Luis Enrique is Spain’s new manager. His appointment comes after the Spanish were shockingly defeated on penalties by Russia in the FIFA World Cup after a dull 1-1 draw.
They had previously been thrown into chaos after Real Madrid confirmed the signing of their coach, Julen Lopetegui, days before the start of the tournament. The Spanish football federation considered the circumstances of the appointment a betrayal and sacked him, giving the job to Fernando Hierro, a former Real Madrid player and assistant coach who lacked any top-level experience as a manager.
Hierro’s Spain never quite convinced, and his departure was no surprise.
Luis Enrique’s signing makes a lot of sense. Other candidates, such as Quique Setién, were already under contract with other teams. Lucho, by comparison, was without a club.
He also had the most impressive CV among the choices being considered, and crucially, he lowered his wage demands for Spain. The likes of Arsenal and Chelsea were interested in him, but ultimately turned off due to his demands, which they called inflexible. The fact that he took a lot less money than he originally asked for shows a clear commitment to Spain, which, after the Lopetegui fiasco, is probably very important to the federation.
On the pitch, he seems like a good fit for international football. He’ll motivate his players, organize the defense, and move towards a slightly more aggressive style. He’ll keep the team’s identity of possession football. but he’ll prevent them from becoming too stale, like they were against Russia.
On the other hand, there are potential problems. His prickly personality can turn people off, and it can become even worse given the locker room’s inherent tension between Barcelona and Real Madrid players.
Luis Enrique played for both clubs, but there is no doubt that he is a villain to Madrid and a hero to Barcelona. His bluntness could also work against him, and one can already hear the questions from the Madrid media if he selects a Barcelona-connected player such as Marc Bartra or Sergi Roberto, and they fail to impress.
Some say he lacks tactical flexibility or imagination, and while those criticisms could be true, they are probably less relevant in the international sphere, where teams don’t get to practice tactics too thoroughly anyway and simpler plans can often succeed.
The international arena is very tricky; teams usually only get one chance every two years at winning trophies, and even one bad game can derail that. Still, Luis Enrique could be a blessing for Spain.