When Luis Enrique announces his Spain squad for the World Cup on Friday, the footballing world will be preparing for it. This determined, Teflon-resistant man likes to defy people’s expectations and lives to thwart his many enemies. We’re talking about someone who draws strength from criticism and controversy, like the cartoon character Popeye who built up his muscles after drinking a can of spinach.
So when the Spanish coach reads out the 26 names chosen, everyone will be on the edge of their seat as to whether the brilliant but injury-plagued Ansu Fatileft out of the last squad, will travel to Qatar, be it the 36-year-old Spanish coach and defender Sergio Ramos have reconciled, and whether he will infuriate Real Sociedad by risking taking Mikel Oyarzabal while the striker hasn’t played since March?
But there will be another thrill in total, which should intrigue you if you are interested in the future of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, Manchester City, Liverpool or any of the elite clubs. vanguards of Europe. Because this could easily be the last team from Spain that ‘Lucho’ announces.
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Given how superbly he did while being in charge of La Roja – Euro 2020 semi-finalists, 2021 Nations League runners-up, once again in the last four of the 2023 Nations League semi-final next June – and with relatively limited resources there is will have many fans and observers across Spain hoping that this is not the start of a long goodbye. But the fact remains that this talented, motivated and aggressive 52-year-old is out of contract with the Spanish FA at the end of the World Cup.
All attempts to renew his agreement have so far been rebuffed. Already the drums of Spanish football are beating the message that Atleti are very tempted to try to cope with the diminishing returns of Diego Simeone’s regime by asking Luis Enrique if he considers a return to club football when he is finished his work in Qatar.
It all came to a head a few days ago, when former Real Madrid, Valencia and national team goalkeeper Santiago Canizares said on the radio: “Perhaps the best thing for ‘Cholo’ [Simeone] and Atletico want their paths to go their separate ways – so as not to stagnate. They haven’t played good football for a few seasons. One name comes to mind, with the character to manage Atleti, and that’s Luis Enrique.”
Also, I know a La Liga-winning European Cup finalist with a great Barca past who thinks that if Luis Enrique looks set to return to club football, then Barcelona president Joan Laporta would have a serious dilemma over whether to watch such an iconic Camp Nou player and coach strengthen one of his enemies, or strike first by re-hiring him instead.
The counterpoint at the moment is that the Spanish coach enjoys a very attractive lifestyle: quality time with family in his Mediterranean village, the ability to pursue his almost obsessive drive to stay fit, lean, healthy healthy and competitive, balanced with bursts of intense football activity. which allow him to devote all his energy to a project without the daily, weekly and monthly wear and tear that all top club coaches suffer from.
However, his Spain side – heavily dependent on the overplayed Barcelona midfielder and under pressure from Gavi, Sergio Busquets and Pedri – play against Costa Rica, Germany and Japan in a group in Qatar, the fact is that there is a very attractive “safety net” opportunity to win a trophy as early as June against Croatia, Italy or the Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League next year.
It’s easy to imagine Luis Enrique renewing his contract until then or longer, but naming clubs he would be allowed to leave for without compensation if they offered him the chance to take over as manager. What could that mean? Simply put, any club interested in his services, whether immediately or for the 2023-24 season, must be jostling for a position right now.
The final words on the matter, from Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales, were far from encouraging. It was as if he was preparing to impose his will – or his ego – on the situation, just as he did with Julen Lopetegui days before Spain kicked off in Russia in the Cup. of the world 2018.
Rubiales told a radio show that: “[Luis Enrique] could stay or not stay. And it could be because of his decision or our [the FA] decision. It’s part of football and he would understand if it was our decision, just as we would understand if it was his decision.”
Now, I’m not an employment agent or lawyer, but Rubiales’ words sound far from a “we want him to stay, it’s imperative he knows how important he is to us. .we’ll find a way to persuade him to stay…”
Pep Guardiola may well be preparing to buckle up for an explosive and extended tour at Manchester City now that he realizes he is about to have a second ‘Messi-esque’ experience thanks to Erling Haaland.
Although Lionel Messi and Haaland have no physical resemblance and totally different styles of play, what binds them together is their uncanny ability to take games from their rivals. Why wouldn’t you want to ride a few super successful seasons on this wave? However, if Guardiola is keen to fulfill one of his dreams of coaching Brazil (or even England) to a World Cup victory in 2026, there is no better candidate to take on his basic job. and extend it as Luis Enrique.
Attitudes, mentality, football philosophy, plus an unerring will to promote and trust talent regardless of their age: there are so many things that bind Guardiola and Luis Enrique, Barca’s former teammates.
Who knows who will buy Liverpool, how quickly or what Jurgen Klopp thinks of the potential changing of the guard? But when Klopp finally chooses to take his much-discussed sabbatical and travel the world with his wife, Ulla, Luis Enrique would once again be an attractive candidate there as well.
Coaching Spain has been instrumental in recovering from the most traumatic family grief, as even after he and his family mourned the loss of his daughter, Xana, in 2019, the willingness to return to reapply his talent and his volcanic energy has become impossible to ignore. It’s a stone cold fact: he’s an extremely good coach, terrifically smart in his craft, forward-thinking and someone who relentlessly strives to find tiny room for improvement in order to play a mark. exciting football.
In the past, he told me: “For my coaching, the most important idea is to ‘attack’. When my staff and I choose a team, we first look at what our players can offer in attack. The concept is ‘pressure’ My teams attack in a very defined way, well placed so that when we lose the ball we can put pressure on the opponent and get it back.
“The third crucial idea is ‘ambition.’ the same way every game. So now I have a risk-taking attacking philosophy, which asks players to take risks in the game to opponents and be decisive in a game.”
If he reads this, he will be exasperated. None of this is a topic he wants to prevent Spain from punching (probably above) their weight in Qatar over the next month, which brings us back to his team’s announcement.
It’s been a year since some in Madrid’s press downright mocked his inclusion of 17-year-old Gavi in the Nations League squad to face European champions Italy. I heard some journalists talking, after the manager’s press conference, and they literally believed the Spanish coach was talking about picking a kid with very few Barcelona first team appearances out of sheer contradiction and to provoke the media “anti Lucho”.
They were wrong, and wildly. Today, Gavi has 12 national team caps and plays a pivotal role in Spain’s World Cup campaign. Can there be something like an equivalent this time around?
Then there is Ramos. There was a time when the former Madrid captain was a bit obsessed with stats, racking up more than his 180 caps and unbeaten international tally. Luis Enrique had thought of the world of Ramos as a defender, as a captain, as a professional footballer. Guys like these two don’t do love-ins, but it was the next best thing.
Ramos told Luis Enrique ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Kosovo in March 2021 that he was fine and fit to come on as a substitute. He played the last four minutes of the 3-1 win, returned to his injured club, missed several weeks for Madrid and Luis Enrique felt like he had the wool over his eyes; the defender hasn’t played for Spain since.
Now he is fit and playing well for PSG, while La Roja have a superfluity of left-footed centre-backs, but not the right-footed partner they need. Before PSG faced Juventus recently in a Champions League game, Ramos admitted “everyone knows what playing for my country means to me: I feel fit and good, but it’s manager to decide.”
Does Luis Enrique forgive Ramos, recall him and even reinstate him as captain? It’s a massive call, and one that has to be fair: there’s no gray area with two men of such strong character.
Keep your eyes on this story. At Euro 2020, Spain scored twice five, conceded the tournament’s own goal, won a spectacular penalty shootout and lost one. In the last Nations League, they beat the European champions and shook the cage of the world champions. Luis Enrique has never been and never will be free from controversy, intensity or entertainment. His players revere him and are ultra committed which means if this tournament is his last with Spain then, win, lose or draw, it will be fiery.