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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

Lionel Messi: The unconventional captain

Prajas Naik

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Photo by Michael Regan/Getty

“Here he is again. Here he is again. That’s astonishing! That’s absolutely world-class!” “Look at this, Kevin! It’s a brilliant run from Messi. Can he go all the way!” “But here’s Messi. Away from two…three…four. Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!”

They say mere words cannot express beautiful stories. Yet these few lines are enough to send shivers down the spines of Barcelona fans all over the world. They bring back raw emotions of those glorious days of the past. Those fervent Champions League nights, Cup finals and El Clasicos. A point in time when all the ardent Barça supporters used to have their eyes glued to their TV screens to watch the magic unfold in front of them.

The all-conquering team donning the historic blue and red colours brought exuberant smiles on the faces of every Culér out there, and at the heart of it all, was one man — Lionel Messi. An outlier in a generation of extraordinary footballers.

Humble beginnings

Born in Rosario to working-class parents, Lionel Messi had relatively humble beginnings. But his passion and love for the beautiful game was apparent from the start. He was ready to give his all for the sport.

“He would never say no to anything. If I told him to run, he would run. If I told him to do an exercise, he would do it. All I had to do was to encourage and support him.”

Enrique ‘Quique’ Dominguez | This is Football (Amazon Prime Documentary)

This quote from his coach Enrique Dominguez, during his Newell’s Young Boys days, goes to show that his dedication was not something he learnt. It was a virtue he already had from the beginning, etched on his heart from a very young age.

Messi captain spurs

Life did not start at high speed for Lionel Messi. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

As with any artist, Messi had the sublime levels of talent and the desire to fight for his dreams. All he needed was a canvas to paint on. And when his father took him to Barcelona for trials, he caught his lucky break. Before he knew it, he had been picked up by Barcelona and thus began the journey that defined an era.

It was not plain sailing, though. A success story never is. Carles Rexach, Jospe Maria Minguella and Horacio Gaggioli, the three figures behind the signing, faced opposition from board members and coaches. To comply with FIFA regulations, they had to pay an amount unheard of for a player in the under 14s to keep him at Barcelona. Yet they took the risk, and Barcelona supporters all over are reaping the rewards today.

The False Nine

When talking about Lionel Messi, it is impossible not to talk about the false nine position under Pep Guardiola. It is not easy to become the very definition of a particular position, but the six-time Ballon d’Or winner managed to achieve the feat nonetheless.

Everyone knew Leo was going to be a world-beater when he began making headlines at the age of nineteen. But the true potential of Barça’s crown jewel was on display when Guardiola’s team destroyed Real Madrid 2-6 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

messi Real Madrid

Lionel Messi left no scope for Real Madrid in this encounter back in 2009. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

A false nine is a centre forward who drops back between the lines of opposition players creating spaces and opportunities to score. ‘La Pulga’ excelled in the position because it took full advantage of his repertoire of sublime traits. Unlike most players, Messi possessed a lethal combination of skillsets that brought out the need for the use of such an unorthodox role.

Beleaguering defences at all times and causing havoc on the pitch was Messi’s job. However, he achieved it with unforeseen levels of elegance. Be it his mazy and intricate runs or his telepathic connection with midfielders like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, or with fullbacks like Dani Alves, Jordi Alba, the #10 never fails to surprise.

messi Dani Alves

Messi’s understanding of the game allowed him to form sensational on-the-pitch connections. (Photo by Joern Pollex/Bongarts)

While he was a bodacious dribbler and a natural goal scorer, his supernatural passing and astounding vision made him a priceless asset. He was also a phenomenal reader of the game. But nothing was more important than his adept decision making. Not only was he almost always right in his choices, but he also made them at the blink of an eye.

“Its about understanding the game. When in every situation, he takes the right decision at the right moment. And every time, his decision is correct.”

Pep Guardiola | This is Football (Amazon Prime Documentary)

A different kind of skipper

Leo Messi is, for the most part, a silent leader. His performances speak for themselves. Especially in recent times, when he has an off day, the team heavily suffers. His mere presence on the pitch is enough to lift the team spirit. He has a magical aura around him that can strike fear in even the toughest of players and one that can turn an average team into levels above.

The number of times the 800-capped La Masia graduate come to Barça’s rescue is ineffable.

But one thing that many people forget to speak about is his personality. Whenever a new player comes to the team, it is understandable that it is tough to adjust to the new environment. Especially at a club like FC Barcelona, a player may have varying levels of maturity.

messi Real Madrid

Lionel Messi’s performances speak a lot more than he does. (Photo by GERARD JULIEN)

Be it an established player like Antoine Griezmann or a fledgeling talent like Pedri, Leo is one of the first to help them feel comfortable. He uses what he has learned throughout the years to help others elevate their game. Leo’s influence on his teammates is an equally important and much-overlooked aspect of being a captain.

“From day one, Messi has been good to me. He gives me a lot of advice on the pitch. He is an incredible person.”

Pedri | Dynamo Kyiv Pre-game Presser

The imperfect captain

Whilst the little magician is a master of playing the beautiful game, he is not exactly an ideal leader, on the pitch anyway. When Andres Iniesta finally decided to leave his beloved club in 2018, it was natural that the mantle would fall to fellow La Masia graduate and teammate.

He had been brought up in the Barcelona academy, and the team’s principles were deeply instilled in him. Having already proven himself as a player, it was a new challenge for the Argentine. However, it was a provocation that brought with it some problems.

Despite being the centrepiece of the team, it was clear that Messi’s reign as captain was not going to be insouciant. Unlike the days of the past, Barcelona were in need of a complete overhaul. The old guard’s time was nearly up, and it was the dawn of a new era for the Azulgranas. The following years were bound to be long and gruelling. Now more than ever, the team was in desperate of a skipper who could guide the team on and off the pitch.

messi liverpool

Barcelona were no longer the club Lionel Messi once joined, and it was time to say goodbye. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

It was evident that gone were the days where Barcelona could steamroll past opponents on their way to glory. Year after year, heartbreak followed the team as performances reached an all-time low. Roma, Liverpool and then finally the drubbing against Bayern left fans desolated and drained.

It was the number ten who came under immense scrutiny for the failures and his desire to leave the club at such a delicate time was the final nail in the coffin. Media erupted with claims of Messi’s disloyalty. He became a scapegoat for the press.

There was a hint of truth in the claim that Messi was not a deserving bearer of the armband. Much like cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, Leo did indeed let the pressure affect his performances. However, his love for the badge shone through the darkness.

Irrefutable loyalty through controversy

Loyalty is just another one of Leo’s characteristics that makes him so incredible. Be it off the pitch towards his family and friends, or on the pitch to his team, Messi’s fidelity never falters.

Most Culés know that the faults ran far beyond the Argentine, starting with the underwhelming board of directors. Years of controversies and deceit marred their five years at the helm. The Lionel Messi transfer saga looked to be the next in a line of outrageous mistakes and choices made by the board.

Leo, wanting to win the Champions League one more time before he hung up his boots, wanted to be at a club where the sporting project could enable him to fulfil his desire. Barcelona were miles away from taking the number ten close to his dream and thus he sought for a different club, such as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

messi guardiola

Lionel Messi – Pep Guardiola reunion stories had already caught fire, and it tore apart Culés. (Photo by CHRISTOPHE SIMON)

The transfer looked to be on for a free because of a clause in Messi’s contract, but club president Josep Maria Bartomeu intervened with the smallest of irregularities in the same. His argument was extremely fragile and would easily have been overturned legally. Yet the Argentine could not bring himself to take the team he loved to court.

He instead decided to stay and fulfil the agreement. All those who ever had the slightest doubts as to where his allegiance lies were silenced once again. Even if the little magician does indeed end up leaving, he would have left behind one last parting gift: the resignation of the irresponsible leadership of the club.

He came out and spoke the truth as to what was going on behind the scenes. He lashed out against all the accusations and revealed the true situation behind the scenes. This even prompted other players like Gerard Pique to hint at just how poorly the club was being run. The Barcelona Socios had finally had enough, and thus began the referendum that sent the board running from their posts to avoid embarrassment.

Like a devoted leader, he saved his team from the hands of the bureaucrats who were about to lead the club to bankruptcy.

Messi kissing crest

Lionel Messi stood by the club, like any captain would. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Not to mention, he also led the charge against the board when they claimed that Barcelona players were not agreeing to a pay-cut during the pandemic, with each player releasing a statement on their social media to challenge the same. Lionel Messi’s charge as captain has been dominated by off the pitch work rather than vocal shouts, or tactical improvement – important all the same.

Respected by all

Being the best player in a club’s history brings you love from Culés all around the world. But a sensational talent like Leo is not loved only by Barcelona fans, but by football fans everywhere. The respect he has earned through his incredible performances is unimaginable.

An example of the same was when the Blaugranas faced Real Betis at the Benito Villamarin on March 18, 2019. It was the 85th minute and Messi had just scored a sensational chip from outside the box to seal the victory for Barcelona and to complete his hat-trick in the process.

One would have expected the stadium to jeer and whistle after seeing a player demolish their team 4-1 almost single-handedly. But the sight that unfolded was one that makes a person fall in love with football all over again.

The entire stadium gave Lionel Messi a standing ovation befitting the beauty that they had just witnessed. The chants of ‘Messi! Messi!’ echoed the stadium as the fans from both teams took a moment to absorb and applaud the genius of the little man.

Garnering such levels of respect and love from opposition fans is one of the most difficult things in any sport. But what else can one do but admire an artist painting out his masterpiece?

Name etched in diamond and gold

Whether he decides to stay and finish his career at the Camp Nou is something that only time will tell. After all that Leo has given to this club and the fans, not respecting his wishes would almost be a crime. He is 33 right now, and once that day comes when he leaves the club – and it definitely will, it will feel like a sword to the chest.

As his illustrious time at the very top of the game draws to a close, supporters can do nothing but reminiscence in the memories that he has left for us. Even though he may be an out-of-sorts captain if there is anyone who deserves to wear that armband, it’s him.

The day Lionel Messi decides to retire will be a sombre one for the football community. It will be difficult to see starting XIs without his name, and even harder to imagine a Camp Nou that does not shout “Messi, Messi” in unison game after game after game. Just like so many things in life, that goodbye is fast approaching.

Lionel Messi Wanda Metropolitano

Lionel Messi does not have a long time left with the ball. And that in itself is horrifying thought. (Photo by David Ramos)

The Ansu Fatis and the Kylian Mbappes will come and go, but there might never be another Lionel Messi in the world of football. But long after he retires, his legacy will remain, just like it did with Pelé, Johann Cruyff, and the late Diego Maradona.

Many people will have his future on their minds as the summer 2021 transfer window approaches. Many will dread the prospect of him leaving the club. But all good things do come to an end, and so will the extraordinary relationship that is Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona. Whatever happens, fans need to remember that it is time to move on. And as the great Dr. Suess said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

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