What Luis Enrique and President Josep Bartomeu don’t understand about Barcelona
After Barcelona beat Atletico Madrid 3-1 last weekend – with their best showing of the season – Luis Enrique said, “Victories are the only thing that can calm this wave [of noise]. As soon as we make mistakes, the crisis will be back. That’s very clear. I will concentrate on what I can control.” A few days later Barcelona’s President, Bartomeu, is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, “There is a lot of tension around the club. I don’t like it. With this announcement that there will be an [Presidential] election hopefully we will reduce the tension.”
Both of these quotes show a complete lack of understanding of what the supporters want and what has been wrong at the club over the past few seasons.
First, Enrique’s quote would be appropriate if Barcelona had been losing a majority of their games and if they weren’t only one point behind their rivals and current top of the table Real Madrid (though Madrid do have a game in hand). Barcelona’s record is not the disconcerting part for the club’s supporters. With the injuries the team has suffered, with Luis Suarez’s match ban affecting the team’s strategy and cohesion, the new philosophy of yet another coach, and Real Madrid’s recent form, Barcelona’s record and position in the table is understandable.
Barcelona getting results but painful to watch
What has been the problem all season (and last season as well) has been the way Barcelona has played. Every team wants to win, and at a club like Barcelona, it is expected. But what has always set Barcelona apart – at least since Cruyff – is Barca’s philosophy on how to play the game. The philosophy starts when the players join La Masia and continues throughout their time at the club.
They are taught to love and protect the ball and to play as a unit with each player’s movement being complemented by a teammate. In essence, Barcelona is supposed to play in a way that personifies the phrase, “the beautiful game.”
Under Enrique – not including the most recent game – that has not been the case. Yes, Barcelona have won and remains competitive in all competitions, but the way the victories have been accomplished leaves a lot to be desired from the club’s supporters. Barca’s play has been disjointed, disorganized, and painful to watch despite positive results.
The supporters of the club have been upset with Enrique because the play being demonstrated on the pitch is not up to the quality that is expected of a Barcelona team. This is something Enrique clearly does not understand. After the team’s loss to Real Sociedad, the coach claimed the team was “unlucky” not to score, completely missing the point that the team played without any joy and without the Barcelona philosophy.
This lack of understanding on Enrique’s part is obvious when you compare his recent quotes to Iniesta’s quote after the game with Atletico. In one sentence, Iniesta summed up the Barcelona philosophy and what is expected of the club: “In the end, all that matters is that we show what we did today and that people can enjoy it.” Not only results, but quality and joy.
Barcelona board have made too many wrong decisions
Additionally, Bartomeu’s quote (and really the whole interview) only highlights the reasons Barcelona is in the situation it is in now and why everyone will be happy when he is gone this summer. The tension in the locker room wasn’t due to uncertainty of a Presidential election, it was due to the players’ anger, nervousness, and disappointment over the decisions the board of directors have made over the last few years.
In the time this board has been in office, the Barcelona players have watched as the board hired the wrong people, bought the wrong players, and put politics and promotion above the quality of the team. The tension was created by this board and it shows a complete lack of self-awareness to think and say that the unknown prospect of elections was bothering the way the team performed. Their play suffered because of decisions made by the board, plain and simple.
Any club with Barcelona’s budget can put together a team that can achieve positive results (i.e. Manchester City). But Barcelona was and is more than just victories, the club is special because of its devotion to its style of play and its devotion to its values. It is that belief and devotion that helped usher in Cruyff’s dream team and Pep’s teams, assuring that many around the world fell in love with not only the team but the way they played.
This summer, to the relief of Barcelona supporters, Bartomeu will be gone and probably so too will Enrique (as everyone has pointed out, a new President will want his own coach). Bartomeu will not be missed and right now, neither will Enrique. There is still time for him, but he needs to understand he is not just being judged solely by their place in the table, but also by the way in which they achieved that spot.
Maybe he understands it and last week was the beginning, but so far this season he and his players are speaking a different language, not only on the field but also off it. They believe in Barcelona while Enrique, it seems, just believes in victories.