaster because he didn’t play football like Guardiola did. That was impossible because the game evolved. But that isn’t something that is easy to admit because it messes up a number of the other contentions that the “Lucho sucks” brigade has.

      Luis Enrique is a flawed coach, like every coach. Again, as noted above. And like it or not, again as noted above, a manager will be judged on his results. Play beautiful football, lose and you’re fired. What is Paco Jemez doing these days?

      Barça has a different standard of beauty when it comes to football. Coaches need to play lovely football. But people act as though Luis Enrique’s team didn’t every play attractive football, like every ball was just lumped forward for folks to run onto.

      It isn’t about “having balls” or being “politically correct.” It is about accurately assessing the tenure of a coach who stands to potentially have won nine trophies in three years in its own context., and without hyperbole. And that is where so much of the “Lucho sucks, good riddance” stuff falls short. None of it looks at what actually happened, not only in the context of the game but in the context of the team, its injuries, how transfers did and didn’t work. And every time I try to do something like that, the “Lucho sucks” brigade ignores it in favor of “He sucks, results are bullshit, and here’s why.”

      Results aren’t bullshit. Results get coaches hired and fired. If Guardiola had played the football that he played and didn’t win trophies, what does anyone think would have happened? Would he have been hired at Bayern, deified then hired at City? Of course not. We forget so much as we stake out spaces, just like people pick and choose which parts of a post here to pay attention to. But without remembering and assessing everything, a picture is never complete. It’s like the “goals are everything” crowd who insist that numbers are why Ronaldo is better than Messi. Their worldview is an incomplete one.

  5. raj
    May 26, 2017

    As seasons go by, we nearing at the tail end of Messi’s career guys.

    The GOAT right here, right now, for Barca for real. Nothing else matters.

    We should enable him rather than being a burden on his shoulders. We should ask him to just stand there and exhibit his skills for the world to see. But what do we do? We go to PSG and lose 4-0 away, we go to Juventus and lose 3-0 away. Imagine a Barca which holds its ground at away games and lets Messi decide games for us.
    It is ridiculous that Messi is required to play in midfield just because “there isn’t anyone else to get the ball forward”

    When you have Messi in your team (not to mention Neymar as well), everything else is details. And these details – like a world class team, tactics and motivation – must be handled by the coach so that they don’t end up being the bottle neck for Messi.
    Not easy, but when you want the best players to play in your team, you should step up in terms of management, isn’t it?
    Pep realized that, he enabled that reality by giving the best supporting cast he could for Messi. LE on the other hand just burdened Messi. Pep made bold decisions and risked everything on very young players. He had a vision and implemented it thoroughly. The difference is clear.

    And Messi is also the common denominator, the reason why LE and Pep comparison makes sense for me. He is the key tool through which both operated.

    • Excellent comment Raj.
      Our midfield required Messi so much that there were so many games when Barca looked like Argentina.

  6. May 26, 2017

    It is easy to confuse, “Luis Enrique had made errors, but isn’t as spectacularly shitty as so many suggest,” with “He is underrated and deserves more praise.”

    Even as I would suggest that both statements are accurate, confusing the two often leads to long comments and hyperbolic screeds. But without understanding which one is in play, discussion is difficult.

  7. Jim
    May 26, 2017

    I’m gonna take a wild guess that some of the comments are in reply to mine, Kxevin. (It wasn’t the Lucho out mention that gave it away it was the bit about confusion leading to long comments :). ). Or was it long comments leading to confusion ? Anyway . . .

    A few thoughts.

    First I’m not sure how much difference there necessarily is between the two comments above in practice so guilty as charged . I confess I’m also genuinely surprised, given a bald look at his results that there isn’t more support for LE staying on. I’ve made my reasons clear but I think you’re right that a lot of it has, rightly or wrongly, to do with the fact that Pep set the bar for the style of play so high. Whatever, I do hope that something is made of his leaving after the final. It all seems a bit low key for someone who did win a treble.

    I’m also not sure where the force in the “Lucho out brigade” comes from . I wouldn’t dream of using a phrase like ” the Lucho apologists” or something similar. I’m not sure he’s been great for us but haven’t ever called for him to be sacked. If others have, that is their view and for me they are entitled to it, especially if they back it up with what they regard as evidence. Now that he’s going it’s surely not upsetting anything to give opinions on his tenure?

    Second. I’m not sure I’d place too much emphasis on comments in a public presser made by a player about his departing manager. I think after a sticky start he did get the team back in the second half of the treble season and ours is a great bunch of players so I have no trouble believing that some of them would rather he stayed but now is the time to praise him rather than bury him if you’re a player speaking in public. So no surprise there.

    Third, I’m not sure that Guardiola’s coaching of Bayern or City is that much different in principle or practice. First thing at Bayern he brings in unproven young midfielder to run the passing game, leading to a huge development in that side of their game. At City, he insists on his goalie and defence passing out despite the fact they’d struggle to pass their way out of a paper bag. As he says he doesn’t play this way just for the love of it but because he believes that controlling the ball brings wins. Do you think that has changed and if so is it just till he gets players who can deliver what he wants ?

    Fourth. The game hasn’t moved on, imo. The game is generally cyclical. Before us you couldn’t get a game for a top team unless you were physically big. Here in Scotland I was in charge of the school ( 1800 pupils) under 16 team for a few years. Tried to get my local football team to have a look at two of the best midfielders we had ever had in terms controlling games through passing, dribbling and movement. They said they had seen them at an under 13 camp and had they grown enough? If not, they really weren’t interested. Pep’s Barca came along and suddenly small midfielders were possible because it’s about the ball not the physique. Now that we’re on the way down it becomes physical again . . . Until the next team comes along that can hold and pass the ball well enough. You also can’t tell someone who saw Jimmy Johnstone and Willie Henderson in Glasgow in the 60s and Best ( once, at the end of his career playing for Hibs. Still awesome although he struggled to put one foot in front of the other!) that the game has suddenly moved to the wings.

    Finally, to finish on a note of agreement , I’m really glad you agree with me that we have the best number nine in the world !

    • georgjorge
      May 26, 2017

      Top comment, and surely the most level-headed in the whole thread.

  8. ooga aga
    May 27, 2017

    Three Copas in a row!
    Gracies equip!

  9. georgjorge
    May 28, 2017

    What a scrappy game that was. Alaves doing the old “pushing and shoving” routine, and something about it must have affected our team, because in the second half it looked like everyone on both sides of the field had forgotten how to play good football. Comedies of errors from both teams, and no way to get a ball into the net. Strange.

    As I’ve said before, an interesting season with some spectacular games. For now, all bets about the future are off, except that Messi is going to continue doing awesome things on the field – that’s pretty much a given. Let’s use the summer holidays to calm ourselves down before another nerve-wracking (for good or bad) season!

  10. Davour
    May 28, 2017

    Great to end the season with a win! Not a great game, but a few great moments made normal by the greatest – too bad the season ends with him in this kind of form! Iniesta looked fantastic to me, and bar serious injuries he should have another world-class season in him, rightly managed. Neymar was a little disappointing to me, except the holding up the ball to await Messi’s run for the first and his own goal; he lost the ball way too often, but he’s had a very good season overall; if next brings greater sharpness in finishing, he will be complete (again, rightly managed).

    Thanks for the fabulous discussion above on LE – plenty of good arguments coming from different directions, and as usual we will never have all the facts. To me, it’s obvious that he, aided by Xavi, lifted the team from a bad place and provided energy (hell, even making Messi angry could’ve had an effect!), and the second season brought some fantastic plays (remember 4-0 clasico?). BUT he has not managed the transition well, and the team again looks as lost as when he took over. For me, he should have left after the second season. It is apparent that he is not a builder, despite some good results in man-management, but relies a lot on his personality – which he instilled in the team for the first part of his tenure, but couldn’t properly maintain. Of course, injuries have caused trouble, too. Always complexities.

    Now we’ll wait and see who is incoming – I would be surprised if it’s an ideologue of any kind! Valverde does not seem to be one, I least.

    • kneowell
      June 1, 2017

      The only thing I kept telling people since guardiola is that any coach that comes in after guardiola is never goingo be fully accepted by those who lived to watch guardiola’s team play football for 4 seasons. Now completely take away guardiola’s era from the picture and draw comparisons from the rijkaad age or earlier down till before cryuff’s, and you will find lucho indeed a great coach. So yes Jim was right, pep set, the bars damn too high for just anyone not to dwell under his shadows. Someone here said this team depended too much on Messi, but I like to remind that person that the term “messidependencia” was coined with pep on the helm of affairs. Messi’s dropped deep, played false nine, nine and all it was obvious at some point that once Messi was caged by teams who could manage that the fine passes then often led no where. So we began to crave for a true nine who would lift some of those burdens off Messi, then Suarez happened.
      Jim, am sure you wouldn’t make much of a situation where a boss and his employees has a bit of a misunderstanding with the common goal of making the team work. I assert this cause you highlighted the case of unzue and Neymar, and also mentioned why it would be indeed short sighted of the board to rule out unzue due to that rift, but am not sure why you classify same rift as “wrong” in lucho’s case. Coaches have quarrels with players and to me it’s completely normal and acceptable if they work for a common goal. Guardiola did have a couple of it with Ibra and even with Messi if anyone read balague’s account as contained in the book “another way of winning”. But of course lucho isn’t loved as pep and as such has no moral ground to stand up to the greatest player in the history of the game right? I will take that for the sake of how things work in the world, you have to be an authority to have a meaningful voice right?
      Guardiola’s final season was marred by injuries to key players which meant fringe players had to feature and like lucho’s case, they couldn’t solve the problems before them and both managers to the most part had to rely on Messi for bail, oh yes I saw that happen times without number. But these things are unacceptable when lucho’s name is mentioned.
      I really do not know how a coach managed to belt 9 trophies in 3 seasons without ideas, that is beyond me and some of us here might never be able to explain it, it also worthy of note that he did that with a full season of transfer ban in place, and then when he signed well, the issues of adaptation and injuries befell the team all at the same time.
      Numbers they say don’t tell the full stories, so I would expect the same flaws of his to be mentioned even of he wo 13/13 trophies, not even pep was spared in that regards by some critics. My admiration or lack of it for lucho is neither here nor there, but then i know that if I do really want to be objective, the very first stem I have to hold is the numbers. Pep could feature 9 good midfielders with good ball skills plus Messi and win his game. Lucho could feature 6 morons behind the MSN and win howbeit in a much less aesthetic way. But let’s put the numbers in perspective. Lucho was in charge of 180 games, won 137, drew 22. Lost 21. Got more wins in his first 100 games than even pep’s barca amidst all his flaws? If Pep prepared us for long term like most claim, how come same set of fans called for overhaul of the same team after Martino? These questions begs for answers and just as there will never be enough reason to show lucho is a great coach, there will never be enough reason to negate that either.
      Valverde? Oh I so pity him cos so long as Messi lives he is gonna be dipped times and again into that acid named pep, for his sake I hope his blue litmus turns red, personally though I think he is not gonna match that philosophy, so lucho 2.0 underway for the critics, as for me? Am just gonna sit with a bottle of coke and enjoy the ride because I have set my expectations below the bar set by Pep for the sake of inner peace.

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