Greatest challenge yet for Luis Enrique awaits him back in Spain

Barcelona's new manager Luis Enrique is a popular figure among fans and players at Camp Nou, several of whom are former teammates, writes Andy Mitten.
Barcelona hired Luis Enrique as its new coach on Monday, hoping the former player can help restore the club's recent success following its first season in six years without a major trophy. AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar
Barcelona hired Luis Enrique as its new coach on Monday, hoping the former player can help restore the club's recent success following its first season in six years without a major trophy. AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar

Luis Enrique was offered the Barcelona job a year ago, but requested time to think about it with his family. Meanwhile, the Catalans approached Gerardo Martino and Enrique instead joined Celta Vigo.

He wanted to get back into management after a year at Roma which hadn’t gone to plan. When the Italians appointed him after three years in charge of Barca B where he had replaced Pep Guardiola, they expected him to repeat Guardiola’s Barca’s success.

Read more: Luis Enrique should get ready for turbulent summer at Barcelona

It didn’t happen and they parted on mutual terms, but Enrique said that Rome was: “a unique experience, a positive one. I was only there a year. I had another year on the contract but didn’t feel that I had any more to give them. It let me see other players and other ways of playing the game.

“In Serie A, they wait to see how the opposition play, then they form their tactics. In Spain, the idea is to control the ball, but a lot depends on the players you have. The way of interpreting the game reflects the culture.”

Enrique likes to learn from different cultures. He also considered the idea of working in England and was learning English. He spoke of his respect for Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers long before he had got it right at Anfield, but the offers for his talents came from Spain.

Enrique was a success at Celta, leading a team who had only avoided relegation on the final day of last season to a ninth-place finish this season.

Celta continually improved throughout the season, rising towards ninth at the end of the campaign. They won more away games than any team outside the top three and beat his former team Real Madrid at home. Goals were a problem, especially at home where Celta scored just 16 times in 19 matches, but he will now be working with far superior talents.

Enrique found living away from his family, who stayed in Barcelona, difficult. Enrique, 44, is a proud Asturian from Gijon, though his wife is Catalan and they have made Barcelona’s Mediterranean coastline their family home since 1996.

Enrique is a popular figure among Barcelona fans and players, several of whom are former teammates. A legendary player, once the lungs of Louis Van Gaal’s Barca side, he does not enjoy giving media interviews, though he retains a genuine love for football and attended several big derby games as a fan once his playing career was over in 2004. Only once was he recognised, on Anfield’s Kop.

A fitness fanatic who has run in Ironman competitions across the Sahara desert, he faces his greatest management challenge yet at Camp Nou. He is seldom fazed and is made of stern stuff. He will need to be in charge at Barcelona.

Defender Pique signs five-year extension with Catalans

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has agreed a new five-year contract with the club, the Spanish giants said on their website on Tuesday.

Pique, 27, came through the youth system at the Catalan club and returned to Barca in 2008 after four years at Manchester United.

He played a key role in Barca’s golden era in which they won the Uefa Champions League in 2009 and 2011 as well as the Primera Liga title four times between 2009 and 2013.

“Barcelona announce that they have agreed a deal with Gerard Pique for the renewal of his contract ... for the next five seasons,” a club statement said.

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Published: May 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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