Although Luis Enrique was able to celebrate another trophy – his ninth in total – as he made his farewell from Barcelona with a Copa del Rey triumph over Alaves, Saturday night’s game in Madrid also revealed exactly why the time is right for him to leave.
To be blunt, Barca did not play particularly well.
Enrique’s men looked laboured in midfield and vulnerable in defence, with Alaves extremely unlucky not to rock them by taking the lead when Ibai Gomez’s shot hit the inside of the post and rolled across the goalline.
What Barca did have, however, was Lionel Messi. The Argentine star was immense, scoring the first goal with a beautifully crisp strike which wouldn’t have even been a half-chance for most other players, then playing a part in the second goal and magnificently creating the third with a slaloming run and pass.
Finals played: 25— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) May 28, 2017
Goals in finals: 26
Leo Messi the master of finals! pic.twitter.com/Rrg8vJCOaR
Messi’s heroics, once again, were enough to paper over the cracks of his team’s structural deficiencies, but that kind of over-reliance upon one player is not enough to take the most important trophies – which is why they lost out to Real Madrid in La Liga and Juventus in the Champions League.
It’s clear that Ernesto Valverde, who is set to be confirmed as Enrique’s replacement today, has a lot of work to do, first and foremost in terms of fashioning his players into an efficient collective unit rather than a group of talented individuals who cross their fingers and hope for Messi’s best.
Enrique’s increasing failure to provide a clear tactical direction has taken the team a long way backwards since his first campaign ended with a league, cup and European treble, and addressing that slide is Valverde’s biggest task.
Valverde seen as unexciting pick for Barça job, but don't forget Johan Cruyff called him "one of the most outstanding coaches in Spain.”— Richard Martin (@Rich9908) May 28, 2017
The good news is that he is inheriting a huge amount of talent. Aside from a starting right-back Barca’s starting eleven does not need many changes, and the summer transfer market is far more about improving the squad’s strength in depth.
But more than the identity of the individuals, Valverde’s has to create a structure which allows everyone to flourish. Because even Messi won’t always rescue him.