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On Wednesday night, Luis Enrique gave the announcement many had been expecting for weeks – that he would leave his job as FC Barcelona manager at the end of the season.
It is unusual for a manager to announce his departure after a resounding win. And yet, Enrique chose to do so after seeing his side hammer Sporting Gijon 6-1. In truth, the writing has been on the wall for the club’s former midfielder since the 4-0 reverse they suffered at the hands of Paris St. Germain in the Champions League last month.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 1, 2017
The match in Paris looked very much like the old guard of European football giving way to the new, and now a new era will dawn in the Camp Nou. The season is not over yet, though. Although Barcelona look to be on the way out of the Champions League, and great rivals Real Madrid look odds on the win La Liga, they still have a Copa del Rey final against Alaves to contend.
Even if they win that, though, it won’t be enough for such a grand old club. As a result, the new man could start with a clean slate, free to implement a fresh, new identity.
So who will be the new man in the famous dugout? Just Football takes a look at some of the main contenders…
Next Barcelona manager: 7 candidates to replace Luis Enrique
He is considered by many to be an early front-runner for the job. Though former Barcelona striker Ernesto Valverde has spent time in charge of local rivals Espanyol, that does not seem to be a barrier to him returning to his old club.
Currently Valverde is in charge of Athletic Bilbao, where he has been since 2013, and has thus far led them to Champions League qualification, a Copa del Rey final and victory in the Spanish Super Cup. His other honours include three Greek titles with Olympiacos.
By no means a household name outside of his own country, Eusebio Sacristan shares a lot in common with Ernesto Valverde. He is also an ex-Barca player and Spain international currently managing in the Basque region. The Real Sociedad boss knows the club well, having spent time there as an assistant manager as well as boss of the Barcelona “B” team.
He may not have the honours list of some of the other potential candidates, but you know who else didn’t? Pep Guardiola. It would be understandable if the club again plumped for a surprise candidate, and one of their own.
This would be a romantic pick – a genuine Barcelona legend returning to the bosom of the club. If Barcelona were to make a move for their former free kick specialist they would have to be prepared to pay a lot of money. Ronald Koeman signed a three-year deal at Everton only at the start of this season, and so might not be easily parted from the Merseyside club. The other thing that might count against him is a somewhat spotty managerial record.
Though impressing at Everton currently (and Southampton previously), he has disappointed in previous spells. He struggled in La Liga with Valencia and had less than stellar spells at AZ and Benfica before that. Despite his past with the club, it would be understandable if his potential appointment was greeted with skepticism in the city.
The favourite, the man who took over at Sevilla from Barcelona’s Champions League vanquisher Unai Emery is another who could find himself in the Camp Nou hotseat next season. The Argentine made his name with the Chile national team, whom he led to the Copa America title in 2015.
Since joining Sevilla, Jorge Sampaoli has impressed with a frenetic, attacking blueprint that will likely appeal to many Barcelona fans. He also has a track record of success with club teams across South America, so he’s no one-season-wonder. It might be a bold choice, but it would make sense.
Max Allegri has rebuilt his reputation at Juventus after being sacked by AC Milan. Two Serie A titles, two Italian cups and a Champions League runner-up spot means his CV is the envy of many managers across Europe (and that’s before you add in the oft-forgotten league title he won with Milan).
Of course, Allegri may be understandably happy with his all conquering (domestically, at least) Juventus side, and rumour has it Allegri fancies his next move to be to the Premier League.
A penchant for high-tempo, high-pressing attacking play and a reputation for blooding young players. When you look at it like that, Tottenham Hotspur‘s impressive Argentine boss Mauricio Pochettino seems like an ideal fit for Barcelona.
But, with two spells at Espanyol as a player, and one as a manager, he may feel too much of an attachment to their smaller neighbours to make the move to the Camp Nou. If they could persuade him, though, you have to think it would be a smart move.
Given how often he has (allegedly) turned down offers to work elsewhere in the last couple of decades, could Arsene Wenger finally leave Arsenal this summer? That seemed to be the message after a chastening 5-1 defeat against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. But even after the obituaries were written Wenger announced he still has several years of management left in him – though he did not rule out those years taking place away from the Emirates Stadium.
A few years in the Catalan sun would be appealing, certainly. His track record of giving home-grown youngsters a chance would play well with the powers that be at the club, too. That said, it is pretty much impossible to imagine the Frenchman anywhere but Arsenal.
Who do you think will be the next Barcelona manager? Let us know in the comments below. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @JustFootball and Facebook for more football news, features and analysis.