England vs Spain: The Luis Enrique era begins in Wembley
Luis Enrique begins a fresh chapter in Spanish football annals after an inexplicable World Cup campaign triggered the abrupt closure of the previous. What better way than with a familiar England side in Wembley?
Enrique's situation shares certain parallels with when Sven Goran Eriksson burst into British consciousness, 17 odd years ago. The Swede locked horns with La Roja at Villa Park in his first assignment having inherited the still warm wreckage of the Kevin Keegan era.
A massacre was expected. Iker Casillas, Ivan Helguera, Pep Guardiola, Gaizka Mendieta, Raul and Enrique himself were all the peak of their powers. Surprisingly, however, Antonio Camacho's men were put to the sword by Nick Barmby, Smile Hedley and Ugo Ehiogu. Even the most gifted English seer may never have envisaged such.
A whole lot has changed for both nations. From dugout to pitch. In between two continental reigns, Spain achieved universal steeple in 2010. Meanwhile, football came closest to returning home last summer in Russia. But at the moment, Gareth Southgate boast a superior squad. Can Enrique claim a revenge on the ex-Middlesbrough man?
How did Spain get here?
La Roja has been in gradual decline for some years now. They reached menopause in Russia. A repugnant mixture of Julen Lopetegui saga and Hierro subsequent appointment only fastened the process. Spain crashed in the second round to the host on penalties after scraping through the group stage.
The backlash has been massive. Royal Spanish FA boss Luis Rubiales is still at loggerheads with Florentino Perez and Lopetegui. Centurions Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and David Silva have all gone. Sergio Ramos is under pressure to follow. Jorba Alba, too.
Enter Enrique – best man for the job
Enrique is tasked with propelling La Roja into a new era. His antecedence is ideal. The 48-year-old was a brutal, combative midfielder during his play days. He is still remembered for battling on with a broken nose drenched with blood against Italy at USA 94'. Strict and uncompromising, he stood for what he believed not minding perceptions.
Those traits accompanied him to management. With the help of stints at Roma and Celta Vigo, Enrique landed in Barcelona. The first season, he matched Guardiola’s trophy haul (winning the treble), surpassing it the next. Yet he was accused of abandoning the club’s tiki-taka style.
Enrique showed typical guts with his first squad. He dropped Jordi Alba, Koke and Lucas Vasquez – three indispensables in the last reign. There was no place either for Nacho Monreal or Alvaro Odriozola. Real Betis No 1 Pau Lopez is among three uncapped along with Valencia full-back Jose Luis Gaya and Madrid’s Dani Ceballos. Worse, half of the 23-man team posses just 10 caps or fewer.
Spain was lost in an identity crisis. Moving away from a possession-based game proved chaotic. Although Enrique promised to maintain the same approach, there would certainly be alterations. Enrique believes in possession football, even if much more vertical and sped-up. He prefers a more direct approach - and we will see glimpses against England. He enjoys risks and encourages his players to do same. Marco Asensio and Isco will benefit.
Enrique won’t be too bothered about that infamous night in the Midlands, especially as La Roja have won four of the last six meetings. They will face Croatia three days later in the second game of their UEFA Nations League campaign.