“Thank you, boss”.
This is what went through my mind as I went through my twitter timeline on the night of the Champions League elimination. Suddenly, everything that frustrated me about what I truly believed was hurting the club was gone. There were no overreactions and if there were any they were at a minimum.
There is no coach in the world whose words sound so accurate and rational as Luis Enrique. At full time, Luis Enrique was asked about the match and his words made more sense than ever: “My players are professionals, they know they can’t win everything all the time”. Interestingly enough, the players and the entire fanbase repeated his words with pride. After the dream that was Pep Guardiola, came the beautiful reality that is Luis Enrique.
This is what Luis Enrique is all about: practicality.
Following the Barcelona fanbase closely, I assure you you can trust my words. Everyone has changed. From demanding the most ridiculous outcomes and coming up with the most illogical excuses to being very rational and supportive.
A lot of things are said about Luis Enrique. However, nothing grabs my attention more than two phrases: “reliance on individual brilliance/MSN” and “tactical failure“.
Let’s start with the first. The idea of individual brilliance has always been amusing let alone when it’s mentioned by Barcelona fans who happen to support a group of individuals with more game changing talent than most players in the world. The idea of “relying on individual brilliance” is old, ridiculously inaccurate, and pretty overused. I wrote something about it more than a year ago that hopefully puts an end to it. Here
Breaking down what individual brilliance means to this specific squad you would realize that it makes sense less than ever.
Luis Suarez, Neymar and Messi are three exceptionally talented players. They are not just any talented players. For the past year or so, they have been considered the three top players in the world. In a team of 10 outfield players, you have 3 players(which happen to form 30% of the team) who play together in attack. If you don’t watch Barcelona, you would say that MSN truly occupy 30% of the importance while in reality they occupy much more considering how talented and influential they are. After all, the ‘M’ is MSN represents possibly the most influential player of all time. Are we really going to give Messi 10% of the entire deal? Definitely not. Together, Messi Suarez and Neymar form around 50% of the team’s importance whether in talent, influence, attack or defense. They would form this exact percentage or possibly even more in any other team in the world and under any other coach in the world.
Where am I going with all of these numbers? Let me explain.
Take a moment to imagine yourself as the coach of FC Barcelona. Now, skip to training and imagine yourself watching Messi Suarez and Neymar every few days in training. They are going around making fools out of our defenders and scoring the most beautiful goals while making it look so easy. They are defending, passing, attacking and doing everything there is to do. Once again, skip to the part where you set out your general plan for the next match. Will you give these three guys the importance they deserve or not? Will you set them free and allow them to do almost whatever they want because it seems like the most practical thing to do. MSN are the main power of Luis Enrique and he has used his power in the most practical and the most efficient way.
So, the questions here truly are: Why do people ignore the possibility that relying on MSN is part of Luis Enrique’s plan and preference rather than this reliance being an outcome of his clueless tactical self? Why is Pep’s reliance on Xavi, Iniesta and even Leo appear as an act of genius while Lucho’s reliance on MSN appears just because Lucho has no idea what he’s doing? To try to make this as relevant to Barcelona as possible, why did Frank Rijkaard give Ronaldinho all this freedom and relied on him more than anyone in the team?
There is always a practical solution and certain players to rely on. It is up to the coach to recognize this solution and then optimize it. This thought is applicable in almost all the teams in the world. However, for some reason, only Luis Enrique gets attacked for an attacking formation that he himself helped set up.
“Luis Enrique is a tactical failure” gets passed around pretty often as well. Putting aside every decision that Luis Enrique took to enhance the team tactically over the past year(which happen to be a lot by the way but I’ll leave that to the more knowledgeable tacticians), I want to focus on the most significant part of Luis Enrique’s work at Barcelona: second halves.
Nothing is more interesting than how this Barcelona side changes from the first half to the second. It is almost as if two different teams play for Barcelona in the same match. Is it possible that all our players become more “individually brilliant” in every second half of almost every match? Shouldn’t it be easy to recognize how tactically flexible Luis Enrique can be over the course of 90 minutes? Isn’t his influence during the half-time break pretty visible and usually leads to incredible outcomes? Or is it just one big coincidence because “nah, he has no idea what he’s doing”?
Gladly, I don’t feel the urge to defend Luis Enrique (even if I just did) as much as I did in the beginning of 2015. Most fans have recognized his influence and how quickly he put us back on top of the world. As for the remaining minority, they can never really recognize it because they will forever be prisoners of a certain past.
Luis Enrique arrived to a heartbroken club. He arrived with new opportunities that could have failed if he didn’t handle them properly. He arrived to a team that has no experienced goalkeeper to depend on. He had two new goalkeepers who needed to adapt and they did pretty well. He arrived to an inconsistent Gerard Pique and what seemed to be a finished Dani Alves. He arrived to a team dependent on Xavi Hernandez and feeling lost without him. He arrived along with Ivan Rakitic who he himself needed to adapt to such a delicate style of play. He arrived to the club only to see that people are starting to doubt Andres Iniesta. He arrived to the club seeing a heartbroken Lionel Messi who seemed like he didn’t have any freedom or air to breathe for the past year. He arrived to an insignificant Sergi Roberto and eventually turned him into one of the most useful players on the squad. I could go on and on but I am sure all these points were pretty clear before you even started reading.
Luis Enrique saved a fanbase from the delusions of the past while giving them a treble to celebrate and a team to adore. He did all of this while continuously asking people to keep their feet on the ground and stay rational.
Luis Enrique is all about rationality and practicality. He arrived to face a fanbase that had become irrational and impractical. He brought this fanbase back to reality yet still managed to give them a lot of things to celebrate and opportunities to win more.
When Frank Rijkaard arrived he signaled a new beginning. He gave youth(most importantly Xavi, Iniesta, and Leo Messi) a chance, made perfect use of his players, and went on to win several trophies. When Pep arrived he signaled endless possibilities and excitement. For a couple of years, Barcelona fans were enjoying heaven. Pep Guardiola was football at its peak.
Luis Enrique will prove to be an important phase in the club’s history. It will be known as the phase where reality hit FC Barcelona and everyone was actually pretty fine with it.