The most important lesson Luis Enrique learned during his first season as Barcelona boss was to stay on the right side of Lionel Messi.
The pair clashed after the forward was upset by his coach's decision to disallow a goal in training and didn’t show up for the next session, citing gastroenteritis as his excuse. Luis Enrique was furious and wanted to sanction the playmaker but was talked out of it by club captain Xavi.
In a meeting with the club hierarchy, it was made clear to Luis Enrique that Messi would be supported in any dispute. That battle was lost but Barcelona won the treble.
Luis Enrique has a reputation as an authoritarian coach but was persuaded to treat Messi differently. As the best player in the club’s history, allowances had to be made. Messi had to be kept happy.
That is something well understood already by Jorge Sampaoli – the Sevilla coach and one of the favourites for the Barcelona job once Luis Enrique walks away this summer.
As a fellow Argentine, it irked Sampaoli that Messi was not given the conditions to be “happy” when playing for the Albiceleste and, in his opinion, that was the reason the team was not getting the best out of its captain.
"What I would say is that Leo does not play like he does in Barcelona for Argentina because he may not enjoy himself,” Sampaoli told Goal last year.
"In order for Leo to feel loved, we have to make people accept that he can play well and badly. If we do not enjoy him, nothing can make us happy. I can assure you that all the comments reach Messi and make him feel bad and that feeling enters the pitch."
Sampaoli is among the favoured candidates for the Barcelona job due to the work done in Seville so far this season. Sampaoli has guided his team to third place – only two points behind league leaders Barca – and has won the plaudits for his fearless, high-tempo style of play.
Sevilla endured a typically chaotic summer with a high number of incomings and outgoings but Sampaoli has solidified the squad, given it an identity and produced some eye-catching results.
It is well-known that Sampaoli harbours a long-standing ambition to coach Messi – whether that would be at national team level or club.
After Tata Martino was sacked as manager of Argentina last year, Sampaoli was widely-tipped to succeed him. He was – at that stage – unwilling to back out of his agreement to take charge of Sevilla, considering he’d only been there a matter of weeks. But the chance to coach Messi could come around again sooner than expected.
"I would love to coach Messi and get to see him every day from the side of the field," Sampaoli has told Goal.
"It's a unique opportunity to see the best player of the world up close. Today, Messi is in great shape. Who wouldn't like to coach him?
"If you make a player like Messi happy, you have 95 per cent of the game done. It's like those days when [Diego] Maradona felt fine. It's hard to lose when Leo is well."
Barcelona – despite topping the league – are in crisis. La Masia is as good as dead, widespread restructuring in the first-team is required and there is simply not enough money coming in to sustain the project. Worse still, Messi’s contract is yet to be renewed.
Barca’s priority is to keep Messi – even if selling him might clear some hurdles – and if they want to maximise their No.10’s performances, then bringing in Sampaoli might be the best idea.
Messi has looked cut adrift during big matches this season – none more so than against Paris St-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 knockout round last month.
He is looking around the dressing room and is not seeing Puyols or Xavis any longer, meaning Barca’s identity and effectiveness has been compromised.
Money is important in the contract negotiations but so is the promise from Barcelona that they can build Messi a team capable of once again challenging for trebles.
Any incoming coach will have to simultaneously raise the standards of the under-performing players already on the books while integrating what is likely to be a significant batch of new arrivals. All that will have to take place while keeping Messi happy.
Messi will be consulted about the new coaching appointment and his word will be well respected. It has been reported that Sampaoli is his favoured candidate. His Sevilla team this season operate with a playmaker, although Samir Nasri plays further back the field than Messi does for Barcelona. Nonetheless, he controls the message for Sevilla and is a much-improved player from the lacklustre figure he cut at Manchester City last season.
Sampaoli no doubt has a template drawn up for Messi in his mind already.
Sevilla have made an attempt to renew Sampaoli’s contract already but he has not yet committed to negotiations. He is known to be dissatisfied that reports of a contract offer have been leaked to the press.
Barcelona are known to have spoken informally to Sampaoli, Athletic Bilbao’s Ernesto Valverde as well as Laurent Blanc. The Catalans are not yet convinced by Sampaoli, given he’s been a coach in Europe for less than one season after previously spending his entire professional career in South America.
Barcelona would also have to pay €1.5 million in fees to Sevilla to secure the former Chile coach but that is small change to pay for one of the most-driven, intelligent coaches out there – and one who recognises the necessity of putting a smile on Messi’s face.