Champions League

Debutant Enrique riding high

2015-06-05 08:34
Luis Enrique (Supplied)

Berlin - The enduring image of Luis Enrique for many soccer fans is the Spain player with blood gushing from his nose after a vicious elbow from Italy defender Mauro Tassotti in the 1994 World Cup quarter-finals in Boston.

That could now be replaced by a picture of the beaming Barcelona coach proudly showing off the treble of trophies the Catalan club are on course to win in his hugely impressive first season in charge at the Nou Camp.

Barca wrapped up the La Liga title with a 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid and beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1 to secure a record-extending 27th King's Cup last month before they take on Juventus in Saturday's Champions League final in Berlin.

Few would have predicted former Barca and Spain midfielder Luis Enrique, 45, could even come close to matching the historic achievement of his ex-team mate Pep Guardiola during his debut campaign in 2008-09.

The Catalan giants became the first Spanish club to win the Champions League and the domestic league and Cup in one season, something no other side, including their arch rivals Real Madrid, have managed.

Barca are on the brink of a fifth continental crown, having eliminated Guardiola's Bayern Munich 5-3 on aggregate in the semi-finals.

The club's decision to repeat the Guardiola gamble with Luis Enrique has proved a resounding success, whatever the result at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

He succeeded Gerardo Martino after Barca ended 2013-14 without a major trophy for the first time in six years.

Luis Enrique took over as Barca B team coach in 2008 when Guardiola was promoted to take charge of the first team.

A club legend and home-grown talent, Guardiola is a Catalan hero, while Luis Enrique hails from Gijon in the region of Asturias and also had a stint at Real before joining Barca.

That meant he had to work hard on the pitch to win over the Barca fans and he has had to do the same as a coach in one of the most high-pressure jobs in the game.

As a player, he won plaudits for his battling spirit, athleticism and keen eye for goal.

After a successful stint with Barca B, his coaching career faltered at Serie A side AS Roma before he led modest Celta Vigo to an impressive ninth place in La Liga in 2013-14.

His no-nonsense character has at times soured his dealings with the media and his efforts to stamp his authority on the team led to a clash with club talisman Lionel Messi around the turn of the year.

That was all forgotten as the players and coaching staff celebrated the La Liga and King's Cup triumphs with their adoring fans at the Nou Camp.

It was fitting that Barca sealed a fifth La Liga crown in seven years at the home of the defending champions, who pipped them to the title with a draw at the Nou Camp on the final day of the 2013-14 campaign.

The Cup final was graced with yet another breathtaking goal from Messi, the first of a double, and the Argentine has been the driving force behind Barca's treble charge this term.

He also netted the goal at Atletico that sealed the title and has an astonishing 56 in 55 appearances in all competitions.

Luis Enrique, too, deserves much of the credit for Barca's recent success, managing to get the very best out of Messi and fellow forwards Neymar and Luis Suarez and tightening up a suspect defence that let Martino down last season.

Read more on:    barcelona  |  champions league  |  luis enrique  |  soccer


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