Luis Enrique: right solution, wrong proof

In high-level mathematics, there is the Proof. It isn’t enough to solve the equation. You have to explain why you solved it. A solution can be right but if the proof is wrong …

Luis Enrique is as much a symbol as Pep Guardiola. But where Guardiola was your first crush, Luis Enrique was that sideeye mathematicians get where the answer is right, but the Proof is wrong.

Luis Enrique is everything wrong, everything that people don’t like about FC Barcelona as a club. He is the second apocalyptic horseman to Neymar, the initial wrong.

Dummies like me sit around and ask ourselves why people don’t like Neymar even as the answer is as clear as the noses on our faces. We can start with him being the Sandro Rosell signing. There is nothing worse than the person you hate being right. So dammit, they’re wrong.

Neymar is also Not Barça. At a time when the model for the club is tight, controlled juego de posicion, here comes this Brazlian dude who doesn’t care about that stuff. “Wheeee!” But he isn’t charming like Ronaldinho, and he isn’t fun. He’s an assassin who will do anything to get an edge. “Fair play” awards? Eff that. Where’s my edge? He demanded the best possible deal for himself, and now the club is paying for it, even if Neymar wanted the money and didn’t suggest sneaky ways to get it. There are so many very clear reasons why people dislike Neymar, and always will.

Luis Enrique is more of the same.

At Barça, it isn’t enough to win. You have to win in the right way. The definition of that “right way” has changed over time. It used to be attacking, elegant, possession football. Culers rained cheers from the heavens for the Rijkaard teams because they were brilliant at this. It was swashbuckling. Ronaldinho even had his headband, a tangible simile to a pirate’s bandana. Prepare to be boarded!

After Guardiola, that standard changed. Even the first Guardiola year, which was closer to Rijkaard and even closer to Luis Enrique’s Barça, has been folded into the subsequent adaptations Guardiola implemented. A two-year sliver of time, when Barça played the best football anyone had ever seen, is now the standard. That success extended into the boardroom, which was ruled by Joan Laporta, who also became The Way. Everything about that period was perfect, right down to Iniesta’s Eddie Munster hair.

When Rosell came in, everything changed. Not only did he want to put his stamp on everything, doing everything possible to accomplish that as quickly as possible — he wanted to bend the incumbent magicians to his will. There was a fire sale on Ukranian giants, and finances were a disaster, calling for extreme austetiry. No color copies! Everything was wrong, and he was the answer, the worldview of any despot, even those slavishly devoted to marketing.

Guardiola left, and Tito Vilanova, his handpicked assistant, took over. It should have been perfect, but even aside from the health issues that turned that season into one of unspeakable sadness, even before life-destroying maladies reared their heads, people didn’t like the way Vilanova played. It was more vertical, more aggressive, not Guardiola. So it was wrong.

The thing in common with all of this, going on at the same time, was the institutional rot happening at FC Barcelona. Rosell resigned, but the rot continued. The celebratory cava fests of Laporta became board meetings, putting UNICEF on the back of the shirt and worshiping at the altar of the almighty Euro instead of football. Everything was wrong. Even the Boixos were finding their way back into the Camp Nou.

The most visible manifestation of this was a top-down sullying of everything associated with Rosell and Bartomeu. The Luis Enrique team’s treble, instead of something wonderful that should have had culers dancing in the streets, became something that saved the election for Bartomeu. People claimed to be able to separate the team from the board, but only rarely did that happen, something evinced by the vehemence with which Luis Enrique’s necessary changes to the way of play were viewed. It was even worse that those changes were successful.

Next steps were logical, in the installation of Messi as the real coach, there to save the day after the knucklehead wearing the whistle messed up the purity of The Way. But it all started with the top. Had Laporta won the election, and said that Luis Enrique had his full and total confidence, things would have been quite different for the Asturian. But this was not to be. Bartomeu won, in part, many assumed, because of the treble (never mind that Laporta was never going to win that election for very good reasons).

And something wonderful, a treble, became something bad for many segments of the culerverse. Everything that Luis Enrique subsequently did became tainted by the view of the club as an institution, conciously or unconsicously. And it was downhill from there until, as with the Bayern thrashing becoming the vindication for everyone saying that everything was wrong at Barça, the PSG beatdown was the proof for that vindication.

Lucho out.

Too many tactical dissections of what Luis Enrique has been doing have come from the assumption that the way Guardiola played was right, and here’s how Luis Enrique has messed it up. When people stepped back to look at what was, instead of what wasn’t any longer, the tone was usually quite different. One of the best of these, in addition to the excellent work at EUMD, came in April of 2015, when a piece was written by Greg Johnson that laid out how Luis Enrique changed the way Barça played, and that said change was overdue. It’s worth your time. That piece is also a blueprint for why the time is right for Luis Enrique to leave, how things have failed to adapt from that tactical apogee.

There will be many reasons for why Luis Enrique decided that it was time to leave. Some will say that he was pushed. Others will say that he knew he didn’t have the confidence of the players, and left because of that. But Luis Enrique is an athlete. He knows when it’s time. And it was time. It was time because of the weight of it all — the doubt, the nastiness, the constant fights against an entorno who damned him for no reason other than simple biology, since he isn’t the right man and couldn’t be — became too much.

Nothing was going to change the circumstances into which Luis Enrique was thrust. Only some could separate the man from the people who brought him in, just as it’s hard for many to separate Neymar from Rosell, the endless trials and tax evasion allegations. And we can be lucky, those of us who appreciate his sacrifice for the club, that Luis Enrique wasn’t ready to leave Celta Vigo when the board wanted him, or he would have been the one riding herd over that mess that Tata Martino played caretaker for, and even a treble wouldn’t have been enough to save him. Lucho to the pyre.

But as a coach, Luis Enrique will always be defined as the right answer and the wrong solution. He won, did so much right, tried to keep the team changing and advancing, but it was always going to be wrong. Eight trophies in two seasons is a record of success that should make a coach a legend. Not at Barça.

We can imagine that Luis Enrique is also leaving for the same reasons as his predecessor, that his tactical wrinkles have been found out by a game that adapts quickly to new threats, that his departure was the ultimate act of love for a man who is culer to his core. If you love something, and you know that you are no longer what is best for that thing you love, you have to set it free. And you have to set it free even if you know that your sacrifice isn’t going to change very much at all.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

23 Comments

  1. Dar_vincy
    March 2, 2017

    Well written, Kxevin.

  2. Mishti
    March 2, 2017

    Thanks, Kevin. As always, you have captured my thoughts, and perhaps the thoughts of many others, more eloquently than we would ever be able to do.

    I fully expected it, saw it coming months ago, but still it hit me hard. Less the fact that he is leaving, but more the bigger picture around the club, the treatment he received after doing what he did, and what such a culture bodes for the future of this club. The toxicity of it all.

    Million words have been written about Luis Enrique in footballing terms. More will be written for sure. I just wanted to pay my tribute to Luis Enrique the man. Or at least the man that comes across to me from watching him as a player and a manager. I will say this, he is a man I respect. Always upright, with a spine of steel, no-nonsense, nothing but integrity. I am probably weird, because the very things that made him the bete noir of the media are the ones that I most admire. In this PR obsessed world, seeing someone who is as disinterested as he seems to be in his media image is remarkable. Early in his tenure, he clashed with the resident superstar of the club, somehow survived it, and never let it get ugly in public. Never played to the gallery. Never wanted to make himself the story. His biting sarcasm rubbed people the wrong way. I loved it. He was not into giving sound bites. But was always fair and grown-up while talking about controversial issues. Remarkably calm in his demeanor for a man with such obvious intensity. I was proud to have him represent my club. When he left Roma after a stint that was anything but successful (there too, it seems, he clashed with the resident superstar), the fans wrote ‘ A real man in the world of phonies’. My sentiments are close.

    The greedy side of me wanted him to stay one more season to see through the adaptation of the players he brought in. The realist in me knows it’s probably better this way. Pity his Neymar project remains unfinished. And I suspect his leaving is one more strike against Neymar continuing at Barca next season. There was a lot of talk about the image of a dejected Neymar sitting on the steps during half-time at the Sporting game. I don’t know what it was that made him sad. But it’s not unlikely that the story of the day had something to do with it. What I know is that superstars don’t do the dirty work that Neymar has been doing this season unless they are in tune with the coach. May be this summer will be the time when the two scourges of so much of the Barca fan base both leave and then we are back to the future.

    I wish Luis Enrique all the best in life. I don’t know whether he has any appetite left for coaching another football team. But part of me wants to see him succeed somewhere else, and forever erase the idea that “MSN gave Luis Enrique a career”. Bon Voyage, Lucho. And thanks. And respect.

  3. Víctor
    March 2, 2017

    Well, the MSN is, in part, his creation. He asked for Suarez, even after the Chiellini incident. Neymar was brought a year earlier, seems like he was a board decision rather than a Tata request and LE gave continuity to him.

    So, yes, LE has some credit for the MSN.

    No wrong answers or wrong proof… LE won a treble and a double (and there’s still hope for something more) with his own ideas and tactics. He, obviously, wasn’t going to copy’s Guardiola’s method… because that wouldn’t be him and, obviously (again), he didn’t have the same squad as Pep.

    Yes, many doesn’t seem to like him… yet I doubt that those that wanted him gone would dislike the idea of saying to a RM fan: “my team has won two trebles and yours can barely make a double”…

  4. luisthebeast
    March 2, 2017

    The truth is that Lucho will leave and the only happy thing is that now we will not have anymore in twitter that stupid LuchoOut.
    We have time until next twitter when the SampaoliOut will be a trend.

  5. luisthebeast
    March 2, 2017

    Sorry for the mistake,Next winter not next twitter!

  6. luisthebeast
    March 2, 2017

    I would like to read something about Futbolnet,a project that the Club will be helping and it s about to teach kids about bullying.
    If i am right the club try hard to make a lot of things in USA and that is a part of the activities alongside the academies that would be opened in States.
    It s clear that Bartomeu and the board work to globalization and to make FCB generates loads of money.
    We like it or not that s the way to have a chance in modern football.

  7. raj
    March 3, 2017

    Thanks for the article Kevin.

    I just would like to play the devils advocate though I agree with all the positives about LE spoken above, I really liked the way we won the treble, not just the treble. It was the right direction for the team. We were going vertical in that season without giving up on midfield control, which you need – not just for the sake of beauty and our way of playing – but to make winning championships sustainable.

    However, in the second half of second season, it became apparent that we were losing the midfield control, leading to the AM loss in champions league.
    This season, it is clear that we totally lost it, probably irrevocably.
    Though I hope we win everything this year, it wouldn’t be all that deserving – chance would have a larger part in actual match time, than in the treble season (especially the second halfs when Xavi did his thing to calm shit down to sleep)

    Now we can argue till dawn on who’s fault is this loss of control, but we the fact that this fact is essential is non-negotiable for me. And not just because it is Barca. Any team fundamentally needs the pillar of stability in midfield to be a sustainable winner. Strikers win you matches, but midfields makes it stick (along with defense but still midfield is where it makes or breaks).

    This right here is where we are losing this season (and last). It has nothing to do with my nostalgia for Pep days. If I was to see a Barca match today without memory of the past, I would still think it is not a champion team just by going with common sense.

    And who’s fault is it? Who is responsible for new hires, which didn’t restore what we lost at least partly (i.e. Xavi)? Who is responsible for forgetting how to press with a structure and how to string three passes together? Just the players? Partly the players? It is an open question for me. I don’t know enough about the happenings at the ground level, after all.

    Personally for me LE is awesome as a person. An ideal kind of behavior, with dignity and respect.

    • raj
      March 3, 2017

      Typo: “Now we can argue till dawn on who’s fault is this loss of control, but we the fact that this *fact* is essential is non-negotiable for me”

      I meant: “Now we can argue till dawn on who’s fault is this loss of control, but we the fact that this *control of midfield* is essential is non-negotiable for me

    • georgjorge
      March 3, 2017

      A point very well made! Great comment. Though I still wonder if it all would have made perfect sense in the new midfielders’ second season…

    • Mishti
      March 3, 2017

      Great comment.

  8. Tata2
    March 3, 2017

    Raj just spoke my mind. lowly las palmas are playing the kind of football we are supposed to be playing. do they have better players than us or they just have a better Coach?

    • Mishti
      March 3, 2017

      I’d respectfully point out that Las Palmas are playing a brand of football that makes sense for a small team to play, with no trophies on the line. It’s aggressive and exciting going forward. Absolutely disorganised while defending/controlling midfield. Look at their away record this season, and think how you’d feel if Barca lost/drew a Bernabeu game after leading 3-1 in the fashion they did. This is not about comparing Setien with LE. I like and respect Setien. This is a common problem when we look at coaches doing a ‘great job’ at smaller clubs with very different stakes and imagine that it will automatically translate the same way if they move to a club with actual trophies on the line. The opposite is also true. Pep Guardiola’s Man City is not playing like his Barcelona. Neither would Southampton or Bournemouth if he were to move there tomorrow.

  9. luisthebeast
    March 3, 2017

    It s interesting that many fans in Lucho era screamed about the lack of trust in Masia players but they dont want Valverde,a man who since 2013 works in a team that depends so much in their academy.
    Are they sure that Sampaoli will use players from Masia?I dont see in Sevilla that.
    So if i was a la masia maniac and i loved players like Alena Palencia Marlon Ferran Carmona and others to have their chances i would support Valverde choice.

  10. luisthebeast
    March 3, 2017

    And why people are so exciting about Setien or Berizzo and others but when you say Valverde,they are like “yeah ok average,nah e.t.c?
    He is coach in a team that dont make many transfers,they use only Basque players and despite that he did a very good job and Athetic play good football.
    It s not like Celta under Enrique were an amazing teamg
    So ok i understand the people who wants Sampaoli but dont forget Martino experience.

  11. luisthebeast
    March 3, 2017

    What Frank Rijkard and Hen Ten Kate are doing these days;;

  12. luisthebeast
    March 3, 2017

    Real Sociedad at 4th place!Eusebio to Barca!

  13. luisthebeast
    March 3, 2017

    Ok i find the solution:First 19 liga games under Sampaoli next 19 under Valverde.
    Cup games Eusebio
    CL group stage Valverde knock outs Sampaoli
    Super Cups Unzue
    All happy:-)

    • georgjorge
      March 4, 2017

      Great solution ; )

      While we’re at it, why not also switch around board members each season, and have different club insignia every year? And players who don’t make the squad for a match could spend their time better playing for some other team that weekend.

  14. Davour
    March 4, 2017

    Seems RM have found the solution to its recent woes: play/start without CR, Bale, Marcelo, Carvajal and Kroos, and before you know it, up 3-0 at Eibar (7th in Liga! a disgraceful performance).

    No more favours – we must keep improving! Will be an exciting clash with Celta, no doubt. A point to prove.

  15. Jim
    March 4, 2017

    Interesting selection for tonight. Iniesta on the bench. If, as we suspect he’s not 100% fit he shouldn’t be on the bench, if he is he needs the time on the pitch to get match fit, if he’s been dropped its as well LE is on his way . . . The 3/4/3 will get us through a few matches but it’s not the answer.

    Don’t have a whole lot to say on LE’s departure. He didn’t endear himself to me with his macho attitude when he arrived, he was lucky to survive the RS debacle ( I’m still not sure Messi ever forgave him ( remember Villa! ) and that it wasn’t just Xavi who smoothed it over temporarily ) and I never thought he was building anything worthwhile, especially with the money he spent last summer . I also don’t think he improved any of the players on the roster but at last he was starting to admit that his midfield needed attention for which he deserves some credit and for that reason I’d have been prepared to give him another season to see if any of his purchases come good.

    Overall, I’d add that it’s not clever to dislike the press and make it obvious. We have a great example of that at the moment. I’m also not a great believer that the stress of his job is any greater than many others. He will never want for money, he will get another job and there are a lot of people who sacrifice home life for their job. As an ex- teacher I can safely say that good teachers are near the top of my list.

    Doesn’t mean we can’t still win the league though, and tonight will tell us a lot.

  16. ooga aga
    March 4, 2017

    Is there something wrong with Don Andres? Didnt play a minute on Weds and isnt in the starting lineup today. Hes on the bench. As is Arda who is just back from injury. Lineup

    Mats
    SR Pique Umtiti Alba
    Busi Raki Rafi
    MSN

  17. Jim
    March 4, 2017

    Well, give me more of this. Compact, no space between the lines, quick ball movement and the press is back. Neymar is taking the ball on the move and is twice the player as when he lets it stop. What a chip and should’ve had a penalty ! Messi is unstoppable.

    Two questions: why now and can we keep the press going ? Surely Celta will be fired up for the second half ?

  18. Davour
    March 4, 2017

    Well, that was pretty great. When both Neymar and Messi are on fire, there is no stopping them. Both unplayable today. Ney’s goal was an absolute delicacy (as was Messi’s first, of course). But biggest joy is team play – working like a unit, and Rakitic is back to his best, as is Busi. I don’t know if this formation will work against a team like PSG with their quick wingers, but in theory (and today, in practice) it is exciting in liberating Messi and providing support for Busi. The way Umtiti finished at RB you almost want to keep him there… SR shifting or Busi dropping to CB; if they can manage this, it could work, I think. Nothing to lose!

    But for today: thank you for a wonderful performance.

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