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Spain appoints Luis Enrique as coach

July 9, 2018

FILE - In this Friday, May 26, 2017 file photo, FC Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique attends a press conference at the Sports Center FC Barcelona Joan Gamper in Sant Joan Despi, Spain. Spain's football federation on Monday, July 9, 2018 says former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has been appointed to take charge of the national team. He replaces Julen Lopetegui who was sacked on the eve of the World Cup after accepting the job at Real Madrid. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez, file)

MADRID (AP) — Former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has signed a two-year deal to take charge of Spain.

He replaces Julen Lopetegui, who was fired on the eve of the World Cup after accepting the job at Real Madrid.

Fernando Hierro took temporary control for the finals, where 2010 world champion and 2008 and 2012 European Championship winner Spain was knocked out 4-3 on penalties by host Russia in the last 16

“The decision has been unanimous,” Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales said on Luis Enrique’s appointment. “I like his commitment. He has let better financial opportunities pass in order to be national team coach.

“This coach fulfills all the parameters to take charge of the team. Luis Enrique is bringing his backroom staff, but this is a matter he will speak about next week.”

Luis Enrique, as both player and coach, didn’t fit the typical model of the cerebral tactician steeped in the ways of Barcelona. But his fiery spirit proved to be just as successful— while it lasted.

He started out as a player for his local Sporting Gijon team on Spain’s Atlantic coast. He then won one league title while playing for Real Madrid before moving to fierce rival Barcelona in 1996, where he went on to win two more Liga crowns and became the captain before retiring in 2004.

His only coaching experience outside Spain was a frustrating time at Roma in 2011-12. He rebounded, though, by making Celta Vigo one of the country’s most attractive attacking sides before replacing Gerardo Martino at Barcelona in 2014.

The improvement under Luis Enrique was immediate. With Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez scoring lots of goals, Barcelona repeated the rare treble of Champions League-Spanish league-Copa del Rey titles first won under Pep Guardiola.

Overall, Luis Enrique’s achievements compare well to Guardiola’s. Barcelona won nine of a possible 13 titles in his three years in charge, compared to 14 of a possible 19 trophies in four seasons under Guardiola.

At his presentation as Barcelona’s coach, Luis Enrique said his strength was motivating players. “I don’t rely too heavily on tactical know-how, instead I focus on managing a group, managing egos,” he said.

“There is work that goes on during the week, work based on knowing each player. I try to be everything a leader is.”

That is not to say Luis Enrique didn’t experiment with formations. He would sometimes deploy a three-man defense instead of his standard four-man backline.

He loves endurance sports and has participated in triathlons since retiring as a player.

Luis Enrique achieved his greatest success at the beginning of his stint at Barcelona. But he acknowledged that as he became tired by the constant grind and demands of the club, his ability to rally the team faded, as did his patience with journalists, with whom he had more than one run-in.

In March 2017, Luis Enrique announced he was leaving Barcelona a week before his side pulled off one of the best comebacks in the history of the Champions League.

“I need to disconnect,” he said. “I see other coaches who enjoy their profession for years, but that is not my case.”

Barcelona dug deep for one last display of masterful football under Luis Enrique, producing a 6-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain to overturn a 4-0 loss. The energy of the players spent, however, the team then fell to Juventus in the Champions League quarterfinals.

The news of Enrique’s appointment by Spain came swiftly after Jose Francisco Molina was named as the federation’s new sporting director.

Hierro had decided not to return to his old job following the World Cup.

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