Luis Enrique will meet his old friend Pep Guardiola on Wednesday night as Manchester City take on Barcelona at Camp Nou in a high octane Group C Champions League clash. And it is expected to be one hell of an encounter, with very similar philosophies going up against each other, which has Enrique describing it as a treat for football fans.
The Barcelona manager said: “I can’t think of anything better for football fans – and if you’re a Barcelona or Manchester City fan, then what more can I say?”
But it is the subplot surrounding the match that will also be in the limelight with Pep Guardiola having revolutionised football during his time at Barcelona and Luis Enrique continuing the legacy of the club in the present.
The two managers were teammates for five seasons back in their playing days at Barcelona with both having captained the side, coached the B team, and won the Champions League in their debut season as managers. Enrique, who was the coach of the Barcelona B team during Pep’s time as coach of the senior side, had nothing but words of high praise for Guardiola.
“I always thought that Pep is the best manager these days,” said Enrique. “I don’t know how you measure if he is the best in history but I’m sure he will be one of the most important managers in modern football,” he went on to add.
And Guardiola saved some good words for the Barca manager as well by saying: “I’m so, so pleased things are going well for him.”
“I had no doubt that things would go well for him. You could see that he was special right from the start. He is direct, honest, hard-working,” the City coach added.
Enrique answered several questions including one which accused Pep of wanting to sign his Barcelona players to which Enrique responded, “We have shared a lot as players. It is a privilege to share this game as managers now.”
When asked if he would manage in the Premier League one day, the Barcelona coach replied: “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
Both the managers have similar footballing ideas. It is true that Luis Enrique’s Barcelona have evolved from Pep’s time, and according to Guardiola, have even become better, but there is no doubt that both have an immense religiosity towards possession. However, it is accepted that not having the ball is not sacrilege as it was during Pep’s time, but Enrique emphasised that possession is also important in their idea of football.
“Yes, I give importance to the ball too,” Enrique said. “And if you look at our games, in 95% of them we have more possession, which we want to generate chances and to defend ourselves better.”
“But there are moments when you use other ideas. Tomorrow won’t be one of them – possession is fundamental. If they have the ball, we’re weaker. If we have the ball, they’re weaker. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that the team who has more of the ball will win the game,” the 46-year-old continued.
“They will want the ball, like us. When they lose it, they will press to get it back, like us. There are two coaches with an attacking mindset. We will need a lot of imagination.
However, when asked which Barcelona side he likes more - the one which Pep seeded or the one which he is developing - Enrique diplomatically said that he liked both and spoke of the importance of enjoying the game.
“Pep’s Barcelona was spectacular. They had a collective style based on players of talent, which sought control and sought to dominate all over the pitch. [My Barcelona] have that too but I have also tried to look for things based on my players’ individual talents to help us. I like both Barcelonas. We both wore the same shirt and I think fans are intelligent enough to enjoy them both,” he said.
“Pep is the best”
The Barcelona manager also discussed how difficult life is for a coach who is judged only on the number of matches he wins. He also talked about how City is a good fit for Guardiola and described the kind of coaches he likes.
“A coach’s life is that when you win, it is easy and when you lose, you’re no good, it’s all your fault. But Pep’s arrival was clearly a turning point. The team reached a much better level with him. Pep is my friend and I think he is the best coach around now, without any doubt. I love offensive coaches. I love coaches that think more about attacking than defending. As a football fan, I think that’s wonderful.”
Barcelona host Manchester City later tonight in what promises to be a mouthwatering contest.
More Football news, transfer rumours, analysis and features at Sportskeeda.com