I love Luis Enrique. Love is a strong word, but I am sure this is it. How can I not? The man won a treble his first season and followed that up with a double last season. He’s successfully put together possibly the most lethal attack in the history of the game, but that does not rank amongst Lucho’s greatest achievements to date.
After Real Madrid won their beloved ‘La Decima’ (10th European Cup) in 2014, there was a lot of talk about how the Barça era had come to an end. This 10th European Cup was to be the beginning of the rise of ‘Los Blancos’. I must admit. Seeing two Madrid sides in the UEFA Champions League Final did make me wonder whether our Xavi-Messi-Iniesta era of greatness had reached its expiration. Every match played at Camp Nou after the Pep era had a real twisted sense of nostalgia in trying to relive a time that had clearly passed. There had been no real tactical advancements to our play since Pep left. We were like an old man trying to cling onto his youth by wearing sweater he wore in college. Lucho’s greatest achievement has been dispelling this notion and putting it on its head. Lucho has given us closure on this era and allowed us to turn a new chapter. And like a butterfly born from its cocoon, Lucho’s Barça has been flying at extraordinary heights. But exactly how beautiful is this butterfly?
Let’s be honest with ourselves. We all love winning trophies, and we are definitely in love with Luis Enrique. But just how strong is this love? Is it anything like our first love? They always say your first love is the love of your life. It’s important we acknowledge just who that first love was. Pep Guardiola.
I get it. Comparing the two “isn’t fair”. However, there is nothing wrong in comparing the success of past blaugrana managers, just as comparisons between Pep and Frank Rijkaard were made, back in Pep’s early Barça days. As culés, we also have to understand that comparisons between Pep and Lucho will always exist because they are both just too similar. They both employ different iterations of the same philosophy. How can one not compare them?
They both will forever be etched into the history books of our club as possibly two of the greatest managers ever to our club. Now that we have established both their greatness and given them enough ego stroking, we can get on with the real purpose of this article.
Luis Enrique has won five trophies in two seasons for us. We have no right to complain about anything. That being said, there is a feeling brewing amongst a segment of traditionalist culés who feel that every spent by Lucho at the helm sees us move farther away from our values. Why is this so? Before delving into this topic, one must understand what our club stands for, and this is found in the mantra of our club, ‘Més que un club’, translated in English to “More than a club”. What does this mean? It means our club has to do with more than just winning. It’s about more than trophies. Neither of these is the end goal. In the words of Thierry Henry:
Barça is a culture, a religion, something more, it is an incredible club.
I must confess. There have been moments in the last 24 months where I’ve changed TV channels during matches; once the match has been virtually won. Why?
Because I’m just not as entertained as I once was.
Lucho’s Barça can do many things during games. Not only can we pass teams to death now, but we can shoot from distance, hit long balls, be dangerous from spot kicks and corners- we are doing more than we ever have. But I would be lying to you if I said I enjoyed watching this team as much as I did its previous iterations. Gone are the days of a Camp Nou crowd screaming ‘olé!’ after a dizzying flurry of passes. This team just isn’t as entertaining. That’s the truth.
A lack of entertainment is by no means reason to suggest that this team is any bit inferior to Pep’s side. Many will bow to that team being the greatest Barça side of all time. Fair enough, but there is nothing the class of 11′ can do that this class of 16′ can’t. That being said, if Barça really is about being more than a club, then would it not be fair to suggest that some of these values are being eroded?
This is not just about playing style, although playing style does have a role to play. “It’s not just about winning, it’s how you win”. Johan Cruyff’s virtues. Could we honestly say our current side puts the idea of style at the forefront of what it considers important? Probably not. Lucho’s priorities probably sound something like “win first, then worry about how you win later”. And there is nothing wrong with this either, as it is how 99.99% of clubs are wired. However, those clubs aren’t us. As a Barça supporter, if we are winning 5-0 and you still have the urge to change the channel, something has gone wrong. In the 21st century, Barça supporters have probably become the most demanding on planet Earth. This is because matches are more than being just about winning. Being a culé is about more than being a supporter.
When you are a culé, it says something about who you are. Being a culé is about being someone who admires art, who admires poetry- who admires the beautiful things in life. It’s about family, culture, tradition. These values have been entrenched into our subconsciouses- especially those who follow this club on a daily basis. Someone like you.
The theme of family is the most important value of our ‘Mes que un club’ motto. Family is the reason we do all that we do. This is first seen in the carnival-like atmosphere of Camp Nou. Families descend from all corners of the globe to take their loved ones for a night of fun. For a night of magic. And this lays the platform for everything that happens on the field. This is where it all comes together. All these themes and belief systems intercept to create something that is truly beautiful. This is in our style of play. A masterpiece.
Leaving Camp Nou, one should feel that they have just left a theater of some sort, perhaps an opera, or a movie. The expression one should have when the game is over should be “What a beautiful performance”, and not “What a victory”. After all, we are more than a club- more than a victory. And this is where the paradox of many culé emotions lie.
We all love winning. But there is something that just does not feel right about the way which Barça currently wins. I love our MSN trio as much as any culé, but a part of me feels I have access to a cheat code that no one else can afford. There is just something that goes against our values when we can spend hundreds of millions of euros on two players, in Neymar and Luis Suárez. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather we have these players on our squad than face the prospect of having to go up against them. But does this not go against our own traditions of looking inwards before looking outwards? And does paying such large sums not make us exactly like the people we are trying not to be like?
There has been the feeling that Lucho prefers looking to the market before looking to what is already in the club. The signing of André Gomes is a prime example of this. Though Gomes is a gifted footballer, one has to question the effort made by Luis Enrique to look inwards, before bringing in a player for €55 million. What about someone like Wilfrid Kaptoum? This really makes culés wonder as to how much Lucho values the intangible belief systems associated with being a culé.
There also seems to be a change in approach to how youth players are integrated into the first team. It seems Lucho prefers loaning his players to having them earn minutes from the bench. There is nothing wrong with loaning players to afford them game time to develop their game, but this is not how things have always been done. Previously, players such as Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Pedro, and more recently Thiago Alcántara were given the chance to show their worth to the club before decisions on their futures are made. This is not to suggest that any of the prospects in our academy are anywhere near the level of the players just mentioned. What is important here though is that these players were given the opportunity to prove themselves first- It showed that our club paid respect firstly to our tradition of giving its own family a chance to succeed, before any outsider could be given a chance. Also, one cannot truly know how much potential a player has in the academy until this player is given a chance to succeed in the surroundings he has grown up in his entire career, through coaches who have followed him his entire career, instead of farming him to a foreign country where his profile is not known only to be minimally used by a manager who just wants to make up numbers in his squad and is not interested in developing this player further. This is why players go on multiple loans. I cringe to think how the players mentioned above would have been developed were Lucho in charge and put them on loan. There is a good chance they would not have become the players they are today.
Ever since the day Thiago Alcántara was allowed to leave, I have had a deep resentment for the Rosell-Bartomeu administration. No amount of titles won could ever make up for losing such a unique talent who has “the Barça way” of playing in his veins. Due to this, I am completely incapable of watching a full 90 minutes of any Bayern Munich game. These feelings are shared by many culés, and this confirms and proves something about us all.
For most passionate culés, such as yourself, it is not so much about winning. It is about the manner the win was achieved in and whom the win was achieved with. Titles can seem cheap when they are won by outsiders who do not know what it means to wear the blaugrana jersey. Titles are more valuable when they are won by our own family members, who understand the clubs traditions inside out. And this is the root cause of our love-hate relationship with Luis Enrique.
Of course winning matters. We want to be the best. Although this is true, I can confidently assert that there is not a single culé comfortable with seeing our side defend for large chunks of any game. Nor does any culé derive any satisfaction from our team being physical in midfield and to be sacrificing beauty for pragmatism. It’s not who we are and goes against our desire for something greater than a victory- for art. It was an uncomfortable sight seeing us win 5-0 recently against Sporting Gijón, as it was a performance universally described as being a bad one. Go to any other side in world football and ask any of their supporters if they would ever consider a 5-0 victory as being a bad performance and you will be laughed out the room. Because to them, the result is what matters. And if the result is positive, let alone being 5-0 away from home, then that is considered an amazing performance. Not in Camp Nou. Not for us.
That result embodies our true feelings about Luis Enrique. We love him for the titles has brought us, but hate him for moving us farther away from our ‘Mes que un club‘ mantra. How many €100 million signings at the expense of La Masia graduates will it take for our mantra to be completely eroded? How far will our style of play move away from art? For a vast majority of Barça supporters who follow the club when it is convenient (the people who are most probably not reading this article right now) and who climb on the bandwagon once we are in a final and who’s satisfaction purely derives in being able to exclaim to their peers “My team won”- how we win, is not important. Sadly this represents an overwhelming majority of the supporters of any club the stature of FC Barcelona, and the chorus that erupts from these victories is loud enough to deafen the cries of real culés that plead for the preserving of artistic beauty. These same “supporters” will be nowhere to be found when the wins dry up. In the end, you, my friend, who is reading this right now, will be left to pick up the pieces and suffer in defeat and humiliation- and you will do so gladly because this is more than a club. Because you understand the virtues of family. You understand our traditions. You understand the importance of being there when times are tough. The question is, does Lucho?