The coach signed off his three-year tenure at Camp Nou with a Copa del Rey final win over Alaves and he should be fondly recalled by fans
“Forever one of our own.” A banner at Camp Nou last weekend let Luis Enrique know that he will remain in the hearts of many supporters at the Catalan club. And so he should following Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Alaves in Saturday’s Copa del Rey final – even if his third season failed to live up to expectations.
Luis Enrique took over in 2014 after Barca had failed to end the 2013-14 season with a major trophy under Gerardo Martino. But with expectations always high for the Blaugrana – and more so following the success of Pep Guardiola – he was asked in his presentation if he thought he could emulate his former team-mate.
“Don’t compare me to Pep!” he said. But then he added: “Well, if you compare me to Pep it means I will have done something right…” And by the end of his first year in charge, he had a treble to back up those words.
But it was a sombre and serious Luis Enrique who faced the media in Berlin after Barca beat Juventus to win the Champions League and claim the third part of that treble triumph.
“We have played 60 games, won 50, drawn four and lost six,” the Asturian simply said. “Those are the best numbers of any season in the history of the club.” And he was right.
In the meantime, Barca became the first team in football to win the treble twice. In fact, it has only been achieved eight times in the history of football – yet many fans of the Blaugrana seem to believe the club should be doing it every year.
That is impossible. Luis Enrique added a domestic double of La Liga and the Copa del Rey in his second season, something which would have been considered a spectacular success only a few years prior, yet it was deemed as insufficient by many and especially as Real Madrid won the Champions League.
A third season always looked likely to be his last as he grew tired of the media, constant questions regarding his future and speculation over whether he would sign a new contract or not.
The announcement of his summer departure still came as something of a surprise, but seemed to lift some of the tension in the dressing room in the weeks that followed. “I won’t be at Barca next season,” the coach announced after a 6-1 against his former club Sporting Gijon. “I need a rest.”
But there was more to come. A tactical switch to 3-4-3 helped Barca produce perhaps the greatest comeback of all time as Paris Saint-Germain were beaten 6-1 at Camp Nou (after the Catalans had lost 4-0 in Paris) and Luis Enrique can take much of the credit for that. “I have prepared for this match more than any in my life,” he had said the day before the match.
Eventually eliminated by Juventus in the last eight and losing out to Madrid in La Liga, there were still some memorable moments too as Barca claimed a last-gasp 3-2 win at the Santiago Bernabeu in April and ended on a high with another Copa crown at the Vicente Calderon.
Lionel Messi opened the scoring for Barca and, following a brief scare in which Real Madrid target Theo Hernandez equalised, additional goals from Neymar and Paco Alcacer effectively wrapped up the result before half-time.
Before the match against Alaves, Barca supporters had chanted Luis Enrique’s name in the fan zone in Madrid, then again when he flicked a loose ball on his heels on the sidelines and, after the celebrations, they continued to chant for their outgoing coach.
It was fully deserved, too, because Barca’s squad needs some rebuilding this summer, but Luis Enrique did a fantastic job in his three-year tenure and will go down as the third-best coach in the history of this club after Guardiola and Johan Cruyff. You cannot ask for much more than that.