When Luis Enrique played for the enemy, Real Madrid
BARCELONA -- Luis Enrique Martínez, who on Sunday will have played 250 games since he began coaching Barcelona B in the 2008-09 season, often says "I don't recognize myself" when he sees a photograph of his time as a player at Real Madrid, for which he played 241 games from 1991 to 1996, before heading to Camp Nou.
The player from Asturias knows Barcelona's idiosyncrasies inside and out and has made those five years of his career vanish, despite the fact that he once had a cult-like following among the most radical Real Madrid fans and was especially hated in Barcelona, which was particularly sensitive to the guerrilla-like behavior he often displayed. As well as afterwards.
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Forgotten in time is the Clásico of Jan. 7, 1995, when Real Madrid avenged at the Bernabéu the 5-0 of the previous year at Camp Nou. Luis Enrique, who had suffered during Romario's night in 1994, was a hero of the rematch, scoring one of Real Madrid's five goals, which he celebrated effusively in his best days as a Madrid player. No one could have imagined what was to happen next.
In the middle of the 1995-96 season, in December 1995, it so happened that manager Jorge Valdano, with whom he had won the league the previous season, playing 35 games, dismissed him from the team after two months during which their relationship had suffered since he was not called up for a match at Albacete. "On a personal level this significantly clarifies my future; everything is clear, and I will speak with my agent about my options," said Luis Enrique on Oct. 27, 1995, without any suspicion of what was to happen in the coming months.
Valdano leaving in January 1996 meant that Arsenio Iglesias, his successor, could get him back, but by then the player from Asturias had already made the decision to leave Madrid. Although there was speculation of a return to Sporting de Gijón, the news exploded March 21. Saturday will mark 19 years since Luis Enrique was discovered at a Barcelona clinic, where he came to pass a physical exam with the club.
At the end of the season, with Atlético de Madrid's historic back-to-back win under the guidance of Radomir Antic, the player from Asturias signed a five-year contract with Barça, and the hate he had inspired at Camp Nou immediately shifted over to the Bernabéu.
Luis Enrique -- won over by Johan Cruyff, who could never coach him because he was fired by team president Josep Lluis Núñez in May of that year -- immediately won the favor of the Barça fans and ended up being the team captain, participating in 333 games over eight seasons, and retiring in 2004 with honors in the middle of Camp Nou.
His returns to the Bernabéu wearing the Barça jersey (he played nine games there) were surrounded by unconcealed tension, and the whistles, insults and jeers from the Real Madrid fans made him more motivated to become the most despised character to this day in Real Madrid.
Lucho did not cross paths with Real Madrid again until Jan. 6 last year, when he returned to the Bernabéu as coach of Celta and found that the past animosity was still shouldering. He was booed constantly by the local fans whenever he left his seat on the bench in a game that Real Madrid sealed with a comfortable 3-0 win.
The circle was still not complete. He had yet to re-encounter Madrid as the coach for Barça. And that happened in October. It was a bitter premiere because the Clásico was won by Ancelotti's team 3-1, casting a shadow of doubt over his work at the helm of Barça. This Sunday, five months later, Luis Enrique will experience his first Clásico at the Camp Nou as coach. He will write another chapter in the antagonism born 19 years ago, the day he decided to go over to the enemy.Barcelona-based Jordi Blanco covers La Liga for ESPNDeportes.com. Read the Spanish-language version of this story here.