When Luis Enrique named Spain’s squad for the World Cup on Friday, the soccer world cheered for him. This Teflon strong, single-minded man likes to defy people’s expectations and would give his life to thwart many of his enemies. We’re talking about a man who draws strength from criticism and controversy like a cartoon character who grows muscles after eating a can of spinach.
So when the Spanish coach read the 26 names selected – whether the brilliant but injury-hit Ansu Fati – who was relegated from the last squad – will travel to Qatar, the Spanish coach and 36 – everyone will be on the edge of their seats. Defender of the Year Sergio Ramos has been reconciled and will the striker anger Real Sociedad by signing Mikel Oyarzabal despite not playing since March?
But if you’re interested in the future of Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, Manchester City, Liverpool or any of Europe’s forward-thinking elite clubs, there’s a whole other frisson that deserves your attention. Because this could easily be the last Spanish team to read “Lucho”.
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Considering how well he performed while in charge La Roja — Euro 2020 semi-finalists, Nations League finalists in 2021, again in 2023 Nations League semi-final four in June — and with relatively limited resources, there will be plenty of fans and observers around Spain hoping it doesn’t happen. Extended start adios. The reality is that this talented, driven and aggressive 52-year-old player is out of contract with the Spanish FA at the end of the World Cup.
All attempts to renew the agreement have so far been rejected. Luis Enrique has revealed his desire to return to club football when he ends his career in Qatar, saying that already Spanish football drumbeats Atlético are too tempted to try and resist the waning return of Diego Simeone’s regime.
It all happened a few days ago when former Real Madrid, Valencia and national team goalkeeper Santiago Canizarez said on the radio: “Maybe the best thing for Cholo”. [Simeone] And Atlético are about to part ways – not to be outdone. They haven’t played good football for two seasons. One name that comes to mind, with a character that holds Atleti, is Luis Enrique.
Also, I know one La Liga winner, European Cup finalist with a big Barca player, believes that if Luis Enrique looks to be on the verge of a return to club football, Barcelona president Joan Laporta will not be watching such a game. The famous Camp Nou player and coach must either strengthen one of his enemies or strike first by recruiting him instead.
Now the bottom line is that the Spanish coach enjoys a very glamorous lifestyle: spending quality time with his family in a Mediterranean village, the ability to pursue an almost obsessive pursuit of fitness, being slim, fit and competitive, balanced with intense bursts of football activity. This allows him to put all his energy into the project without the daily, weekly, monthly wear and tear that all top club coaches suffer from.
However, his Spain team — based on Barcelona’s midfield of Gavi, Sergio Busquets and Pedro — took out Costa Rica, Germany and Japan in the group stage in Qatar, but the reality is that there is a very attractive “safety” in next year’s UEFA Nations League against Croatia, Italy or A chance to win a trophy with host Netherlands in June.
It’s easy to imagine that Luis Enrique will renew his contract until then or later, but he will name the clubs he will let go without compensation if they offer him the chance to coach. What could this mean? Simply put, any club interested in his services either immediately or for the 2023-24 season should make a run for it now.
The final words on the matter from Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales were less encouraging. It felt like he was getting ready to impose his will or his ego, as he did with Julen Lopetegui days before Spain’s 2018 World Cup kick-off in Russia.
Rubiales told the radio show:[Luis Enrique] It may or may not stay on. This may be due to his decision or ours [the FA] Decision. It’s part of football and he understands it’s our decision, just like we understand it’s his.”
Now, I’m neither an agent nor an employment lawyer, but Rubiales’ words were, “We want him to stay, it’s very important that he knows how important it is to us… We’ll find a way to convince him.” to say…”
Perhaps Pep Guardiola is preparing to cap off a long, explosive run at Manchester City, who is now set to enjoy a second “Messi-esque” experience thanks to Erling Haaland.
Although Lionel Messi and Haaland have no physical similarities and completely different playing styles, what they have in common is their ability to take games away from their opponents. Why not explore two extremely successful seasons on that wave? But if Guardiola wants to fulfill one of his dreams of coaching Brazil (and even England) to a World Cup win in 2026, there is no better candidate than Luis Enrique to take the starting job and extend it.
Attitudes, mentality, football philosophy, and the unwillingness to encourage and believe in talent regardless of age: there are many things that link Guardiola and Luis Enrique, former Barcelona teammates.
Who knows who will buy Liverpool, how quickly or how Jurgen Klopp feels about the changing of the guard? But with Klopp finally opting to take his much-discussed sabbatical to travel the world with his wife Ulla, Luis Enrique would be an attractive candidate there too.
Spain’s training is an important part of his recovery from a tragic family bereavement because even after he and his family mourned the loss of his daughter Xana in 2019, it became his motivation to re-apply his skills and restore his volcanic power. Impossible to ignore. It’s a stone cold reality: he’s an excellent coach, very good at his profession, forward-thinking and someone who constantly strives to play an amazing brand of football.
“The most important idea for me as a coach is ‘attack’,” he told me earlier. When my staff and I pick any team, the first thing we look at is what our players offer offensively. The idea is ‘pressure’. When we lose the ball, my teams attack in a well-prepared way to press the opponent and win it back.
“The third important idea is ‘ambition’. By that, my team plays with the same attitude as anyone. I mean, wherever the score is, we are attacking, regardless of the score. We defend the same in every game. So now I have an attacking philosophy that takes risks and asks the players to take them. The game is for the opposition. And to be critical in a game.
If you are reading this, you will be disappointed. None of this is the case with Spain looking to punch their weight in Qatar next month, which brings us back to the announcement of the squad.
It’s been a year since some in a Madrid newspaper outright mocked 17-year-old Gavi’s inclusion in the Nations League team with reigning European champions Italy. I heard some journalists talking after the manager’s press conference and they believed that the Spanish coach was talking about selecting a boy with very little Barcelona first team game and to stir up the ‘anti-Lucho’ media.
They were wrong, and very much so. Gavi now has 12 national team caps and is a central part of Spain’s World Cup campaign. Maybe something similar this time around?
Then there’s Ramos. It was a time when the former Madrid captain was busy with statistics, amassing more than 180 caps and an unbeaten international streak. Luis Enrique thought the world of Ramos as a defender, as a captain, as a professional footballer. Two people like that don’t make “love-ins”, but this was the next best thing.
Ramos has told Luis Enrique that he is fit for the World Cup qualifier against Kosovo in March 2021 and is fit to come through the squad. He played the last four minutes of a 3-1 win, returned to the club injured, missed several weeks for Madrid and Luis Enrique felt like the wool had been pulled over his eyes. The defender is yet to feature for Spain.
Now he is fit and playing well for PSG. La Roja There are plenty of left-footed centre-backs, but not the right-footed partner they need. “Everyone knows how much playing for my country means to me: I’m healthy and I feel good, but it’s the manager,” Ramos said before PSG’s recent Champions League match against Juventus.
Will Luis Enrique forgive Ramos, remember him or even install him as captain? It’s a big call, and it has to be right: there’s no gray area with two people with such outgoing characters.
Keep your eyes on this story. At Euro 2020, Spain scored 5 goals twice and conceded the tournament’s only own goal, winning a penalty shootout and losing one. In the final of the Nations League, they won the European Championship and became the World Champions. Luis Enrique has never been, and never will be, free of controversy, intensity or entertainment. The players respect him and are extremely committed. If this tournament is the last against Spain, win, lose or draw, it will be fiery.