Tuesday, February 24 th, 2015
Mission  |   Team  |   Contact Us    
Is Luis Enrique committing the same mistakes as he made at Roma?
The coach is experiencing his first hardships since he seats on Barça's bench. Some of the mistakes the press is ascribing to him are dangerously similar to the ones he made three seasons ago
Two defeats in a row (with Real Madrid and Celta Vigo) put an end to Luis Enrique's honeymoon with Barcelona fans. It's high time Barça started so badly in La Liga. Seven years to be exact. The last time the Blaugrana had less than 22 points at the tenth matchday dates back to 2007-2008, the last season with Frank Rijkaard as coach.

Luis Enrique is under a huge pressure and according to As - a Madrid-based newspaper - some players are questioning Lucho's leadership for two reasons above all:
- he does not communicate with his players enough, and he refuses to explain some odd tactical choices (Mathieu deployed as a full-back is one of the most difficult to understand);
- it's still unclear who are Barcelona's starters in defense, as Lucho is continuously changing his mind. That's not an unheard criticism in Luis Enrique's past. In 2011-2012, when he was Roma coach, fans and journalists started to bet on what would have been the starting eleven, as it was quite impossible to see the same disposition for two games in a row. He even tried Simone Perrotta as a full-back, a role in which he never played until then, and switches of the central pair were countless. Turnover is good and sometimes is inevitable, but too many transformations might puzzle the squad and discontent is just around the corner in these cases.

In the last summer we wrote an article about what went wrong in Luis Enrique's spell in Rome. Assuming that we are talking about two completely different squads (Messi-Neymar-Suarez is not the same as Totti-Borini-Osvaldo), the coach is the same and the errors he committed in Italy were fatal. If one wants to be successful, he needs to learn from the past.


When Barcelona announced their new coach for next season last May 21st, many Romans raised their eyebrows: it was Luis Enrique, the man that led AS Roma to one of the worst seasons in their recent history. 2011-2012 was the first campaign with the new American owners who had just bought a majority share from the Sensi family, who had ruled the club since 1993. That could be a first mitigating circumstance for the Spaniard: it's never easy working in a club where everything is changing under your feet.


The choice of “Lucho” was a declaration of intent: ball-possession and spectacular football with young players. Luis Enrique made many achievements with Barcelona B: after having earned promotion from Segunda Division B, in the 2010-2011 he reached third place in Segunda Division (Spanish second division) and Franco Baldini – general manager at that time – was sure that he would bring the same enthusiasm and results in Giallorosso. Events transpired in a different way. Roma exited the Europa League in the summer preliminary round and placed seventh in Serie A, 28 points away from the winners (Juventus). The club didn't qualify for any European competition. They scored 60 goals and conceded 54: only 6 sides conceded more than the Giallorossi; Inter and the bottom five.


At the end of the season, Roma decided to continue with Luis Enrique but the Spaniard preferred to resign, waiving his expected salary for the second year, something uncommon in the world of football that should be appreciated. That obviously doesn't mean that Barcelona fans have to prepare for a disastrous 2014-2015, but is worth analysing what happened in that inauspicious year to discover Luis Enrique's qualities and faults.


Why Barcelona fans can be optimistic. This time, Luis Enrique is at home: Barcelona is his perfect environment and he already knows the staff and many players such as Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Deulofeu and Busquets just to name a few. Lucho's tactical credo is Blaugrana's one, so he will not have to convince anyone. Fans and management don't accept football that doesn't comply with two dogmas: offensiveness and ball possession. At Roma, his “tiqui-taca” was always on trial. Such an extended and extreme ball possession is something unknown in Italy. Imposing it is not easy.


Furthermore, Luis Enrique related brilliantly with the Roma players. Daniele De Rossi once said: “He's the best coach I ever had”. Nicolas Burdisso, ex Roma defender, recently said to Esports Cope: “He was a good surprise for us and we learned so much with him. He's a great person”. Despite the awful season, the squad wanted him to stay.


Perhaps one reason for such affection was the democratic way he managed the dressing room. There were no seniors, no “mama's boys”. In an away game at Atalanta, Daniele De Rossi – a Roma icon and the most beloved by the fans along with Francesco Totti - was a few minutes late for the pre-match meeting. Luis Enrique fined and excluded him from the starting eleven. The same happened some weeks earlier with Pablo Osvaldo, who slapped Erik Lamela after a defeat against Udinese. Osvaldo watched the following game from the stands. Everyone had his chance that season, even youngsters who maybe didn't deserve it: Aleandro Rosi, Stefano Okaka and Leandro Greco especially. Being respected and appreciated from your squad isn't always an easy task for a young coach.


Why Barcelona fans should be worried. Ok, Lucho was highly respected in the dressing room. But he never managed to inspire motivation and concentration in the team. Roma suffered many debacles in the 2011-2012 season: 3-0 from Fiorentina, 4-2 from Cagliari, 4-1 at Atalanta, 4-2 from Lecce, 4-0 from Juventus. In each one of these games, the team showed an appalling lack of personality and let itself go, without even fighting. Lecce descended into Serie B – the Italian second division – that season but even so they outclassed Roma. Games with Juventus are very important for Roma fans as the two clubs are divided by a harsh rivalry. But that night, Roma kneeled to the Bianconeri. Something unacceptable that definitely broke the relationship between Luis Enrique and Roma fans.


The fault for such a lack of personality – and a neverending discontinuity - has to be ascribed to the coach. It's odd for a player that became famous also for his grit and leadership, but he clearly didn't manage to convey these characteristics over to his players. Barcelona players need to be motivated after a negative – but not disastrous – season like the last one. Will Lucho be able to inspire them, leading Barça to a Reconquista?


Above all, in one aspect Roma and Barcelona are worlds apart: quality of the squad. Two years ago the Giallorossi were hugely less equipped than Garcia's team. Certain technical deficiencies were not Luis Enrique's fault. But he's to blame for some fiascos: left-back Josè Angel (Asturian like Lucho) was clearly not ready to play in Serie A but the coach wanted him to be bought and insisted with him for all the season, exposing the player to poor showings. In the last two seasons, Josè Angel played 29 games overall for Real Sociedad. One game more than the entire 2011-2012 season. Perhaps he's not ready for La Liga either. Another of Lucho's lost bets was Bojan Krkic: the wonderboy seemed to have lost himself far from La Masia.


“I'll deploy a system which suits the players we have and gets the best out of them”, Luis Enrique said in his first press conference as Barcelona manager. It's a sage statement, and we really hope for the Cules that he will apply it. In Rome, he didn't. The 4-3-3 system was immutable for him atlhough he didn't have the right men to apply it, especially in the defensive phase. Luis Enrique deployed a very high defensive line, but his centre-backs were Simon Kjaer and Gabriel Heinze: good players, but very slow and absolutely unfitting for such a defensive scheme. But that wasn't enough to change his mind. That's one reason why Roma conceded 60 goals. To make a comparison, this season Roma conceded 25 goals in Serie A playing with a 4-3-3 formation.


It's all about how you implement that 4-3-3. One could say that Barcelona is taking a leap into the unknown (although they know Luis Enrique as a player and a youth coach) but we have to admit that Luis Enrique earned a lot of experience in the past two seasons with Roma and Celta Vigo, where he placed ninth. With the Galician side Lucho demonstrated to have learnt some hard Italian lessons. And he had the audacity to put himself to the test far from Barcelona.


Good luck, Lucho.

Tuesday, November 4 th, 2014
For discussion of this topic and many more about Serie A, join R/ItalianFootball