The best season in the history of FC Barcelona in terms of trophies and statistics certainly wasn't easy, and the developing relationship between Luis Enrique and Messi has underpinned the final haul.
After a difficult first half of the season, few people believed that coach and team would pull off so many successes but Barça's 1-0 defeat against Real Sociedad on January 4th in Anoeta was definitely the turning point.
In order to be able to achieve those final cathartic celebrations of winning La Liga in Vicente Calderón, conquering the Copa del Rey against Athletic in Camp Nou and, above all, being crowned European Champions after beating Juventus in Berlin, the team had to overcome a lot of difficulties.
In the following article, I run through the key moments of the FC Barcelona 2014-15 season as I see them.
Luis Enrique Lays Down the Law
On the day of his presentation, May 21st 2014, Luis Enrique's message definitely made sense to not only the fans but also to the first team squad. He spelt out that the first step in achieving success is day to day training and making sure the players are fit.
Distance between the Coaching Staff and the Players
Luis Enrique made it very clear that his main relationships were with other members of the coaching staff and was of the opinion that staff members should have as little as possible to do with the players on a personal level. The players, particularly the stars, weren't used to this approach and in the first training session, one of the big name players actually asked a member of the coaching staff to introduce himself.
Luis Enrique was clear that, throughout the early part of the season, he would not field a fixed eleven but that he would exploit the full extent of the squad. The players (and most fans, for that matter) found this frustrating as they found it difficult to assimilate the new tactical ideas. From a fan's point of view, the side at many times seemed completely disorganised and it was impossible to predict who would be in the starting line-up.
Paris and Bernabéu
The defeats against Paris Saint Germain and Real Madrid before Christmas brought about a crisis of confidence both amongst fans and players. I personally felt that Luis Enrique showed lack of confidence in his ideas by fielding Xavi rather than Rakitic in the starting line-up against Madrid. After the Bernabéu defeat, we entered into a period of self-doubt.
The Slow Adaptation of Luis Suárez
Luis Suárez made his debut against Madrid and failed to score. The dry patch continued until Christmas and the Uraguayan was obviously anxious. Luis Enrique showed confidence in him at all times.
One of Luis Enrique's main objectives was to bring back the best of Messi and although he finally put the Argentinian back on the Number One spot, the process wasn't without its difficulties. When Messi and Neymar came back after New Year to a training session watched by players' friends and family, Messi complained about a referee decision during the practice game when Luis Enrique was reffing and a big argument ensued between coach and player. Two days later in Anoeta, both Messi and Neymar started on the sub's bench and although they both came on in the second half, Barça lost the match. A breach opened and Messi didn't attend the open training session on Kings' Day on January 6th.
Tired of bearing the brunt of all the criticism, technical director Andoni Zubizarreta, one of Luis Enrique's biggest supporters, pointed the finger at club president Josep Maria Bartomeu after the 1-0 defeat against Real Sociedad and Bartomeu promptly sacked him. At a press conference, Bartomeu admitted he felt his position weakened. Messi, however, with the support of Neymar and Suárez, was feeling confident. Unzué, Xavi and Mascherano, who is both a close friend of Messi and a supporter of Luis Enrique, made an effort to decrease tension between coach and player.
In the next game, Barça beat Atlético de Madrid 3-1 and this acted as a springboard and results started to come together. The victories over PSG and Manchester City saw a combination of direct attacking with counter-attacks. Luis Enrique agreed with the players to move Suárez into centre forward position and Messi out onto the wing. The side started winning consistently.
Coaching Staff Start to Receive Accolades
As the seasons entered its final stages, the goals scored through tactics (including the header by Messi after a corner against Eibar), the lack of injuries and the fact that the side was obviously in perfect physical condition meant the coaching staff started to receive the applause they deserved. The players finally accepted that the rotations had been a good idea and key players made public statements in support of the style of football Barça were practising. All this was key to knocking out Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals, which also reinforced the sensation of a job well done.
More Than an Embrace
The season came to a close with Barça winning the treble. Messi and Luis Enrique celebrated the Liga and Copa del Rey but after winning the Champions League final in Berlin, the two locked in an embrace. It was a public show of mutual admiration and a clear sign that the two had put their differences aside and would be working for the best for Barça in the future.