Luis Enrique’s Spain selection reflects players who fit his system, not big names

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First came the scaffolding platform. Then there was the giant screen. Now there is walkie talkie too. When Spain’s players arrived at their Las Rosas headquarters this week for their final two games before this winter’s World Cup, Luis Enrique gathered them in the gym and explained that he had noticed something was different about their training kit. On the back of the vest, near where the GPS goes, he added a small speaker so he could tell him exactly what to do.

“You’re going to hear the voice of Mister,” he warned them. He said he didn’t shout too much, but the Spain manager spoke to them from the platform on the training pitch: giving orders, correcting mistakes, guiding their next move. Controlling everything, getting it right.

“When you first find out, you imagine there’s going to be a lot of information that he’s going to radio-control the game,” admitted Borja Iglesias. “But he does it very well, and it’s a great way to get close to the player. It’s wonderful, it’s effective, and he knows how to use it: it’s clear, it’s concise, and it helps.”

At the age of 29, Iglesias is in the Spain team for the first time, but he was at Celta B in 2013 when Luis Enrique was their first team coach. It was a long road to selection — he only played one league game. In the Celta first team, after Luis Enrique left in January 2015, he moved to second division Zaragoza, joined Espanyol for two years and is in his fourth season at Betis, where he scored just three times in his first season — but Luis Enrique has long had an eye on him. Says he has. Borja has also seen his coach up close.

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Luis Enrique decided to build a scaffolding platform on the training ground for the first time so he could watch the session from a better vantage point as he continued in Barcelona. With Spain, he became coach in 2018, and other discoveries followed. He had set up a giant screen on the side of the pitch to show them live if the platform would help him see their mistakes. Now, holding his walkie talkie, in their ears, he stops their mistakes. At least that’s the hope.

It’s all Big Brother — “Papa will come out from behind you,” he told his players — and a lot of Luis Enrique.

He’s always different, innovative, and his own man (though sometimes he does things his way, which partly means not doing things other people’s way, more aware of the outside than he likes. Even if his provocation is more playful than his critics admit). . He went from Madrid to Barcelona as a player and as a manager. Driven by fierce determination and absolute faith. One that he demands his players share.

“He’s basically the same as he was [back then],” Iglesias says. “Of course things have changed with time and experience, but he remains clear. He communicates in the same way an idea very similar to the idea he has always had. He makes the team well aware of the way he wants to play and explains it. He did it in Zelda. Now he has more tools at his disposal. I don’t know if more ‘ability’ is the right word, but he has more ways to reach players. I see a great resemblance to what I saw ten years ago.”

“The way of playing is clear to everyone. It is all based on a clear football idea: if we play as we play we are better than our opponents,” said Luis Enrique. “If we play long balls, a lot of teams are going to beat us.”

And so they play his way — “even if it means giving the fans a heart attack” — so the message is driven home again and again, in word and deed: through the big screen and tiny speakers. Philosophy is not absolutely inflexible, but as long as it can be felt and held, it is firmly held. It is expressed without compromise, directly, unhesitatingly, completely and directly. It is non-negotiable.

Listen to him — at the first press conference of this meeting, he was there for almost an hour — it’s fascinating. Even if you still don’t agree with some of his decisions, things will work out and it will make sense. On his terms, at least. And it will always be on His terms.

On his first day in charge, Luis Enrique announced a mission: he is the leader. This week he said “If you come and do what we want, you’ll come back; if you don’t…”

For Luis Enrique, The selection It’s not a reward, it’s a team. It’s not about the clubs, it’s about the country under his leadership. “I watch the press conferences other international coaches do and I empathize with them because I see the same things happening to them: they are always being asked about players who are not selected,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to please everybody. I understand that. It’s normal for fans of a certain team to say, ‘Hey, this guy has to go.’ [Sporting Gijon players] Elo and Ablanedo did not go. “Come on, man, how can you not take them when they’re the best?”

How? Because they may not be a team. That’s why, if Luis Enrique’s choices don’t make sense to some — if there were many left-wing choices, many can be questioned — they will make sense to the more curious man. A more lateral, analytical man than anyone else, a man who provides the framework into which it all fits.

There is a football element, and a team element too, the question of authority: it is important, for example, that Sergio Ramos felt that he was not completely honest about his physical condition when he last joined the team. While you can never fully know what would have happened to those who did not attend, you can determine what happened to those who did. If they are with him, identified as being moldable to an idea, this is a place to win him over, an opportunity to become part of this group. This is where the attitude is drilled into them and it must be followed, otherwise you will never come back no matter what you do outside. You don’t earn your place there, you earn your place here.

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Gemma Soler speaks after becoming Spain’s youngest goalscorer in the 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic.

“Given the choice between what they’ve done for their clubs and what they’ve done for me, I’ll always choose what they’ve done for me,” says the coach. And some of the biggest, most heavily criticized calls have been proven over time: Dani Olmo, Petri, Kawi, maybe even Eric Garcia.

The clearest example is Iago Aspas, whose approach is the best way to explain it — at least a decision that seems difficult to explain. Aspas is the best Spanish forward and has been for a really long time. Not taking him is sometimes frankly ridiculous. He deserves to play for Spain. Watch him week after week with Zelda, and it’s almost impossible to fathom him not getting the call. But, if so, is it worth it? It’s not about merit.

Get this answer from Luis Enrique — it’s obviously not about Aspas, but it applies to him as much as to everyone else.

“When journalists see a player who really stands out in a certain moment, they do so in the context of his club,” said the Spanish coach. “But in his club environment, that player is number one, everybody plays with him. He scores all the goals, he doesn’t defend. The national team environment is very different. Here the team doesn’t play. For one player; we all play for each other. We all attack, we all defend. Media I’ve got a lot of those players who are demanding, they’ve been here, what happened, happened.”

“A team is not made with the best eleven players in La Liga. It’s not just that: pick the guy who gets all the goals. You’re looking for a dance to a song. What I want is a team that goes into the game. The first minute, regardless of the score: we don’t fall deep, we always take risks, we keep pressing more. “When we have to defend, we want to get the ball back as quickly as we can. I’ve always played since I’ve been here. That’s what I want the team to do, and I’m looking for players who can better explain our idea of ​​play.”

It’s a non-negotiable and inescapable idea — right there, in their ear, his master’s voice chasing the players across the pitch.

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