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Més que uns Capitans

Luis Enrique: Crossing the Clásico border

Lewis Shankie

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Photo by Martin Rose/Getty

In 1902, Alfonso Albéniz made the switch from Barcelona to Real Madrid. He was the first player to make the move between these two bitter rivals and is part of an exclusive club that has played for both teams. In total, 33 players have played for both sides, with some having great careers at each club while others had limited success.

There have been some recognisable names on this list such as Ronaldo Nazário, Luis Figo, Michael Laudrup, Samuel Eto’o, Julen Lopetegui, Josep Samitier and, of course, Luis Enrique.

Luis Figo’s transfer was arguably the most notorious as he left Barcelona for a move to the capital. On his return to the Camp Nou, Figo was viewed as a traitor. As the Portuguese star went over to take a corner kick, he was showered with projectiles from an enraged home support. Famously, one of these projectiles was a pig’s head, as Culés wanted to show their disgust at the move to their fiercest rivals.

Others such as Samuel Eto’o, have come back to haunt their previous club. The striker joined Los Blancos at just 16 years old, but was unable to break into the first team and was sold. Four years later he signed with the Catalans and would establish himself as a club legend, scoring many goals.

On the other hand, the Blaugrana let Ronald Nazário leave after just one season because of a contract dispute. El Fenomino would eventually sign for Real Madrid and become one of the greatest players ever to play the game.

From Madrid to Catalonia

Luis Enrique is one of these few players to play for both Barcelona and Real Madrid. He is part of an even more exclusive club that has played for both teams and been successful at both. Lucho initially played for Los Blancos for five seasons between 1991 and 1996.

Luis Enrique Real Madrid

Enrique enjoyed a rather successful, yet a lot lesser-known spell with Real Madrid. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Allsport)

During this time, the Spaniard would make over 200 appearances for the club from the capital. He predominantly played as a right midfielder or right-winger but was also used centrally as an attacking midfielder.

Madrid were delighted with his performances and offered him a new contract to keep him at the club. However, Enrique refused to sign, stating that he felt underappreciated by the hierarchy and the fans. This meant after his initial five-year contract expired, the talented forward became a free agent. The expression ‘one man’s loss is another man’s gain’ fits perfectly with this scenario as Barcelona snatched him up for free.

The move was met with some displeasure from the Blaugrana supporters. Of course, a player arriving from the club’s biggest rivals is never going to be welcomed with open arms by everyone. However, Luis Enrique knew this, and was determined to earn the affection of the Camp Nou faithful.

“I like adversity; that’s how I am.”

Luis Enrique

Donning the Garnet and Blue

When Luis Enrique signed for Barcelona in the summer of 1996, club legend Johan Cruyff had just left as the manager after eight years. The team had finished 3rd in the league and were going through somewhat of a transitioning phase. There were several new signings and departures during the transfer window when Enrique joined, including the arrivals of Ronaldo Nazário and manager Bobby Robson.

Overall, his first season was a success with Barça, winning the Copa Del Rey and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. The club finished second in the league with 90 points, two behind Real Madrid. Lucho was a regular in the line-up and had the most prolific season of his career, so far. He scored 17 times in La Liga, more goals than he managed in his five seasons in Madrid.

Luis Enrique barcelona

Luis Enrique celebrated each goal with passion and would go on to become an instant hit with the Camp Nou faithful. (Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

Over the next two campaigns, the Spaniard really started to shine for Barça, and his importance in the team continued to grow. He was becoming a real star in the squad, and his attitude for football was second to none. The following seasons, Lucho helped lead the team to two consecutive league titles and was one of the club’s stand-out performers.

He was a technically gifted player that had great control of the ball that allowed him to dribble past his opponents with ease. Also known for having a keen eye for goal, he was a straightforward player, who wore the crest on his sleeve. His selfless work for the team quickly made him a fan favourite.

Enrique’s ability and understanding of football was shown by how versatile he was. During his spell in Barcelona, the ‘forward’ played in every position except for left-back and goalkeeper. He played everywhere in the attack including on both flanks, attacking midfield and as a centre forward. Lucho was also deployed as a central midfielder, defensive midfielder, right-back on several occasions and when the push came to shove, even as a centre-back.

This sacrifice, along with his strong personality, would eventually earn him the captain’s armband in 2001 after Pep Guardiola departed the club. This proved to be an ingenious decision as Barça’s number 21 was a natural leader, leading by example. Luis Enrique was always mentally strong and had a desire to win and lift his team, making him an ideal captain.

Luis Enrique Barcelona

Luis Enrique wore the armband with pride and did the role of a captain justice. (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

He retained the captaincy until he retired at the age of 34 due to injuries. Enrique had options to extend his playing career with Barça offering him a new contract. Sporting Gijón also looked for his services once again as they were his first professional club. Sadly, the Spaniard felt he could not reach the required fitness or level anymore to continue playing football for either side.

Lucho had a great career at Barcelona, where he was always destined to play, despite playing for Real Madrid for five seasons. The Spaniard was technically brilliant with the ball at his feet and was confident in his abilities. He was a true leader and a role model with his dedication and hard work for the team.

Enrique loved cutting in from the wide areas and driving at defenders. His intelligence as a player allowed him to work effectively in the centre of the pitch too. He linked the play well, and this allowed others in the team to thrive. Enrique was always aware of the space around him and knew when to attack it.

Bleeding Blaugrana

Luis Enrique was a competitive player that always wanted to win, and justified the duties as captain with each performance. This competitive nature was coupled with a usually calm temperament. The Catalan forward always produced when his team needed him and Lucho would score some important goals during his spell at the Camp Nou.

“Being a player for a big team like Barça, you have to be very strong.”

Luis Enrique

One of his best moments for Barcelona came against his former employers, Real Madrid. Enrique intercepted a pass from the Madrid defence, burst past two opponents and smashed the ball into the goal from 25 yards. What makes it even better for Culés is how emphatically he celebrated his goal. There was no love lost between the forward and he previous team, Enrique could not care less about the whites of the capital.

Luis Enrique Zinedine Zidane

Luis Enrique had left the life of the capital behind and proved it in every Clasico. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The Spaniard would make a habit of scoring against Los Blancos during his time in Catalonia, especially headers. Each goal he scored against Madrid, he celebrated as if he had never played for them. The passion he showed for Barcelona was admirable. In truth, Lucho was destined to play for Barça as his style and ability made him a perfect match. This was also reflected each time he set foot on the pitch.

This passion for Barcelona was famously shown in a game against Real Madrid again. As Carles Puyol tackled Zinedine Zidane, he caught an elbow to the face from the Frenchman. Enrique, the captain at the time, was the first player to confront Zidane. Both players were clearly enraged as they squared up. The Madrid midfielder pushed Lucho in the face while Barça’s captain fired strong words back in his direction.

The treble winning manager

In 2014, Luis Enrique returned to manage Barcelona’s first team after working with Barça B, Celta Vigo and Roma. Every Culé will remember his time as manager fondly. His 2015 campaign is one of the best seasons in the history of the club.

luis enrique treble

Luis Enrique managed to etch a name for himself as an incredible manager of Barcelona after achieving tremendous success as captain and player. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Not only did the team win their second elusive treble, but they also played some stunning football, shaking some of the best teams across the continent. Most notably the Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar trident took the footballing world by storm, ending their stories as arguably the greatest trio to grace the world of sport.

However, it was Enrique who masterminded this team and made it his own. He commanded the respect of football’s biggest stars and got the best out of them. It proves what a strong character Lucho was, mirroring his time as the bearer of the armband.

Enrique’s greatest attribute has always been the strength of his character. Throughout his time as a player, manager and in his personal life, Enrique has faced many challenges. The former Barça captain has always overcome these challenges and proven he is a leader.

Luis Enrique Barcelona

Luis Enrique left behind a star-studded legacy as a player, captain, and coach. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

“Coaching Barça involved dedicating all your energy to the team, to the club, and the players. And when you see the end is coming, you have to take it in, accept it, and communicate it. There’s nothing else you can do.”

Luis Enrique

From joining Barcelona as a free agent, after five seasons at Real Madrid, the forward became a Barcelona legend the hard way. Luis Enrique and his rise to becoming club captain showcases his immense personality and talent. Enrique has always been respected by teammates, players, managers and fans for his attitude on and off the field.

Football is the greatest sport in the world. There is no sporting event that is watched more and is as passionately followed. Any football fan should try and watch Barcelona to understand how football should be played. At Barcelona, football is all about keeping the ball, movement, passing and playing great football above all else. I am a Barça fan from Scotland and have been following the team for over a decade now. I have been lucky enough to watch possibly the greatest era on football ever, and hope it continues.

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Més que uns Capitans

Andres Iniesta: The master of time and space

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Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

Time and tide wait for no one. 

The famous saying hits harder in sporting environs than anywhere else. One moment, you are on top of the game you love and cherish, garnering the love and adulation of fans across the world; the next, you are staring into the abyss, painfully aware that the time on top is fast approaching its end. The same holds for footballers, even someone who so expertly controlled time and space for years on end. We are, of course, talking about Andrés Iniesta Luján.

One of the best midfielders in the world, Iniesta has gone on to earn the admiration of fans, colleagues, counterparts and coaches the world over. However, despite his staggering stature, Iniesta was not someone who you would pass off as a potentially world-class player on first glance.

Indeed, his diminutive figure could fool many. But this was a footballer who packed a punch in typically graceful fashion whenever he took to the pitch. Iniesta, though, did not really have the best of beginnings at Barcelona.

Capturing the attention of Guardiola

When Andres Iniesta joined La Masia back in 1996, he was so overwhelmed by being separated from his parents that he has gone on to describe the occasion as the worst day of his life, a day when he “cried rivers”. Little did the timid kid who hailed from Fuentealbilla know that he was one day going to become one of the best players that the game has ever seen.

young iniesta

Andres Iniesta took a long time before breaking into the Barcelona team, and becoming captain. (Photo via Imago)

However, many who viewed him in action even before that big day knew that Iniesta was destined for greatness. Former Albacete coach and casino employee Andre Manuel Balo recounts how he needed to watch Iniesta for just five minutes at his trial, iterating how it was more than long enough to be sure of his talent.

“We watched him at the trial, and after five minutes we said: “Take that little kid off; we’ve seen enough.” In fact, it wasn’t even five minutes. It didn’t take him long; we were convinced. After everything we had been told and with what we had just seen, that was more than enough. It was wonderful to watch him: so small, the ball at his feet, bigger than he was. Why did we take him off so soon? Because we were so sure and we had to use that time to watch the other kids, the ones we had doubts about. There were no doubts with Andrés. Andrés played in the middle, and once he got the ball, there was no way of getting it off him. It was impossible. Pretty much like it is now, in fact.”

Andre Manuel Balo | An extract from The Artist: Being Andres Iniesta (Autobiography)

The trend would continue as Iniesta joined a fabled academy, where his life would change forever. The soon-to-be teenager was extremely shy and reserved when he made his way to La Masia. However, he really did not need to speak a word, as his game was enough to force people to sit up and take note of his captivating abilities.

And despite his quiet nature, Iniesta provided the first demonstration of his leadership qualities when he captained Barcelona Under-15 to lift the 1999 Nike Premier Cup. Not only that, but he also scored the winning goal in the final and was named the player of the tournament, typically leading by example, as he would all through his senior career.

Iniesta never scored an awful lot of goals, but he did get used to scoring winners, coming up clutch on the biggest of occasions, as Chelsea and Netherlands can recall correctly – just two teams that suffered the wrath of the maestro’s pitch-perfect timing.

iniesta Chelsea

Iniesta always came through for Barcelona. (Photo via Getty)

The first time Iniesta really caught the eye of those who mattered, though, was when he was invited to train with the first-team not long after that triumphant Nike Premier Cup campaign. It is here when he left Pep Guardiola, a Barcelona legend who would go on to coach him at Camp Nou a few years later, absolutely dumbfounded. 

Even in this instance, though, his reserved nature prompted Guardiola to send Luis Enrique fishing for the prodigious teenager. It is on this day when Guardiola famously proclaimed, “Remember this day, the day you first played with Andrés,” before pulling Xavi, who would later become Iniesta’s partner-in-crime, to one side to whisper, “You’re going to retire me. This lad is going to retire us all.”

Iniesta was not too dissimilar to Guardiola himself in that he embodied the famous La Masia principles of ball retention, passing and using space — “Receive, pass, offer, receive, pass, offer.” He knew when to pick the right pass, how to set the tempo of the game, boasting spatial and time awareness unlike any other. He would later go on to be the flag bearer of the academy at a time when youngsters would, more often than not, have an unclear pathway to the first-team due to the conveyor belt of foreign players arriving at Camp Nou in the past decade or so.

Xavi iniesta

Xavi and Iniesta dominated the world of football for years to come. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Coming of Age

Less than a decade after impressing Guardiola, Iniesta would go on to inspire the now-Manchester City boss. However, he was not really on a bed of roses upon his promotion to the first-team. Instead, Iniesta slowly grew into his role of a midfield mainstay and was a deputy to Xavi and Deco till a game that changed his life and defined Barcelona for the next decade or so. This was also the game when Iniesta provided an early indication of his leadership abilities within the first-team.

As Barcelona lined up to take on Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League final in 2006, Iniesta was unsurprisingly named as a substitute. However, a slow start to the game had seen Barça fall behind Arsenal despite having the numerical advantage after an early dismissal for the Gunners’ goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. Then manager Frank Rijkaard, though, was in inspired touch on the sidelines, making three changes that would alter the course of the game.

iniesta arsenal 2006

Iniesta looked ice-cold on the grandest stage in club football, playing among some absolute superstars. (Photo via Imago)

But while Henrik Larsson provided two assists and Juliano Belletti scored the winner, Iniesta’s contribution went under the radar in the game. Installed in the ‘pivote’ slot after replacing Edmilson at half-time, the young prospect was assured rather than star-eyed playing a role he was not accustomed.

Iniesta, though, did exactly what Rijkaard wanted from him – pick the ball up in deep areas and dictate play. Soon enough, his teammates would follow his lead and dance to the tune of his moves. Perhaps for the first time in his senior career, had embraced added responsibility and come out of the experience a man who would go on to boss games as second nature for years to come.

The Guardiola era was soon ushered in and Iniesta went on to become the bedrock of the Barcelona side that dominated football for nearly half-a-decade and is often labelled as the best team of all time. It is at this time when the Spanish wizard started taking on even more responsibility. Alongside Xavi, he would go on to essay the tiki-taka brand of football to perfection, guiding Barcelona to unparalleled success.  

Slowly but surely, it had become difficult to imagine a team without Iniesta at its very heart. Such was the sheer impact of Iniesta’s performance that Sir Alex Ferguson singled him out in his pre-match preparation ahead of the 2009 Champions League final, at the end of which Barcelona returned to the summit of Europe.

iniesta Xavi Rooney Manchester United 2009 icl final

Barcelona and Iniesta showed Barcelona no mercy. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP)

Post the chastening that United had just received, Wayne Rooney marvelled at the mention of Iniesta, exclaiming in the dressing room that the Red Devils had just been beaten by a team overseen by the best player in the world. He was, of course, talking about Iniesta and not Xavi or Lionel Messi. The baggage of leading the team as its club captain would soon follow.

Succeeding Xavi

By the time of the 2014/15 season began, it had already become clear that Iniesta was next in line to become the club captain at Camp Nou. Over the course of that campaign, which saw Barcelona become the first club in the history of the game to win the treble of the domestic league, domestic cup and European Cup twice, Iniesta had already donned the armband in the absence of Xavi. 

iniesta captain Xavi

Iniesta already knew the responsibilities that came with the armband. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Soon enough, the Spaniard inherited the famous armband from Xavi for good. It is at this time when a painful transition began at Camp Nou, one that continues to haunt the Blaugrana to this day. However, the mere presence of Iniesta on the pitch meant that the passing of the torch to the next batch was elongated, although many-a-time, it was agonizingly obvious that a lot needed to change at the club. 

No longer were Barça a feared quantity, which was clear in the way they were booted out of the UEFA Champions League by AS Roma, after they had appeared to be comfortable in the quarter-final tie. By the time the 2017/18 season came to a close, Iniesta had once again played his part in a league and cup double, scoring the winner in the Copa del Rey final in a man-of-the-match performance. 

Even in his cup swansong, which would be followed by the poignant and powerful farewell at Camp Nou, Iniesta was the best player on the pitch, again letting his game do the talking. However, the aforementioned farewell is what would capture the imagination while filling the Culés, in with a sense of fear about what was to come. 

iniesta captain Messi

Not quite what Iniesta would have wanted, but Iniesta’s final game with the Blaugranas was a thumping against Sevilla in the CDR, where he scored a rare goal. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty)

Iniesta’s time had hesitantly come. A player who often had the command over time and space at will on the pitch would soon no longer be putting on the famous Blaugrana strip. When the time finally, painstakingly came to bid him goodbye, Messi gave him the tightest hug seen on a football field, taking an extra moment to hold on to his dear friend. The new captain-in-waiting was aware that he would no longer be able to look towards Iniesta for inspiration. That absence is dearly felt to this day.

Doing the armband justice

Iniesta’s leadership style was another way to differentiate him from the run-of-the-mill player, the usual copybook captain. He does not scream and shout, barking out orders like a Roy Keane. He also does not look to take matters into his own hand like a Carles Puyol. He was a captain who would often lead by example, but that does not mean that that was the only way he would assert his authority or instil a sense of optimism.

The first instance of Iniesta displaying such a trait was in the early days of Pep Guardiola’s reign as the Barcelona manager. Barça had made a slow start to the season, and Guardiola was facing a baptism of fire. The team was well off being a champion outfit, let alone a feared quantity. With Guardiola buried in his notes, he heard a knock on the door. Out peeked the diminutive figure of Iniesta, who started:

“Hello, míster. Don’t worry, míster. We’ll win it all. We’re on the right path. Carry on like this, OK? We’re playing brilliantly, we’re enjoying training. Please, don’t change anything.”

Pep Guardiola recalling Iniesta’s words | An extract from The Artist: Being Andres Iniesta (Autobiography)

The vote of confidence did not come from the most influential of players at the time. It did not even come from the most vocal of players.

iniesta guardiola

Iniesta was a man Guardiola, or any other manager at the helm could trust. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty)

However, in doing so, Iniesta proved that while he may not speak a lot, one has to sit up and take note on the odd occasion when he did. With Johan Cruyff publicly backing him and Iniesta buoying him behind closed doors, Guardiola had all the confidence in the world to guide Barcelona to a historic season. By the summer of 2009, Barça had won each of the six titles they had been vying 10 months ago.

As Guardiola would further state, “People usually think that it is the coach who has to raise the spirits of his players; that it is the coach who has to convince his footballers; that it is his job to take the lead all the time. But that’s not always the case. It wasn’t the case at the Camp Nou for me. You start, you lose at Numancia, you draw with Racing, you just can’t get going, you feel watched, and you feel alone and then suddenly, there’s Andrés telling me not to worry.

It’s hard to imagine, because it’s not the kind of thing that happens and because it’s Iniesta we’re talking about, someone who doesn’t find it easy to express his feelings. And after he’d gone, I asked myself: how can people say that coaches should be cold when they make decisions? Impersonal? That’s ridiculous! How can I be cold, distant, removed with Andrés?

Guardiola would further hail Iniesta by saying he helped him understand the game better, simply by wielding his craft on the pitch. Indeed, when on the pitch, he carried an aura that demanded excellence, nay perfection, by himself demanding that of him every single time. When his teammates were in need of a pick-me-up, though, Iniesta would even let his words spur them on to lift their levels. 

As he would privately with Guardiola, the midfield maestro knew just what to say at the right time, just as he would when releasing a pass at the most opportune of moments. Such moments also came when the time was right. By his way of leading, Iniesta taught us that leaders can be humble, unselfish, grounded and unassuming, all while leading a highly successful side.

iniesta Camp Nou alone

A photo that can bring any Barcelona fan to tears. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

In the end, though, his time at Camp Nou was over, just as it was for many before him, just as it will be for many more after him. The Andrés Iniesta chapter was duly closed. However, he departed Barcelona as a legend in his own right, embodying the club’s proud slogan, Més que un club.

Time and tide wait for no one. As with everyone, it did catch up with the diminutive midfield wizard. For a long time, though, when Andres Iniesta had the ball at his feet, time would often stand still, dancing to the tune of his orchestrating brilliance, and Futbol Club Barcelona were better for it.

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