MADRID, Spain, January 10 – Barcelona coach Luis Enrique claimed he hadn’t been affected by rumours that he could become the latest high-profile exit from the Camp Nou should his side fail to beat Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
However, the 44-year-old said he would step down after just seven months in the job if he felt he no longer had the backing of his players.
“There are so many reports, some of them badly intentioned,” he said on Saturday.
“I won’t get involved in this dangerous game. What I can guarantee is that the day I see that my players don’t follow me, I will leave.”
A destabilising week for the Catalan giants began with a shock 1-0 defeat to Real Sociedad last weekend after Luis Enrique had left nearly 300 million euros ($355m, £234m) of talent, including Lionel Messi and Neymar, on the bench.
The unrest at the Camp Nou kicked into overdrive on Monday when sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta was sacked, his assistant and club legend Carles Puyol resigned and Messi then missed an open training session with the club’s fans.
The Argentine sparked transfer rumours by then following Chelsea on the social networking site Instagram, while reports emerged that his relationship with Luis Enrique is at breaking point.
On Wednesday, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu called early elections for the end of the season in response to the increasing pressure on his position.
On the field there was some respite as Barca eased towards the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey with a 5-0 thrashing of Elche on Thursday. However, the coach’s name was booed by the home fans as they showed their support for Messi.
“I continue to be concentrated and motivated. There is nothing that will distract me,” Luis Enrique added.
“All that I see behind closed doors motivates me. The players and the technical team remain on the fringes of all that. We are used to it.
“Tomorrow we are playing for three important points, but three points all the same. I feel the same as on my first day.”
Barca and Atletico are tied on 38 points in second place, one point adrift of La Liga leaders Real Madrid, who also have a game in hand.
However, by contrast to the crisis enveloping Barcelona, Atletico arrive in the Catalan capital full of confidence after beating Real Madrid for the third time this season 2-0 in the Cup on Wednesday as Fernando Torres made his first appearance since returning to the Vicente Calderon.
Diego Simeone’s side were unbeaten in six meetings against Barca last season as they sealed La Liga at the Camp Nou in May and also dumped Gerardo Martino’s men out of the Champions League.
And Luis Enrique expects another serious test this weekend.
“Atletico don’t look vulnerable. They have added players and they all defend very well.
“We don’t have that luck. I expect it will be a game like the ones last season, although with a different result.
“We need to attack and defend well because it will be a difficult game.”