He failed at Roma, won the treble at Barcelona, and now has Spain one match from the final of the Euros. Managing club and country are different challenges; if they win it, he will have done the Champions League-Euros double.
He has peppered these finals with ‘Luis-Enriquisms’, things only the Spain coach would say. After Sergio Busquets tested positive for Covid, he was asked if he regretted picking a 24-man squad when he was allowed to pick 26.
National team manager Luis Enrique (pictured) is the idiosyncratic and ‘crazy King of Spain’
Italy v Spain: Three key battles from semi-final
Leonardo Bonucci v Alvaro Morata
Bonucci has stuck up for his Juventus team-mate in recent days. Morata was poor in the quarter-final and came off after 54 minutes. You do not know what you will get from him.
The same cannot be said of Bonucci. The veteran centre back has been outstanding at the Euros and you’d back him to get the better of his friend in this game.
Marco Verratti v Pedri
This should be fascinating — two ball-players who will be tasked with picking dangerous passes.
Pedri, 18, has been a revelation, but we have long known of Verratti’s quality. It could well be a moment of inspiration from one of them that decides this match.
Ciro Immobile v Aymeric Laporte
Both players were criticised for their quarter-final displays. Roberto Mancini defended his striker last night, saying the ‘most maligned’ players can often be the match-winners.
But Laporte has worries of his own after his error led to Switzerland’s goal in the last game. Whose confidence will hold up best?
‘No, now I wish I had picked just 23,’ he said. ‘It would have been one less in danger of catching Covid.’
Asked how keeper Unai Simon was after his gaffe against Croatia, he said: ‘As they say in tennis, it’s best to have the memory of a fish, all that matters is the next shot.’ And when Spain anguished over two draws in their group, he said: ‘We are like a bottle of fizz when the cork is about to pop.’ Spain won their next two, scoring 10.
After beating Switzerland in the quarter-finals, the champagne really did flow in the dressing room with his young squad dancing to a reggae-flamenco fusion song they have adopted as an anthem.
Whizzing around the Madrid training base on an electric scooter, the 51-year-old doesn’t discourage a little euphoria, as long as, like the tennis player’s last shot, it’s quickly forgotten.
Italy will be tough and he knows it. His Italy-related memories rankle. When Spain played them in the 1994 World Cup he finished the game with a broken nose. Mauro Tassotti elbowed him in the area with Italy 2-1 up.
What should have been a penalty and a red card went unpunished and his bloodied tearful face became a defining image. Today won’t be about revenge. Enrique made his peace with Italy when he was at Roma and Tassotti was number two at Milan.
That one season in Serie A did not go well. First he found a place to live far closer to the Lazio training ground than Roma’s, so he had to fight Rome traffic every day. He then oversaw a Europa League exit to Slovan Bratislava, taking Totti off in the home leg with the team needing a goal — hardly the way to win over fans.
When he left at the end of the season the team had finished seventh and lost both Rome derbies. But El Pais’ Italian correspondent Daniel Verdu says he tried to implement changes others would impose later. A style not unlike the one Roberto Mancini now has the national team playing.
Many of his decisions have been questioned but he has led his side to a Euro 2020 semi-final
And there was respect for the departing coach, even from Totti, and from Daniele De Rossi, who is now part of Mancini’s staff. Roma’s then director of football Franco Baldini was also sad to see him go and tried to take him to Spurs.
Enrique tends to win respect in the end. He did it at Barcelona, where he didn’t let the cache of the players stop him observing sessions from a specially-erected scaffold tower. There was a fall-out with Lionel Messi that needed patching up by Xavi but the No 10 and his coach finished the campaign embracing after a treble.
Enrique’s life has also been hit by tragedy. He stood down from the Spain job when his daughter Xana was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2019. She died later in the year aged nine. ‘We will remember you every day of our lives,’ Enrique said, ‘with the hope that one day we’ll meet again. You’ll be the star that guides our family.’
Enrique somehow returned to the Spain job and they have only lost once in the 18 games since.
He kept faith with goalkeeper Unai Simon, who has rewarded him with some crucial saves
Leaving Ramos out of his squad upset Real Madrid fans. Busquets would instead be his leader, a decision he never wavered from when the Barca man contracted coronavirus. Enrique also left out defender Nacho, who had replaced the injured Ramos at club level. That made it a squad without a Real player for the first time.
Other fan-favourites such as Jesus Navas and Iago Aspas were left behind. He then stood by Alvaro Morata as most of Spain called for him to be dropped. Decisions questioned at best and derided at worst but game by game he has been proved right.
It could unravel on Tuesday night, but expectations have been surpassed. Asked before Spain’s last group game if he would stand down if they didn’t beat Slovakia, he said: ‘Are you joking? I’m thinking about extending my contract’.
It was another ‘Enriquism’ but after a fine Euros, he is far closer to renewal than being replaced.