Heart Of Football

Enrique's decision raises questions about managers and stress

So, Luis Enrique has called time on his managerial term at FC Barcelona before anyone else can do it for him.

The "best job in the world" has apparently become too stressful for the 48-year-old coach. And, as the Brazilians call it, the "Carousel of the Coaches" is revving up for another period of wild speculation.

By one scenario, Arsene Wenger, 67, will leave Arsenal to take over the job Enrique admits became too relentless, too consuming of his body, mind and soul, to continue beyond this season.

And, if you read speculation from Rome, the Italians are all set to spin the carousel their way. Following on from Antonio Conte's immediate effect at Chelsea, and notwithstanding Claudio Ranieri's misfortune at Leicester City, the Italian scenario runs like this:

Wenger, or maybe Spurs' manager Mauricio Pochettino to Barca.

Massimiliano Allegri from Juventus to Arsenal. Luciano Spalletti from Roma to Spurs. Walter Mazzarri rewarded for a job well done at Watford with offers to stay in the Premier League . . . Ranieri to make a comeback in London, or possibly on the coast if Claude Puel leaves Southampton.

Do I believe that pressure on coaches and managers leads to burn-out? Yes. Is that inhumane? No, certainly not at the salaries top club managers command. Rob Hughes

Catch the carousel while it's whirling, offering salaries to die for.

Die is maybe a dangerous exaggeration.

The last coach to quit Barcelona while he was still ahead was Pep Guardiola and, after a year in New York to de-stress, Pep rebounded at Bayern Munich and now at Manchester City.

The cynic in me asks a host of questions.

Number one, concerning Luis Enrique, is that the furrowed brow seems to be his permanent expression whichever team he runs. His success at Barcelona mirrored that of Guardiola. The playing cast of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique has hardly been watered down by the board signing up Luis Suarez and Neymar to share Messi's scoring burden.

What comes with that is intrusive daily media interrogation. Barca, as their slogan says, are "more than just a club". It is a political reference for Catalans who want separation from Spain.

So when Luis Enrique's team wiped the floor with Sporting Gijon three nights ago, the media interrogators wanted to know why the score was a mere 6-1. Where was the tiki-taka style? And is Luis Enrique the right man to inspire the team to come back after the huge defeat they took in Paris in the Champions League?

Before the reporters could offload their inquisition, the coach had something to say. He said he would quit, after this season.

Luis Enrique has walked away before, when Roma players were at odds with his demands four seasons back. Players don't say so openly these days, but do we any longer believe that Messi, Iniesta and company are enjoying the dismantling of the flowing, pass and move soccer of Guardiola's tenure?

If what we see on the field reflects anything, they are finding it more like soldiers than expressive players. Luis Enrique felt tiki-taka was too predictable, and that players should be capable of mixing it up with longer passes, a more direct approach.

We are not talking about work-shy players here. The effort that Messi, Iniesta, all the stars put into Guardiola's "pressing" game, where the mantra was to win the ball back within seven seconds of the opposition gaining it, was phenomenal physical effort, allied to beauty once they had control of the ball.

Do I believe that pressure on coaches and managers leads to burn-out? Yes.

Is that inhumane? No, certainly not at the salaries top club managers command.

The media merely guesses at these figures, but publish them anyway. Guardiola is top man on £15 million (S$26 million) per season at City. Mourinho is next, on £13.8 million pounds from United.

Luis Enrique is paid on a par with Jurgen Klopp at around £7 million, a million or so less than Wenger and Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane.

By comparison, Allegri's annual sum at the perennial Serie A winner Juve is £3.5 million. No wonder the Italians are heading for London, or wish to do so.

Are we too insensitive, too unwilling to see this as a pressurised species, putting their health and sanity on the line in the madness of football's hire and fire whirligig?

Even on that, I'm torn. The death of Jock Stein on the touchline while managing Scotland against Wales in a World Cup qualifying match in 1985 was graphic warning.

Joe Kinnear at Newcastle, Graeme Souness and Gerard Houllier at Liverpool also suffered heart problems and needed bypass surgery.

And if you were up last night to watch Liverpool versus Arsenal at Anfield, part of your "entertainment" came through the television close-ups of the suffering Klopp and Wenger.

They at least have hair to pull out, grey hair which is more than the dramatic hair loss that showed the pressure on Roberto Martinez before Everton put him out of his misery last season.

Wenger is unique among modern-day managers in that he controls his club, and not merely his team. And he has been doing that at Arsenal for 21 years, while clubs dismiss most managers at an average rate of 1.5 years' tenure.

"I'm a specialist in masochism," Wenger said at his press conference last week. "Football management is the sacrifice of your life. You get 90 per cent aggravation and 10 per cent satisfaction, and you have to give everything for that."

We can all see the truth in that. On the other hand, most of us know doctors or nurses dealing not just with their stress, but with patients coming into their wards at the lowest ebb of their lives.

And with teachers, butchers, bakers, accountants, IT managers.

Stress is out there for everyone. The salaries are different.

The League Managers Association in England operates a members' 24/7 healthcare hotline, including access to counsellors. I wonder if the specialists manning the phones enjoy anything like the work environment - the green fields, fresh air and dietary expertise - available on a daily basis, and at no extra cost, to top footballers, and their managers as well?

Pressured, yes, but also privileged.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline 'Enrique's decision raises questions about managers and stress'. Print Edition | Subscribe