From a Premier League perspective, the immediate reaction to Luis Enrique announcing he will step down as Barcelona coach at the end of the season has centred solely on the managers who could be lured to Catalonia to replace him at the Nou Camp.
Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, perhaps? Or Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, the former Espanyol player and coach, whose blossoming reputation will have been noted by the Barca hierarchy?
Jurgen Klopp also enjoys a lofty reputation in Europe following his achievements with Borussia Dortmund, while Ronald Koeman’s iconic status as a former Barcelona player ensures that the Everton manager’s name will always be a contender to take charge at his old club.
One of the above may yet end up succeeding Luis Enrique, but whether it is a current Premier League manager or one of the many candidates currently working in La Liga, they will inherit a squad in a state of flux and it is uncertainty within the Barca dressing room that could ultimately carry the greatest significance for England’s leading clubs.
Could this summer, for example, be the moment when Lionel Messi becomes a gettable target for Manchester City, or when Manchester United make a breakthrough in their long-running attempts to tempt Neymar to Old Trafford? The chances of either man heading to the Premier League ahead of next season remain slim but they have increased slightly with confirmation of Luis Enrique’s imminent departure.
The new manager must rebuild, so will he do that by putting players around Messi, who will be 30 in June, or could the unthinkable actually happen with the Argentine forward being sold to bankroll a new start? Messi’s future remains unresolved, with the club’s talisman yet to commit to a new contract to replace his current one, which expires in June 2018.
Luis Enrique’s departure may make it easier to convince him to stay — the pair have clashed in the past, while Messi will also want to know who the new manager is before he signs on — but City and Pep Guardiola possess the money and ambition to lure the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to the Etihad and there will also be huge offers from China, should Barcelona give any indication that they could sell.
Meanwhile, when Man United enquired about Neymar’s availability two years ago — reports of a £140m bid remain unconfirmed — their interest was accompanied by suggestions that Barcelona would have to sell one of their star players in order to reinvest in their own team.
Sources at one of the Premier League’s leading clubs have told ESPN FC that, while claims of Barca’s financial constraints have been exaggerated, the current Spanish champions have little room for manoeuvre in the transfer market due to the money spent on signing Neymar and Luis Suarez, as well as the lucrative contracts handed to their highest earners.
Neymar and Suarez only recently signed new, long-term deals, so Barca have some protection when it comes to interest in either of those two. But the fact that Messi can sign a pre-contract agreement with another club as early as next January is cause for concern.
Moreover, given that Messi, Neymar and Suarez have all swept the board of honours with Barca, could a new challenge appeal to each of them? Though Suarez is the least likely to be drawn to the Premier League as a result of his controversial time with Liverpool.
As for the likes of veterans such as Javier Mascherano, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and perhaps even Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta, a change of coach could signal the beginning of the end. Though Barcelona currently top La Liga, the 4-0 Champions League round-of-16, first-leg defeat against Paris Saint-Germain suggested that a period of transition and squad overhaul is needed.
Change is in the air and whoever is picked to succeed Luis Enrique will face an almost impossible job in terms of building for the future at the same time as continuing to win. David Moyes inherited a team of champions from Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, but too many of its best players had gone beyond their peak and there is an argument to suggest the same applies to Barcelona at present.
This summer may bring the perfect storm for the Spanish giants as a new manager, combined with the sense of a team in need of evolution and the costly four-year modernisation of the Nou Camp, increase their vulnerability.
Some of Barcelona’s players will be attracted by the prospect of a new challenge or a final, lucrative pay-day elsewhere and United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal would not blink at the prospect of adding a superstar to their squads.
One certainty is that the Premier League’s biggest and wealthiest clubs will regard Luis Enrique’s departure as an opportunity to raid Barcelona. While some targets will prove more difficult to attract than others, Barcelona will know that finding a new manager is not the only problem to solve in the coming months.