The worst kept secret in Spanish football was revealed early on Thursday when the Spanish Federation officially announced that Luis Enrique is out as national team coach after the World Cup exit on penalties at the Round of 16 against Morocco.
The Barcelona legend leaves after four years in charge and mostly positive results, with the highlight being a run to the semifinals of the European Championships with a young team very few expected to go that far.
He made some controversial decisions, became a Twitch star and was accused by Spanish-slash-Madrid media of having a bias towards Barça players, and his decision to stick with Sergio Busquets as the engine of his midfield in Qatar has received many of the same criticisms that Ronald Koeman and Xavi Hernández have had to listen as Barça coaches over the last couple of years as Busi’s play has clearly declined.
Lucho is now gone, and regardless of how his tenure ended he is still regarded as one of Europe’s top managers and will be instantly talked about as a candidate for whatever big job opens while he’s unenmployed.
And one of those jobs could be his old one: if Xavi fails to win La Liga and has another disappointing showing in the Europa League this season, there will be a lot of loud voices, maybe even inside the club, calling for his head whether that’s fair or not. And if Luis Enrique is out there as an option, the conversation will become even more interesting.
So should Barcelona go the Lucho route once again if they ever decide to move on from Xavi? The answer is not that simple.
On the surface, there shouldn’t be any doubts: Lucho has been there before, coached three successful seasons and is the last Blaugrana manager to win the Champions League. He managed some giant egos in the dressing room and got the very best out of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar, who went from an awkward early fit to the greatest forward trio in the history of the sport. He won La Liga twice, and his teams played expansive, attacking, possession-based football with a lot of goals, wins and happy nights for fans.
He also failed to advance past the quarterfinals of the Champions League in his last two seasons, and the only European highlight in those couple of years is the famous Remontada against Paris Saint-Germain that only became possible thanks to a disastrous 4-0 loss in Paris that was a lot more representative of what his team truly was by the end of his tenure.
By all accounts Lucho was tired of the job and the players were tired of him by the middle of his third and final season, and the only reason the team was able to rally and win the Copa del Rey was after Enrique announced he was leaving at the end of the campaign and went with a suicidal 3-3-1-3 formation to try and spark some life into an attack that stopped flying high even with all three of MSN still playing every game.
The section of the fanbase that wants Lucho back sticks with the happy memories and the brilliant football from the 2015 and 2016 calendar years, which were about as breathtaking as any two-year stretch in Barça history. The more pessimistic side remembers the needless rotations, the strange player choices in big games, the obsession with André Gomes, and a general lack of care for the defensive side of the ball that severely diminished the team’s chances of competing in the final two seasons.
I am somewhere in the middle. Luis Enrique was the last great Barça coach, and I believe he’s a better, more experienced version of what Xavi wants to become. I also think Lucho is brutally stubborn and wants to prove a point almost as much as he wants to win games, and his magnetic presence and personality distracts you from the painful reality that he seems to care more about possession than three points.
Football has evolved, possession matters less than ever, and the Barça DNA needs rewriting. I am not sure Luis Enrique is the man for the job.