Lucho Out. It’s official.
Luis Enrique announced that he will not continue as coach of FC Barcelona, ending speculation about something that everyone has pretty much presumed was going to happen at any rate. Dependent upon what happens, he could end his season in the same way that the last coach who won a treble at Barça ended his tenure: with a Copa to show for it.
Yet, the two tenures couldn’t be more different even as one defined the other. Pep Guardiola got a once-in-a-lifetime group of players at their physical and mental peaks and made magic with them. Luis Enrique got a very talented group, with some of those once-in-a-lifetimers past their prime and still, he made magic.
History will be kinder to his coaching tenure than many of the club’s supporters will be and have been. He will leave Barça with at least five titiles in three seasons, a record of having improved almost every player under his tutelage and some smart transfer calls that have set the club up for the future. And to be absolutely clear about this, Luis Enrique got a shitty deal from people who stopped watching football because they were too busy looking backward.
It’s tough to follow a legend, and the reality is that every Barça coach will be following in, and measured by, the footsteps of Pep Guardiola even as there will have been many coaches between them. And those coaches will all be found wanting, because the Guardiola era was magic and unrepeatable, even as Luis Enrique was, like his successor will be, damned for not being able to recreate magic.
Luis Enrique has Rafinha thriving, turned Sergi Roberto from transfer package makeweight into a quality starter for Barça. He’s won a treble and a double in consecutive seasons and his team is still alive in three competitions, even if the Champions League bid has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. His team has played lustrous football, his team has also played crap football and all points in between. It’s also important to note that it is time for him to leave, even as his treatment has been appalling and mostly unfair.
His swashbuckling charges stood football on its ear as clearly and cleanly by combining Messi, Neymar and Suarez as Guardiola did with the triumvirate of Messi, Eto’o and Henry. Both men won trebles their first season at the helm, as well. What’s different about the Luis Enrique tenure, then? So many things, some good, some bad, some interpreted as one way even if they are the other.
He announced his departure on the day that his team rolled out a 3-4-3 diamond to eviscerate Sporting Gijon. Some will say that they would have beaten Sporting no matter how they rolled out, which is probably true. But he also rolled out the 3-4-3 in a potentially season-defining match against Atleti, and won with formation, tactics and his subs. But no matter what he did, the “Lucho Out!” brigade was long and loud, silent when he was celebrating a treble with his players, waiting for the opportunity to kick at the first opening.
This season has been a complex one for Barça, with many errors on and off the pitch. Luis Enrique’s errors have been documented with more and greater clarity than his successes, because that’s how it is when you’re unfavored. As with Guardiola, Luis Enrique leaves Barça needing a rest. The club is a pressure cooker, dealing with the entorno is like standing at the bottom of a valley as people shovel shit into the hole. All you have is a baseball cap and a broken umbrella.
The speculation is already building about who will be next. I can’t say that I care right now, because there is still a season to be contested. He told the players first, because that is as it should be. Then the rest of the world found out. There will be no weepy pressers, no culers sobbing as that presser is televised. Luis Enrique was a hard man as a player, and a hard man as a coach. He will be a hard man whereever he goes, even if that his home with his millions, to ride bikes and be with his family.
From this chair, there is nothing but respect for what Luis Enrique has done as FC Barcelona coach. For others, the quality of his work will only become apparent in his absence. For others, it will never become clear. What is also clear is, just as when he was a player and as he is as a coach, he won’t care.