Who is Luis Enrique, Spain’s Asturian head coach?

Luis Enrique Martínez García, Spain’s 52-year-old manager was born in Gijón, Asturias, in the green north of Spain. The Asturian tactician is currently getting ready to manage his country in Qatar and Spanish outlet El País looks into his life and football philosophy ahead of this winter’s World Cup.

Luis Rubiales, the president of the Spanish Football Federation who appointed Luis Enrique in 2018, trusting his instinct, recently explained to El País what he expected from his work. “A recognisable national team, that will always have more of the ball than the opposition, that will play with boldness and be daring”.

Luis Enrique agrees with this formula, and believes in having “talented players, not very strong physically, but mischievous, clever, smart”. Among the conditions of his contract, he also established that he would not give interviews, only press conferences. For him, they are a lesser evil.

A former Barcelona executive explains: “He’s terrible at talking to journalists because he knows that, if he’s exposed in the media, he’s more likely to contradict himself”.

Luis Enrique is not your average coach. At 52, he is far from retirement and feels active, in his prime, with a career ahead of him. He is as fit as a fiddle and has cycled over 200 kilometres on occasions, and ran through the Moroccan desert with 10 kilos on his back and bloody feet. He loves surfing and has spent time in Australia with his family, where he waited for hours for the perfect wave at Noosa Beach. In his life away from football, he has also completed a marathon in under three hours.

Former Argentina player and Real Madrid sporting director Jorge Valdano explains: “They are very young [Spain players] who can win or lose. Never has a coach as well-trained and with as much conviction as Luis Enrique been so necessary for a team”.

This reflection is shared by veteran sports journalist Santiago Segurola: “He is the best possible coach; the national team plays the way he wants it to play. It is a modern, fearless, courageous game, although with defensive shortcomings; he is their only leader by character and ideas; and they are going to play the way he wants them to, without changing their scheme one bit, even if it doesn’t convince anyone”.

Andoni Zubizarreta, the former goalkeeper and then the sporting director who appointed him as Barcelona’s head coach in 2014, adds: “Football is a game of uncertainty, the worst team can beat you at the last minute. And the player doesn’t want uncertainty, he wants certainty. As a coach you have to convince the player, to eliminate some of that uncertainty. And Luis does that very well”.

In the national team, no ego other than his own is allowed. He is leading a new era but has also been linked with a move away from La Roja. The previous era began with a string of victories in 2008 (Euro 2008), 2010 (World Cup) and 2012 (Euro 2012), and ended with defeat at the first hurdle in the 2014 World Cup.

Addicted to anything new, a relentless reader, he has applied big data analysis to his team’s strategy and tactics. He has experts working alongside him, whose job is to observe how the national team plays and how Spain’s opponents play. Nothing escapes him. Anyone who doesn’t play with the required intensity is dropped from the team.

Qatar is the ultimate challenge for Luis Enrique. Maybe the challenge of his life. He is happy to represent Spain and feels “gijonudo”, Asturian and very Spanish.

GSFN | Kieran Quaile

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