FEATURE | Luis Enrique: Behind the man tasked with rebuilding La Roja

The Spanish World Cup campaign in 2018 was underwhelming. Shortly after the tournament, Luis Enrique was appointed as national team manager in the hope that he could rebuild this Spanish side.

He was appointed due to his success, both as a player and a manager. Let’s take a closer look at that path that has led him to managing Spain at Euro 2020.

Playing career

The attacking midfielder started his playing career at boyhood club Sporting de Gijón. He spent two seasons in and around the first team before moving to Real Madrid at the start of the 1991/92 campaign. He spent five seasons at Los Blancos, winning a league title, a Copa del Rey and a Spanish Super Cup.

The Asturian left Los Blancos, however, in acrimonious circumstances, on a free transfer to Barcelona, where he would enjoy even more triumphs. Indeed, Luis Enrique would spend no less than the following eight seasons at Camp Nou before retiring from the game.

His first few seasons at the Catalan club were full of success as he helped the club win two LaLiga titles back-to-back in 1998 and 1999, two consecutive Copa del Rey titles in 1997 and 1998, the Spanish Super Cup in 1996, the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup in 1997 and the UEFA Super Cup in 1997.

At international level with Spain, Lucho received 62 caps. Thus, going into Euro 2020, the 51-year-old counts upon a vast amount of experience of being in the Spanish camp in international tournaments (something most of the current players have not) having played in three World Cups and a European Championship.

He also featured in the 1992 Gold medal winning team at the Barcelona Olympics.

Luis Enrique retired from playing in 2004, and just four years later in 2008 he would take his first managerial post.

Pathway as a manager

Just like a certain Pep Guardiola, the current Spain boss began his managerial career at Barça B. In fact, he was the replacement for Pep, who had just been promoted to manager of the senior side.

The 2009/10 campaign saw Luis Enrique promote Barça B back to the second division, in a side which featured the likes of Jordí Masip, Marc Bartra, Sergi Roberto, Thiago Alcántara and Nolito.

After this, he was appointed as manager of AS Roma, managing for just one season at the Italian club, where he finished in a disappointing seventh place.

He would then go onto spend one season at Celta de Vigo, where he would lead the Galician side to ninth place, in a team which included Nolito, Rafinha and Andreu Fontas.

The reason he left the Galician side was in order to take over the reins at Barcelona, replacing Tata Martino, where he spent three fantastic seasons.

Under his tutelage, the Catalan giants won back-to-back LaLiga titles, three consecutive Copa del Rey titles and the 2014/15 UEFA Champions League.

He would leave the club at the end of the 2016/17 season after Barcelona finished runners up in LaLiga to his old club Real Madrid and would be knocked out of the Champions League by Juventus. The 6-1 turnaround against PSG in the previous round, however, is something that will always be remembered.

After spending a year out of the game, Luis Enrique was appointed manager of Spain after the shambles of the 2018 World Cup, in which current Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui resigned a few days before the tournament began due to his impending unveiling as Real Madrid manager.

Luis Enrique as Spain manager

Expectations on the eve of a national tournament are always high on Spain, especially after La Roja managed to win Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.

But this time around, ahead of Euro 2020, despite possessing a talented squad, Spain have gone under the radar a little.

Yet Luis Enrique has managed to build a side which, on its day, is a match for any team. Spain thrashed Germany 6-0 in November in the Nations League and hammered Croatia 6-0 in 2018, just a few months after they were runners up in the World Cup.

Luis Enrique’s tenure as Spanish national team manager, however, must be split into two parts.

Part 1: July 2018 – March 2019

The first part of his reign, as aforementioned, began brightly with a 6-0 demolition of World Cup runners up Croatia, which had followed a 2-1 win at Wembley against England in the newly formed Nations League.

Spain would lose 3-2 in both of the second matches against England and Croatia, but the national side would go unbeaten throughout 2019, although Luis Enrique would stand down for personal reasons.

It was revealed that, sadly, in August 2019 his daughter Xana died of bone cancer.

In the interim, his assistant Roberto Moreno had taken over the job full time.

Part 2: November 2019 – Present Day

However, in November 2019, despite an unbeaten record with the national side, Moreno resigned and Luis Enrique was reappointed.

The highlight of this second spell so far has been Spain’s 6-0 win over Germany in the Nations League, in which Manchester City forward Ferran Torres scored a hat-trick.

A combination of Luis Enrique’s absence and the affect of the coronavirus on international football has meant that, since 2018, he has been in charge of just 18 matches, winning nine, drawing six and losing three.

But only one of those defeats (a 1-0 loss away at Ukraine in the Nations League) has come in the second spell, which has so far spanned 12 games.

Euro 2020 selection and covid

A lot of extra attention has been poured onto Luis Enrique over the last few weeks, not least after his surprise omission of Sergio Ramos (and any Real Madrid player for that matter) from the squad.

The Madrid press, especially considering Luis Enrique’s history with Los Blancos, has not been best pleased, leading to uproar across the country.

Despite not being seen as favourites by many, the experienced coach knows the quality that he has in the squad.

The fast-tracked Spanish nationality of Aymeric Laporte, to partner Pau Torres, means Spain may have a solid centre-back pairing for the future. There is plenty of depth in midfield, with Busquets, Rodri, Thiago, Pedri, Koke and Fabián Ruiz all competing for three positions and attackers Gerard Moreno and Ferran Torres have been rewarded with their place in the squad after fine seasons at Villarreal and Manchester City respectively.

FEATURE | Luis Enrique: Behind the man tasked with rebuilding La Roja 6 1002959104
Koke speaks at a Spain press conference (Photo: Imago images)

Marcos Llorente, Mikel Oyarzabal, Jordi Alba, Dani Olmo and Álvaro Morata could also be key players for La Roja.

Due to the fallout from Sergio Busquets’ positive covid-19 case, and the controversy surrounding whether the Spanish team should be allowed to receive the vaccine, Luis Enrique has had to talk about things apart from football recently.

This has not helped Spain’s preparations for the Euro’s, which kicks off against Sweden in Group E on Monday, June 14.

Luis Enrique has questioned the potential side-effects of the covid vaccine.

But when asked about the vaccines, which his squad received on June 11 and whether it was stressful, Luis Enrique was clear in his answer.

“To be honest, for me it’s child play compared to some of the things I’ve had to go through,” he said.

That he is even managing Spain is testament to his character and willingness to see the rebuilding of this young, exciting team through.

Let’s see if they can deliver on the pitch.

James Felton

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