Luis Enrique to Levante? It’s a crazy idea, but the more I think about it, the more I start to wonder if it makes sense!
My initial reaction on hearing that he was high up the list of contenders for the job was one of amusement. How would that work, I wondered. After all, haven’t Levante been punching above their weight because they’ve been fashioned into a tough unit of organised, uninspired, rugged battlers? These dogs of war have achieved something highly impressive on a tiny budget, and it’s not difficult to admire them for their heart. But don’t expect me to pay tribute to their beauty. That’s why Luis Enrique seemed the polar opposite of what they’d be looking for in a manager.
After all, this inexperienced managerial tyro, rated in coaching circles but a high profile failure when actually in charge of a team, seems to have an incompatible image to Levante’s. Remember, he was brought to Roma with the instruction to transplant tiki-taka to the Italian capital, not a sense of defensive order.
His appointment to the Stadio Olympico was, to my eyes, always a ridiculous notion. Stealing someone’s else’s philosophy and trying to make it work in a totally different environment is artificial, unoriginal and downright stupid. Luis Enrique was on a hiding to nothing when he took on his first coaching role at a massive European club with immense expectations . The subsequent failure of club legend Zdenek Zeman to hang on to the job for more than half a season also shows just how tricky a proposition satisfying Roma’s sense of entitlement is.
But if Luis Enrique is indeed an acolyte of the Guardiola Way, and wants to fly the flag for neat, accurate passing played by technical little ball-players, then surely the last place he wants to end up is Levante? Do you see Sergio Ballesteros and co adopting this sophisticated approach?
This was my initial reaction, that Luis Enrique at Levante would be a square peg in a round hole. But on reflection, maybe the idea has legs. Clearly the current Levante model has run out of gas. Admittedly, there are extenuating circumstances attached to their decline in 2013: the over-stretching of the squad by a Europa League campaign and the match-fixing investigation have caused terminal damage to the project. So maybe it’s time for a change. If Luis Enrique hasn’t completely reevaluated his philosophy during his sabbatical, at least he’ll represent a fresh start.
And maybe his style of play can work with an inexpensively assembled squad. For proof that it can turn out that way, have a look at the English Premier League. Tony Pulis, renowned as manager of Stoke as a disciple of the long ball game and considered to be an expert at getting the best out of limited resources, has just lost his job. In a way this is because that image is inaccurate. While he continued to play a rather ugly, set piece-based game, it didn’t come cheaply. Incredibly, in the last five years Stoke have the third highest net spend in the EPL, after Chelsea and Manchester City. His style might be rudimentary, but it has come at a price.
The paradigm has been reversed: for teams which have genuinely prospered on a shoestring in England, we look to those who play the football usually associated with teams who have the money to buy quality players. Wigan and Swansea play perhaps the most technically attractive football outside the Champions league spots in England. Swansea’s team still contains players who were with them when they were nearly relegated to the fifth level of the league, but play with considered intelligence.
So could the old received wisdom be wrong? Maybe the way to get the best from limited means is to coach players, trust them, and make them better than anyone thought they were. As Levante’s squad implodes, and the budget reduces, perhaps Luis Enrique is the answer after all.