Barcelona sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta met with Barcelona legend and current Celta manager Luis Enrique on Monday. Officially, club sources will argue that the former teammates at international level only arranged the meeting for a quick catch-up. However, it appears that the 43-year-old Asturian may have been offered the managerial job at Barcelona, in light of current manager Gerardo Martino's probable departure once the season is over.
- Report: Celta: No Barca approach for Enrique
Personally, if Luis Enrique were to become Barcelona's manager, I would look forward to welcoming him back to the Camp Nou. The former Number 21 was regarded as a committed, ultraprofessional, charismatic leader during the eight years he spent in Catalunya as a player. His innate ability to motivate others and take on responsibility earned him the privilege of becoming club captain, an honour only reserved to a few chosen ones.
As expected, Lucho received many offers to start coaching following his retirement back in summer 2004. Despite insistent interest from major clubs both at Spanish and European level, he decided to take a sabbatical travelling with his family, then cycling and running all around the world. His spirited, restless attitude allowed him to complete the New York Marathon and the Ironman Challenge -- an impressive hobby that he continues to practise whenever he can.
Luis Enrique was appointed Barca B coach in summer 2008, following Joan Laporta's decision to give Pep Guardiola the overall responsibility of the first team. The Asturian manager carried out a remarkable task during his three years at the Mini Estadi, constantly bringing fresh blood from the youth system while ensuring the team remained competitive in the highly challenging Segunda Division.
Luis Enrique's tremendous achievements, despite only having an incredibly young squad at his disposal, didn't go unnoticed for long. AS Roma ended up luring him away from Catalunya and persuaded him to lead their ambitious project ahead of the 2011-12 season. Unfortunately, the Asturian was unable to transfer his idea of attacking, combinative football into the Serie A and ended up leaving after his first season, despite having the board's support.
His strong, somewhat inflexible nature didn't go down too well with established players such as Francesco Totti or Daniele De Rossi. Finishing seventh and not qualifying for European football definitely influenced his decision to walk away and allow others to continue the project without him.
After yet another year away from the spotlight recharging batteries and preparing for the challenges that may come in the future, Luis Enrique took charge of Celta in June of last year and made an instant impact. Los Gallegos have played impressive football since his arrival and are now a much stronger team both physically and, perhaps even more importantly, mentally.
It is believed that Luis Enrique was in fact Zubizarreta's choice to succeed the late Tito Vilanova at Barcelona last summer, given his intrinsic knowledge of the club, his love for its traditional style of football and his strong, no-nonsense style of leadership. Former president Sandro Rosell surprisingly decided to overrule his sporting director and appointed Martino instead of a move which, in hindsight, didn't improve the team as much as Cules would have hoped.
There is strong evidence to believe that Luis Enrique will take charge of Barcelona as soon the La Liga season is over. If he can lead Celta to victory over title contenders Real Madrid next Sunday, I am convinced that Cules would be even more willing to welcome him back to the Camp Nou next season; as such a result would enable the Catalans to become champions if they won their remaining two matches.
Clearly, discussions regarding new signings and outgoing players have already started at board level and, hopefully, the new coach has been consulted and asked to give his opinion on next steps going forward.
The hope is that Barcelona finish the current season in the best possible way and concentrate on ensuring that they are ready to hit sixth gear as soon as competition starts again after the summer.
The Quote: "Barca need a coach with personality and clear ideas. Everyone knows Luis Enrique has both. He is good at handling star players. He wants possession, but knows scoring is the most important factor. We can see it at Celta: Control but a vertical approach." -- Jonathan Soriano, former Barca B striker.