surinenglish

All in a day's work

When Luis Enrique first took his seat in the Barcelona dug-out he looked like he'd just sailed into town on his yacht from Puerto Banús - all sunglasses, jeans, trainers - the picture of mid-life relaxation.

That was the image, and he managed the same way. He was all style; a careful shrug or a playful expression to his players said it all. Success was earned but it was pretty stress-less.

In his two-and-a-half years, the club have won eight majors. His secret was to keep things stable as the great rivals Real Madrid went through the usual upheaval.

This week, he passed 150 games in charge with five more wins than the revered Pep Guardiola in the same stage at the Camp Nou.

When the camera caught his expression against Villarreal last week, he no longer looked the cool dude from the marina, more the chap for whom summer had passed and he was feeling and showing the strain of too many sleepless nights.

Remarkably for one so successful, they are talking about candidates to replace him in the summer.

Initially, I thought it was cruel words to create headlines but studying his demeanour I suspect it may be for the good of his own health.

To me he has the same permanently preoccupied look of Guardiola who announced in April 2012 that after winning fourteen trophies in four years he needed a sabbatical.

His problems are similar to Pep's, competing with a resurgent Real Madrid under a 'personality' manager. Guardiola's antagonist was Jose Mourinho, Enrique's nemesis is Zinedine Zidane.

Gradually, Barcelona have let standards slip. There's no fresh young graduates from the famed La Masia academy so they went on a recruitment drive in the summer. Over eighty million euros was spent on enhancing rather than improving the squad.

It has been like recruiting extras for a Hollywood film rather than those who can deliver a line.

Unlike Real Madrid where there is competition for places and strength in depth, there is nothing in reserve and ten of the players are self-selecting.

It's almost as if there's a rotation policy for the right-midfield spot every week. Ivan Rakitic had been resident there but he's lost the dwelling. André Gomes, an expensive recruit from Valencia looks out of his depth, Rafinha has his moments but isn't consistent, and Denis Suárez returned from Villarreal but you can see him struggling to maintain the standards required alongside the legendary Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.

The team lacks freshness, the summer signings just sit and watch, not trusted by manager Enrique to influence a game. He continues to motivate the same players as last season.

Luckily for Barcelona, they still have Lionel Messi at the height of his powers. A record of 26 goals in 23 appearances is outrageous, as was his last-minute equaliser against Villarreal and then the decisive freekick in the Copa del Rey against Bilbao. Where would they be without Messi? Well, they certainly wouldn't be in the title chase and out of the cup.

As for Luis Enrique? He may well be slipping back into his deck-shoes, finding the sun-glasses and requiring a little relaxation time watching the sun set.