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Enrique looked relieved as Barcelona spell ends on a high in Copa del Rey final – but what’s next for Lucho?

Date Posted,May 27, 2017

The look on Luis Enrique’s face was relief as the coach gave his final press conference at the helm of Barcelona, in a sweaty Vicente Calderon press room on a balmy Madrid night.

Not relief for having won the Copa del Rey, which with a Lionel Messi inspired 3-1 lead over Alaves at half-time, seemed locked down, even though the Basque side played extremely well.

Nor relief for having salvaged one title from what was ultimately a disappointing season.

It was relief at his time at Barcelona being over. But not because he didn’t enjoy it. “I enjoyed it a lot,” he said. But because the job wears you down. It burns you out. Even if you’re good at it.

(Photo: Getty Images Europe)

With this Copa del Rey, Luis Enrique won his ninth trophy out of 13 which his Barcelona side has competed for. He was undoubtedly good at it. So good in fact that he has won more than any other coach at the club bar Pep Guardiola (14) and Johan Cruyff (11).

“Don’t compare me to Pep,” he asked at his presentation back in 2014. Now there is no option but to.

Two league titles, one Champions League, three Copa del Reys and other minor pots will be Luis Enrique’s legacy at Barcelona.

Barcelona's Xavi lifts the trophy as team mates and coach Luis Enrique celebrate winning the UEFA Champions League Final
Enrique landed a Champions League trophy in 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

It was a rocky ride at times but with weeks and months the rougher parts will smooth out in the memory and just the multiple peaks will be the definition of his reign.

Even this season, there were two high points which will be written indelibly into the brains of Barcelona fans. Or anybody who loves football.

The 6-1 comeback against Paris-Saint Germain was the greatest in Champions League history, after their 4-0 first leg defeat in Paris.

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Then there was Lionel Messi’s last minute winner in the Clasico Barcelona edged 3-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu, the celebration which followed.

Messi’s genius shouldn’t automatically be shared around as if it was Luis Enrique’s, or anybody else’s, too, but there is clearly a skill in getting the best out of the Argentine.

Enrique was able to get the best out of Messi (Photo: Alex Caparros)

Lionel Messi breaks ridiculous record with stunning goal as Barcelona beat Alaves 3-1 to win the Copa dey Rey

Some coaches can do it, others can’t, Luis Enrique could. So could Pep Guardiola, and just like the Asturian, he had to leave on account of being ground down by life at the pressure cooker that is Barcelona.

“I don’t feel sadness. It was me that decided to stop. I needed to leave, the players needed it too. They need a strong impetus,” said Luis Enrique.

That much was laid bare in the first season under the coach when his ship struck the iceberg in Anoeta against Real Sociedad in January 2015, the match he decided to rest Neymar and Lionel Messi.

A week of crisis followed, before Barcelona blew away Atletico Madrid and went on a charge. It was a bloodthirsty drive which took them to the treble and lasted the full calendar year, contributing in a big way towards their second league title.

The Spaniard had his ups and downs at the Nou Camp (Photo: Getty Images Europe)

Lucho learned he couldn’t be as heavy on the players as he wanted to be and in return, they would fly.

“I tell them abracadabra and the magic happens,” he said when asked about his method which got the Messi-Suarez-Neymar MSN combo rampaging through opposition defences.

Of course, he was joking. There is so much more to it than that.

Two minutes before the end of the final, Luis Enrique was serenaded by Barcelona supporters and although he usually stays stoic and focused on his job when that happens, this time he acknowledged them.

After the whistle blew he wandered around the Calderon pitch with one of his daughters. It is the end of an era for the stadium, but for him as well. Now he is a free man, and he’s already planning his future.

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Not on the bench, anywhere, although a return to his beloved Sporting Gijon would be the fairytale option and he would be welcomed with open arms, but on the beaches of Asturias, with a local cider in his hand—and in the stands of the Camp Nou, as a fan.

Luis Enrique is planning to take a year off, at least, before getting back into management.

“I don’t know what I will do in the future, I’m open to any possibility, including changing sport,” he joked.

If one were to hazard a guess, resting, cycling, and thinking about anything other than football would be wise choices.

Luis Enrique will return – and hasn’t even ruled out the idea of that being back at the Camp Nou a few years down the line— but for now he’s on a break. And Barcelona’s packed trophy cabinet suggests he’s earned it.

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