The Sevilla coach is no longer in contention to replace Luis Enrique at Camp Nou, but he would make an excellent choice for the Albiceleste
All the signs pointed to Jorge Sampaoli. With Luis Enrique’s future very much up in the air, the Sevilla boss looked like the best candidate to take over at Camp Nou in the summer. But Barcelona were unsure – and results since have proven them right.
Luis Enrique announced in early March that he would not be renewing his contract and the very next night, Sampaoli’s Sevilla beat Athletic Club 1-0 at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Back then, the club were challenging for the title and still in the Champions League. But that narrow victory was only secured thanks to a rebound following a missed penalty and the Andalusians have not won a match since.
Barca were watching Sampaoli with interest but the Catalan club remained cautious in this, the Argentine’s debut season in Spain, and also in European football. All of that is very different to the shorter tournaments in Chile and coaching at international level – as the 57-year-old had with the South American nation.
The Blaugrana board were keen to see how Sampaoli would fare over an entire season and perhaps even beyond that. Would they tire like the teams coached by his mentor Marcelo Bielsa? Or even collapse like Tata Martino’s Barca did in 2013-14?
Ultimately, that is what has happened. Far from challenging for the title now, Sampaoli’s side have seen a 10-point advantage over Atletico Madrid evaporate in the last month and are also out of the Champions League after losing to Leicester in the last 16.
Since the win over Athletic, Sevilla had drawn 1-1 with Leganes, lost 2-0 to Leicester, gone down 3-1 at Atletico and drawn 0-0 with Sporting Gijon prior to their trip to Camp Nou on Wednesday night.
Sampaoli’s failure to rule himself out of the Barca job may not have helped, much less his claims that he would like to coach Lionel Messi one day, while Sevilla have also been rocked by the imminent departure of their brilliant sporting director, Monchi.
On Wednesday, there was more disappointment. Steven N’Zonzi missed a superb early chance for Sevilla but Barcelona dominated the game and Sampaoli’s side were again a shadow of the team that impressed everyone so much up until March.
Barca were excellent, and Messi in particular. The Argentine showed his intent as he curled a spectacular shot against the crossbar within the first few minutes and it was some traditional wing play from the five-time Ballon d’Or winner that led to the home side’s first goal, a wonderfully improvised overhead effort from Luis Suarez.
Messi added another shortly afterwards after good work from Neymar and also Suarez, before rifling home a loose ball to make it 3-0 before half-time to show just why Sampaoli – or any trainer for that matter – would want to coach him.
The Barca ship has sailed for Sampaoli, especially after his side’s dreadful dip in form in recent weeks. However, his work at Sevilla has been impressive nevertheless and Argentina will remember only too well how he denied their team – and Messi – in the final of the Copa America with Chile in 2015.
Argentina wanted to sign Sampaoli in the summer, but he had already joined Sevilla and the Argentine Football Association (AFA) could not afford to pay his release clause. Now, however, with current coach Edgardo Bauza on the brink of an exit following the recent loss to Bolivia, his name is in the frame once again.
So, while it is unlikely to happen at Barca, Sampaoli could well link up with Messi for Argentina and together, the pair could work wonders for the under-achieving Albiceleste.