El Clásico:Luis Enrique Martínez García


Today’s Clásico Heartbreaker made a grand total of 32 appearances in El Clásico and is a rarity; a player who moved from Real Madrid to Barcelona.

Clásico appearances: 32 (13 for Real Madrid, 19 for Barcelona)
Clásico goals: 5 (1 for Real Madrid, 4 for Barcelona)
Real Madrid record: W4 D5 L4
Barcelona record: W8 D7 L4

Luis Enrique Martínez García cut his teeth at local club Sporting Gijón. Becoming a first-team regular at the age of 19, he hit 14 goals in 35 appearances during the 1990/91 to haul the Asturians to a UEFA Cup place while earning a call-up to the Spanish national team. However, it was clear that Luis Enrique’s skills were destined for a bigger setting and he joined the powerhouse that is Real Madrid at the end of the season.

At Madrid he quickly established himself as a source of creativity and flair from out wide, playing a key part in his club’s Copa del Rey triumph in 1993 and ending Barcelona’s run of four league wins in 1995. In the run-up to gaining that winner’s medal, Real destroyed their fiercest rivals 5-0 with the fourth coming from the boot of Luis Enrique.

And yet he would go on to become one of the most reviled players in Real Madrid’s history, while the part he played in the drubbing at the Bernabéu would be forgotten by Los Cules. Exactly two years after Michael Laudrup had moved for free from Barca to Madrid in the summer of 1994, Luis Enrique saw out his contract and moved to Catalonia – prompting anger from his old fans and scepticism from his new supporters.

That wouldn’t last long. This was a man entering his prime and about to bless the Camp Nou with his best years. Best described as an attacking midfielder, Luis Enrique displayed extraordinary versatility in playing all across the midfield and frontline, even using his tremendous stamina and work-rate to great effect when asked to fill in at full-back. Not that being Mr. Versatility cost him the chance to take centre stage, as he hit an impressive total of 55 goals in all competitions over his first three seasons at the club. It’s remarkable how quickly he went from outsider to club captain; well, not really, considering his first season yielded a Cup Winners’ Cup win before he led the Blaugrana to league wins in the following two campaigns.

He could finish with his right, his left and was absolutely superb in the air; as seen in his headed brace in the Clásico of February 1999, en route to the second league victory. (His goals are at 1:20 and 3:50).

A tendency to play well against his former side sat well with the Barcelona fans and, as you can see from above, his Clásico results are considerably better in a blue and red shirt. The success somewhat dried up after 1999, with Barcelona failing to win a major trophy from the 1999/2000 season until his retirement in 2004. Not only that, Barca were edged out in two European Clásicos as Real Madrid knocked them out 3-1 on aggregate on their way to a 2002 Champions league title.

But as a veteran of the side, Luis Enrique played his part in the building of a side who would bring glory to the Camp Nou under Rijkaard, several players continuing to star for Guardiola’s current dream team. The footage below, from his last ever Clásico in April 2004, show both the level of hatred which he will always kindle in Real Madrid’s fans and his ability to influence a team through sheer presence on the pitch. After he comes on, Barcelona come back from one down to win 2-1 through goals from Kluivert and Xavi, signifying the end of Madrid’s era of dominance.

Luis Enrique looked set to become a permanent part of the Barcelona family, joining the coaching staff after his retirement before being put in charge of the ‘B’ team in 2008 following Pep Guardiola’s promotion. However, he landed the Roma job in the summer and is currently trying to bring his own brand of attractive football to the Italian capital (with mixed results). Whatever his success at managerial level, he will be remembered as one of the most controversial figures in Spanish football and a true legend of the Clásico.

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It’s rare to find a player with a combination of Luis Enrique’s attributes. Few can replicate the talsimanic effect that the former captain had on the side better than Carles Puyol, but they are completely different players. Lionel Messi’s knack of making intelligent runs in from wide areas (seen more before he became more of a central player) is reminiscent of the Spanish great, while his driving runs from deep seem to have been watched by Cesc Fàbregas. Pedro’s comfort at playing on either wing harkens to Luis Enrique’s versatility. But for all the young Barcelona players who he may have influenced, some of who could be considered greater players, none are easily comparable to the legend from Gijón.

Ihsaan Budaly

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