Barcelona, Spain • Former Barcelona player Luis Enrique signed a two-year contract to become coach on Wednesday, a hire the club hopes will resemble the success stories of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola.
Luis Enrique signed the deal with club president Josep Bartomeu two days after it was announced by the club. That was two days after coach Gerardo Martino stepped down when Barcelona finished its first season without a major trophy in six years.
"We believe that this is the beginning of a new Barcelona, a Barcelona that will excite again," Luis Enrique said. "I can’t wait to hear the hymn of Barcelona in the Camp Nou."
The 44-year-old Luis Enrique, whose full name is Luis Enrique Martinez Garcia, won two league titles as a Barcelona player from 1996-2004 and coached its B team from 2008-11. He also coached at Roma, and led Celta Vigo to a respectable ninth-place finish this season after installing an attractive passing attack based on the Barcelona model.
Luis Enrique’s hiring continues a tradition of in-house coaches recently represented in Guardiola and Tito Vilanova. That string was broken when Martino was hastily brought in last year after Vilanova resigned to focus on his battle with throat cancer that he eventually lost last month.
Luis Enrique is the club’s eighth former captain to coach the club, joining Laszlo Kubala, Cesar Rodriguez, Cruyff and Guardiola, among others.
Although Luis Enrique was never in the same class of such players, he is only the second former captain to have coached both the club’s B side and now its first team. Guardiola is the other.
Luis Enrique asked not to be compared with Guardiola and said his best quality as a coach was being a leader, not as an expert in tactics despite his insider knowledge of Barcelona’s ball-control approach.
"I don’t rely too heavily on tactical know-how, instead I focus on managing a group, managing egos," Luis Enrique said. "There is work that goes on during the week, work based on knowing each player. I try to be everything a leader is."
Luis Enrique’s immediate goal is to help sports director Andoni Zubizarreta rebuild a squad that has experienced a slow but steady slide over the past two years.
"He is a coach that knows our way of playing, our philosophy," Zubizarreta said. "We believe that we have put the squad that we are going to build for next season in good hands."
Under Luis Enrique, Barcelona will be expected to bring in reinforcements to help Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Neymar. And he won’t be measured — at least not immediately — against Guardiola, who won an unprecedented six titles in his first season and 14 of a possible 19 in four years.
Luis Enrique acknowledged that his other challenge is helping Messi rediscover the competitive spirit that he appeared to lack during some matches after recovering from nagging muscle injuries last season.
"I am thrilled to have the best player in the world on my team," Luis Enrique said. "It’s obvious that Messi’s output this season wasn’t as incredible as in past years ... I hope that with me he can find his best version, but not only him, also Iniesta and Neymar and the rest."
Martino’s disappointing season ensured that Luis Enrique will have room to improve on a team that failed to reach the Champions League semifinals for the first time in seven seasons, lost the Copa del Rey final to Real Madrid, and couldn’t beat league champion Atletico Madrid in six meetings across all competitions.
Luis Enrique can also draw on his deep knowledge of the club’s staff, and links with three generations of players, having played alongside veteran Xavi Hernandez, coached former B team player Sergio Busquets, and taken rising talent Rafina Alcantara from Barcelona to Celta on loan and now back.
Luis Enrique is one of the few players to have enjoyed successful stints at both Barcelona and Real Madrid. He occupies a special place among Barcelona’s faithful as the one recent player to have left Madrid for Barcelona, in contrast to a group of former stars who left for the Spanish capital, including Luis Figo, Bernd Schuster and Michael Laudrup.
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