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Luis Enrique's reign is drawing to a close.
Luis Enrique's reign is drawing to a close. / EFE

Out with a flourish

  • Luis Enrique chose the perfect time to announce he'll be stepping aside

The first time I encountered Luis Enrique was by the pool of the Barcelona team hotel as he sunned himself just hours before a major game.

"Just look at him" said Bobby Robson, "he looks like he's just off his yacht."

As a player he was nonchalant, and initially as a manager he was coolness personified.

He took training sessions in his shades and strolled the matchday touchline in his deck shoes, jeans and jacket. His self-confidence and brashness rubbed off on the players and the silverware piled up.

His enthusiasm shone through and he was the epitome of the modern boss.

Three years on he's developed that twitch that managers get. Living the job twenty-four hours a day takes its toll and both mental and physical health begins to suffer.

Pep Guardiola was so affected he needed to take a year off. In my early reporting days I saw first-hand how Kenny Dalglish suffered and the relief on Roy Evans when he relinquished the Liverpool job. Recently Steve Bruce admitted the demands of the job at Hull were taking its toll, and when he returned after a rest he looked a man restored.

So it's absolutely no surprise to anyone within the game that Enrique announced he's to step aside. He admitted: "The reason is the way in which I live this profession, it means very few hours of rest."

Sampaoli is the early favourite for the job.

Sampaoli is the early favourite for the job. / EFE

It was just a question of timing. After hammering Sporting Gijón 6-1 and taking top spot from Real Madrid, it was the ideal time to break the vital news. It means he can concentrate all of his energies on claiming his third league and cup double in three years as manager while Mrs Enrique plans their getaway.

His final game is due to be the Copa del Rey final and in recent weeks new life has been breathed into the Liga season as Real Madrid have stumbled.

Barça won't rush into the replacement and have said that the announcement will be made on July 1st.

The media favourite is Jorge Sampaoli whose brash style has illuminated the Spanish league since he took hold of Sevilla. He is living up to the reputation built is South America and then as the Copa America-winning Chile coach.

The establishment choice may be Ernesto Valverde who is time served and is doing a sturdy job at Athletic Bilbao. There is a theory that there should be a link to the club and he was a player at the Camp Nou for two years.

If they don't go for the maverick Sampaoli or statesman Valverde then it could be Mauricio Pochettino of Tottenham who is well known in the town for his fine work at Espanyol. He's young by managerial standards, encourages stylish football and of course he's a fellow countryman of Lionel Messi.

My wildcard is Albert Celades who is currently the Spain under 21 coach, born in Barcelona and a midfielder in the Louis Van Gaal era.

Real Madrid will be fuming, they are having an excellent season but Barcelona will be grabbing the headlines as the speculation goes into overdrive for the next few months