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Barcelona appoint Luis Enrique as new coach

The move to go for someone who has plenty of playing and coaching experience at the club comes as little surprise.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

JUST TWO DAYS after ending a first season in six years without a major trophy, Barcelona have turned to one of their own in former captain Luis Enrique to restore the glory days at the Camp Nou.

The move to go for someone who has plenty of playing and coaching experience at the club comes as little surprise after an ill-fated season for Argentine Gerardo Martino.

Hired just two weeks before the campaign began due to Tito Vilanova’s sudden resignation as he fought a battle with cancer, Martino proved to be out of his depth at one of the biggest clubs in the world in his first experience of European football as a coach.

Whilst he was winning at the beginning of the season, Martino’s preference for a more direct style of play came under criticism. In the second part of the campaign as the results got progressively worse, it was his inability to man-manage the conflicting egos within the squad that came under the spotlight.

The Barca board’s bet is that Enrique can fulfil both these criteria. He made over 200 appearances for the club in six years after joining from eternal rivals Real Madrid in 1996 and also had great success in three seasons in charge of Barca B coach.

The 44-year-old succeeded Pep Guardiola as Barca B coach and led them back to the second tier of Spanish football for the first time in 11 years in his second season. Even more impressively they were to finish third in the Segunda Division in Enrique’s final season in charge, although they weren’t allowed to take their place in the promotion playoffs as B teams cannot be promoted to the top tier.

Within the club the feeling was that Enrique was being groomed as the eventual successor to Guardiola. However, he was tempted by an offer to take over Italian giants Roma for the 2011-12 season.

“When Roma got to know me, they got to know me as an offensive coach who likes to attack, who likes good football,” Enrique said at the time.

“The important thing is that the fans come to watch us, that they enjoy themselves. It’s a very attractive way of playing. We will play on the attack. I don’t consider football any other way.”

That dedication to attacking football is what makes him a perfect fit for the Camp Nou hot seat, even if it didn’t lead to great success in the Italian capital as Enrique left after just one season when Roma failed to qualify for any European competition.

Indeed he would have been one of the favourites to take charge last summer had he not agreed to take over at Celta Vigo just weeks before Vilanova’s resignation.

However, a season’s stay in Galicia has enhanced his reputation as a manager in the top flight of Spanish football as he led Celta to ninth place, their highest finish in eight years.

Mathematically ending Real Madrid’s La Liga title hopes by beating Los Blancos 2-0 a fortnight ago also strengthened Enrique’s case, as did his handling of on-loan Barca midfielder Rafinha Alcantara in a season in which the Brazilian has flourished.

Crucially, Enrique also has a hard side that will allow him to take a more disciplinarian stance than that offered by Martino as standards started to slip over the past six months.

However, unlike Guardiola, he is taking over a club in transition with many key players leaving or coming towards the end of their time in the Catalan capital rather than their prime.

Victor Valdes and captain Carles Puyol have played their last games for the club, whilst another pillar of their recent success Xavi Hernandez is now 34 and was benched by Martino for Barca’s final two games of the season.

Enrique’s task is to mould Barca’s disparate collection of younger stars, led by Neymar and Lionel Messi into a side that can once again dominate on the domestic and European stage.

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