La Liga: Luis Enrique under threat as crisis at Barcelona spirals
Madrid: Five days of 2015 was all it took for crisis mode to envelop Barcelona as two club legends Andoni Zubizarreta and Carles Puyol left their roles with the Catalan giants following a shock 1-0 defeat to David Moyes's Real Sociedad at the weekend.
Yet, worse could still be to come with rumours of dressing room discontent between coach Luis Enrique and star players like Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique bringing Enrique's position under serious threat should they fail to comfortably see off Elche in the Copa del Rey in midweek and beat La Liga champions Atletico Madrid at home on Sunday.
Zubizarreta's sacking as the club's sporting director by president Josep Maria Bartomeu on Monday came as little surprise. Bartomeu is fighting a losing battle to see out his mandate until 2016 and needed a scapegoat for the one year transfer ban imposed on the club by FIFA for irregularities in the signing of minors, which rules out any further reinforcements to the playing squad until next January.
Anticipating the ban, Zubizarreta was in charge of Barca's near 160 million euros ($191 million, Â£125 million) splurge on seven new players over the summer which has so far proved largely unsuccessful. The most expensive signing in the club's history, Luis Suarez, has scored just one league goal, whilst 18 million euro defender Thomas Vermaelen is yet to make his debut for the club after being sidelined until April with a hamstring injury.
However, there was widespread shock when former captain Puyol decided to follow Zubizarreta out by resigning. The 36-year-old intimated his departure from the Camp Nou may be fleeting, stating that he hoped "to grow both personally and professionally so that, in the future, I can return home." Yet, it was another major body blow for a beleaguered board to lose an icon with a lot more recent credit with the fans, having won three Champions League and six La Liga titles in the past decade.
Indeed in the brief period between Zubizarreta's sacking and Puyol's resignation, the latter was being touted as the ideal man to step into the role of sporting director with a year to properly learn the ropes before having to dive into the transfer market. Instead, reports in Spain on Tuesday suggest that Fiorentina's sporting director Eduardo Macia will be approached for the role.
The boardroom unease has spread onto the pitch as Barca failed to capitalise on Real Madrid's first defeat in 23 games on Sunday away to Valencia as just hours later they suffered a third league defeat of the season with Enrique having left nearly 300 million euros of talent on the bench. Messi was among those left on the sidelines after only returning to Spain from his Christmas break in Argentina 48 hours before the match.
The four-time World Player of the Year then missed an open training session in front of the club's fans on Monday due to a reported stomach bug. However, the rumour mill churned into overdrive when the Argentine followed Chelsea's official account and two of their players Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois on the social networking site Instagram later in the day. Selling Messi, particularly in the midst of a transfer ban, is unthinkable even for a Barca board on the brink.
On the contrary, getting he, Neymar and Suarez playing well together on a consistent basis appears to be the Catalans only hope of claiming some silverware come the end of the season. Should Enrique fail to provide the necessary answers when Diego Simeone's Atletico revisit the scene of their title triumph last season, he may be next to face the brunt of Bartomeu's blame game.