FC Barcelona manager Luis Enrique announced, this week, his decision to step down as manager and, naturally, the rumours about his succession started swirling in, with a lot of renowned names being linked with this dream job. One of those was the name of the Sevilla manager, the Argentinian Jorge Sampaoli. And it’s easy to see why, as Sevilla is doing a fantastic job in La Liga this year, clearly involved in the title fight, just two points behind Barca and being responsible for breaking Real Madrid’s incredible 40-match unbeaten run.
Sevilla’s recent history is fairly easy to explain. They’ve been the fourth biggest team in Spain, not always confirming that with their final position in the league, but always getting European glory, with 3 consecutive Europa Leagues in their bag, a great feat in itself. But it always lacked that punch to go a bit above in their potential, it always felt like Sevilla would rather guarantee the European cup in detriment of a higher league finish. And with their leader, Unai Emery, being seduced by PSG petro-dollars, a very carefully picked replacement was needed.
Jorge Sampaoli had never managed in Europe before the contact from the Andalucia team. But he was not an unknown for football followers, being the man that guided Chile to an historic win at the Copa America in 2015. But more than that win, it was the way that Chile team played. High-tempo, fast-paced offensive football, Sampaoli was able to get the best out of Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal or Eduardo Vargas and guiding them to the category of Chilean Gods, and all through mixing the teachings of his mentor Marcelo Bielsa and the high-pressing system that he loves and epitomized by Guardiola’s FC Barcelona. With this key addition to the Bielsa Philosophy, Sampaoli started getting unexpected results back in 2008 with low-key Chilean teams that granted them a job at Universidade de Chile, one of the biggest of that country’s teams. There he won 3-out-of-3 league titles and a Copa Sudamericana (the south-american Europa League), got called to the national team and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sampaoli was never a player – an injury at 19 robbed him of that – but he knows the game like no other. And his passion and commitment to a project may have kept him from getting higher praise until now. Now, though, he arrived to the big leagues and only needed 6 months to prove he is one of the best managers in the world. FC Barcelona will come knocking, surely, and will deny it if Sampaoli denies them, which wouldn’t be surprising, as Don Sampa is not known for leaving a project unfinished, if he’s allowed. And while most managers should never even consider rejecting Barca, maybe this the exception to the rule, as Sampaoli seems able to guide Sevilla to a league title, against Messi’s and Ronaldo’s, something far more impressive and noticeable. And, if that does happen, Sampaoli’s legendary status will be automatic.