He's only 40, but it seems like he's been around forever. He's a hero to many, a man who has revitalized a team and made them into a coherent and significant force, and most cules want him to stay for a good while longer. I've written about him in the past, in the build-up to the most recent match with Sporting Gijon, but Luis Enrique deserves more of my time than as a simple introductory gimmick.
He was first a player (for Sporting Gijon, then Real Madrid, and finally for Barça) and now he’s a manager. He won every domestic title available at least once, won a European Cup Winner’s Cup, scored the opening goal of the European Super Cup (which Barça won), and garnered a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics. He retired in 2004 after having played in 558 competitive matches over a 15-year career. 300 of those matches were at Barça (leaving him 96 short of Juan Manuel Asensi, the player with the 10th official appearances.
Right now Luis Enrique is the manager of Barça B, a team he has lead up from the Segunda B (third in the tier) to the Segunda. The team is currently sitting just below the promotion playoff spots, but even if they overtake Celta Vigo, they cannot enjoy the fruits of its labour at the end of the year thanks to rules prohibiting a reserve or youth team from competing in the same or higher league as their “older” team. FCB is currently in talks with a third division team (fourth in the tier) to purchase their spot and recreate the currently non-existent Barça C.
These hopes are tied directly to Luis Enrique’s managerial abilities, which have propelled Barça B upwards; certainly Pep Guardiola began the ascent from the third division before joining the full squad as manager, but Luis Enrique has succeeded despite his team being routinely depleted by youth call-ups. That he can compete and win while continually being forced to shuffle his line-ups by enforced absences is a testament to Luis Enrique’s abilities, though he was afforded the luxury of keeping his team fully intact at the end of the promotion campaign even while the first team cruised in to the league title and should have rested starters in favour of youth call-ups. Still, what he has done is impressive and it is because of that that Barça will lose him.
Luis Enrique knows more about the future of Barça than most. He sees what goes on in the club firsthand and certainly must have conversations with his old teammate Guardiola. They’re probably extremely candid conversations and they’ve probably discussed the future of the Barça managerial position. Because of that, because he knows that he’s a talented manager and his way forward at the club is blocked by another extremely talented and loved former player, he must leave. That it is so is reassuring given Pep’s success and this particular fan’s desire to keep him at the helm—something that Luis Enrique’s move suggests will happen. It’s unfortunate that this effectively sacrifices one club hero in favour of another, but Luis Enrique will have a role elsewhere and he will probably come back to haunt us.
If not for Manuel Preciado (and his moustache), Luis Enrique could easily find himself directing his beloved Sporting Gijon, the club of his birth. He should certainly get the opportunity somewhere in Spain and hopefully the offer is to his liking. He’s out of options at Barça and he’s too talented to waste more time on a second division B team, so unless he spends another year surfing in Australia (oh the terrible life of a retired star), he’ll be employed in June and readying for another campaign. Perhaps he’ll start with the promotion battle he understands, fighting his way up from La Segunda, but I would like to meet him on the field in the Primera.
I’ll leave the question of who should replace him as the B team manager for another day and close by saying:
Thank you. Thank you for your years of service, your dedication, your love, and your willingness to come back home. It’s been an honour.
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