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Is Jorge Sampaoli the Man to Replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona?

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistNovember 9, 2016

Jorge Sampaoli and Luis Enrique.
Jorge Sampaoli and Luis Enrique.Antonio Pizarro/Associated Press

The plan is to keep Luis Enrique. Barcelona have been clear about that.

What is not clear is if the coach wants to stay at Camp Nou beyond the length of his current contract, which expires at the end of June 2017.

Luis Enrique has always been adamant that he does not want to discuss the issue until the summer, stating in a press conference at the start of the season: “I will not decide my future until June 30.”

The Asturian claimed he would stay at Barcelona “until the day they get rid of me, or when I don’t have the strength to go on.”

By keeping his cards close to his chest, Barcelona have to start planning for a future without him, even if the prime objective is to get him to sign a new deal.

"The first option is Luis Enrique, Luis Enrique is the second and the third is also Lucho," said Barcelona vice-president Jordi Mestre, per Mundo Deportivo (h/t the Daily Mail's Will Griffee).

But the fourth? Clubs like Barcelona cannot rest on their laurels in a situation like this.

Luis Enrique is refusing to comment on his future.
Luis Enrique is refusing to comment on his future.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

While the most probable outcome is that Lucho renews for an extra year or two, there is a chance he will not. The coach has already won the treble and the double at Barcelona. There are no real goals left to achieve other than to win it all again.

He has already shown willingness to expand his world by heading to Italy to manage Roma, and it would not be a real surprise if he left Barcelona at the end of the season to try his hand elsewhere or even take a break, like Pep Guardiola did.

If that is the case, it will be because he is tired—tired of the debates, the media battles, tired of trying to get his way with the board, of being constantly in the spotlight. Being the coach of a club like Barcelona takes its toll.

On Sunday night, his team faced Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla in a game that was probably the best of the season to date. A real back-and-forth humdinger, which Barcelona edged 2-1. And it could come to be seen as the game that Sampaoli auditioned for the Barcelona job.

The Argentinian coach, who won the Copa America in 2015 with Chile, has had an instant impact at Sevilla. His team have, games against Barcelona aside, won every single match at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan all season.

Sampaoli has turbocharged Sevilla.
Sampaoli has turbocharged Sevilla.Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

He ended their horrendous 17-month streak without winning away from home in La Liga, and his brand of intense, possession-based, high-pressing football has captivated fans this season.

What is especially interesting is the similarity between the game Sampaoli plays and how Guardiola did at Barcelona, with Sport publishing an editorial about it:

The game served to put the coach on FC Barcelona’s map. The fans discovered a coach whose team played like Barcelona did under Guardiola at Camp Nou. Intensity, pressure, attacking play, changing positions, tactical risks.

[...]

Sampaoli has almost all the virtues that Barcelonismo wants from their coach and is a name that should be considered at the end of the season if Luis Enrique decides to abandon his position.

Bleacher Report spoke to one of the Spanish newspaper’s sub-directors, Albert Masnou, a journalist who has a good relationship with Sampaoli.

Would Sampaoli like the Barcelona job and is he capable of handling the position?

 “Yes, he would like it," Masnou said. "Then again who wouldn't like to train a team like this? What he looks for more is a project. He looks for a project where he can build something. In the crazy world of football everything seems ephemeral, what he wants is a project he can work on long term.

“In his sporting career, Sampaoli has trained many teams with very different profiles to Barcelona. Sevilla is the team with the most 'cracks' in it, although the Chile national team has a lot of good players.

Sampaoli led Chile to Copa America glory.
Sampaoli led Chile to Copa America glory.Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

“His first experience with Sevilla is going very well. For his profile, his way of being, the way he understands football, I don't think he would have trouble taking over a team like Barcelona. Or Real Madrid, or whoever it may be.”

In the first 45 minutes, Sevilla crushed Barcelona, giving them little recourse. Only one moment of magic from Lionel Messi was enough to pull the Catalans level after Vitolo’s well-taken opener.

Sevilla passed the ball left and right, intensely attacking, sending the full-backs flying forward and not giving the visitors a moment to catch their breath and work out how to stop them.

Goalkeeper Sergio Rico has noted how his coach wants the team to play from the back, per EFE (h/t Sport), which is exactly how Guardiola and Luis Enrique instruct their sides to use the ball.

Sergio Rico spoke about how Sampaoli wants him to play with his feet.
Sergio Rico spoke about how Sampaoli wants him to play with his feet.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

“He plays like this,” Masnou said, referring to what has become known as the Barcelona style. “His sources of knowledge are many and are varied.

“But key people who have influenced him are Marcelo Bielsa, of course, Guardiola, whom he admired Barcelona's play under, Juanma Lillo, who helped him a lot with positional play—also was helpful to Barcelona, also Paco Seirul.lo [a physical trainer at the club], another person he admires a lot for his knowledge of how Barcelona play and the club's style.

“He likes Barcelona’s style, he likes the style of many ways of playing. Barcelona's style is not just the property of Barcelona, he likes the style of Bayern Munich, for example, but yes, he likes this type of play.

“The priority is that Luis Enrique renews. The will of Barcelona is that he renews. This before anything. Barcelona love Luis Enrique. But Luis Enrique said at the start of the season that he won't say whether he wants to renew or not until the end.

“So Barcelona have to be on guard, because if he says no then they need to have a good solution. Sampaoli would be a good one. Not the only one. But a good one.”

Barcelona beat Sevilla in a thrilling clash.
Barcelona beat Sevilla in a thrilling clash.Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

If Luis Enrique were to leave, there are few better options to take over than Sampaoli, even allowing for the fact that he has no history with the club.

That is something that would count against him in the eyes of some of the board and perhaps the fans, too, given they take pride from having homegrown figures in charge.

“At Barcelona what they look for in key positions is someone who has been linked with the club before,” Masnou said.

“For example, the director general [Oscar Grau] is a former handball player here, the sporting director [Robert Fernandez] is a former first-team football player. The will of the club is for this type of link. It's an idea they want to apply.

“But it's a condition, not necessarily an obligation. The coach of the basketball team was never at the club before. Would they like it [if the new coach had played for the club]? Yes. Is it an obligation? No.”

Legendary midfielder Xavi Hernandez is likely to take the reins one day, but this summer would be far too soon for him, considering he is still playing in Qatar.

Lucho played for Barcelona back in the day.
Lucho played for Barcelona back in the day.Dave Thompson/Associated Press

Sampaoli seemed a popular figure with Barcelona players after the game, with Javier Mascherano, Neymar and Messi coming over to embrace him afterwards.

He has spoken out to praise the latter on many occasions, saying before this clash that the No. 10 merited his own Ballon d’Or award every year while the rest of the world should compete for a separate trophy.

It is usually difficult to predict how well a coach would do at a club, and Barcelona hiring Sampaoli would be no guarantee of success.

But on paper, considering he plays football closer to Guardiola’s style than Luis Enrique does, he would be a good fit. Many Barcelona fans will hope they don’t get the chance to find out—it all depends on Luis Enrique’s decision at the end of the season.

  

Rik Sharma is Bleacher Report's lead Barcelona correspondent. All information and quotes obtained firsthand unless specified. Follow him on Twitter here: @riksharma_.