Time passes by so quickly in football. The name Gerardo Martino has largely vanished from mainstream media despite the fact he is manager of the Argentinian national team. It was at this stage twelve months ago that his FC Barcelona team had limped aimlessly out of the UEFA Champions League at the quarter final stage – the first time the Catalans had not reached the competition’s semi-finals in six seasons.
Last Wednesday’s semi-final first-leg between Barcelona and Bayern Munich was built solely around the career’s of two men. Crossing paths when he took the reigns as manager of Barcelona in the summer of 2008, the relationship of Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi has reaped rewards unsurpassed by a manager/player dynamic in recent times.
And yet when the headlines on Thursday morning poured glory onto the genius of Lionel Messi and cast resignation and skepticism over the performance of Guardiola’s Bayern side, one man was left in the shadows of the celebration and the anguish of the two teams.
Luis Enrique has never come forward to admit his footballing philosophy. It seems a given nowadays for a manager to have a certain style and a thought-process behind the game. His fellow manager and opponent on the night Pep Guardiola has built his managerial career on the foundations of his philosophy – passing, pressure, possession. The Barcelona philosophy.
This is not to say that Enrique does not think about the game in such an intellectual capacity as Guardiola admits, but rather to take a back seat and let his team do the talking for him. It can be said that contrast between former manager Gerardo Martino and Luis Enrique represent two solutions to the post-Pep Barcelona institution.
It was only after the illness inflicted upon Tito Vilinova that meant him leaving his position of manager of Barcelona that the last emblem of that Barcelona, the Pep Barcelona, finally departed. And so it was up to Tata Martino to take Barcelona in a different direction.
He brought in longer-distance passing and less of the short tempo one-two tika-taka football that was emblematic of the Pep regime. He rested Xavi and made a conscious decision to substitute Lionel Messi in the later stages of games in the wake of the forwards injury-plagued 2013.
But Martino’s Barcelona was never going to be a dynasty or a team for the era’s like Guardiola’s was. Rather Martino was the first in a line of post-Pep managers that would lead Barcelona in a new transitional phase.
It is this point of the Barcelona in transition that is so striking with Enrique. Enrique, like Martino before him, is a manager attempting to reach the heights of one of the greatest sides in history. That side was ironically and in a somewhat tantalizing turn of destiny, managed by the opposing manager in the dug-out of last night’s semi-final.
Guardiola owed a lot to the ability of his players (Xavi, Iniesta, Messi) that earned him his success and will prove his own managerial ability in years to come, but Enrique is still at the beginning of his own managerial career.
Though he alike owes much, if not the vast majority, of this season’s success to a single player in Lionel Messi, credit must be given where due to a man not forthcoming in self-praise for his side’s accomplishments.
Though Enrique has faced criticism and was faced with the real possibility of being fired in November, he has resurrected and revitalized a Barcelona that was without purpose this time last year.
If Enrique were to win the treble of La Liga, Copa del Ray and UEFA Champions League, a lot could be said of both his own part in the success and the contrast of a manager riding the fame train on the merits of a squad of elite footballers.
So while the headlines will echo the undoubted genius of Messi, and lament the prodigy of a Guadiola Barcelona, Luis Enrique will sit back in the shadows and take quiet pride in the fact that he has overthrown the man he has come in to match, on the way to a possible historic treble for his Barcelona.