Enrique had a real eye for goal | Tal Gilad/Minute Media
It’s not often that a player is hugely successful for bitter domestic rivals during the same era, but that’s exactly what Luis Enrique achieved during a stellar playing career.
During the 90’s, ‘Lucho’ represented both the all-white of Real Madrid and the blue and red stripes of Barcelona. He won league titles with both but is most fondly remembered for his time in Catalunya.
An attacking midfielder, Enrique was a goalscoring phenom during his days at Camp Nou, where he scored double figures in every season during that decade. But as good as his numbers were, there was so much more to his game than putting the ball in the back of the net.
Ronaldo & Luis Enrique in their FC Barcelona days pic.twitter.com/o1QH2MBbvA
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He was the lead brain of a side that took control of La Liga, forming fine attacking relationships with the likes of Ronaldo, Patrick Kluivert, Rivaldo and Luis Figo. Embodying the flair and instincts that separated the good from the great, Enrique captured the imagination of the Catalan faithful despite being a staunch representative of Los Blancos for five years prior.
After bursting onto the scene for Sporting Gijon in 1990 as a 20-year-old, the talent he had was clear. While never blessed with outstanding physical attributes, technically Enrique was superb and his mind was always a step or two ahead.
He once named his idol as Dutch striker Marco van Basten and the similarities in their game are not that hard to see. His ability to glide past players from deep lying positions, use both feet to pass or shoot and his incredible spring to score with his head made him a nightmare for defenders across the continent.
His move to the Bernabeu allowed him to display his talent on a bigger stage and he didn’t let anyone down. While the Real Madrid fans never quite took to him, it didn’t stop him from putting in quality performance after quality performance. He was a key part of the Real side that battered Barcelona 5-0 in January 1995, scoring the fourth goal en route to clinching that season’s La Liga title.
ON THIS DAY: In 1996, Barcelona completed the signing of Luis Enrique on a free transfer from Real Madrid.
❍ 300 games
❍ 109 goals
❍ 7 trophies
Bargain. ?? pic.twitter.com/G7LCxYie7o
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 27, 2020
As his contract ran down at the end of the 95/96 season, he made the decision that would define his career. He went to a side known for their style of football and one that made him feel the most wanted; Barcelona.
After initially struggling, almost inevitably, to win over the club’s fans, Enrique was slowly but surely warmed to, as regular playing minutes and flashes of brilliance helped put to bed any allegiance to Madrid that may have been lingering. The real turning point came during his second season at the club, in a game at the Bernabeu.
With the score at 1-1 in the second half, Enrique collected the ball in the Real Madrid half and drove through the heart of their midfield. After breaking between the lines and hurdling two challenges, Enrique unleashed a fierce strike from 25 yards out into the bottom corner.
‘Lucho’ sprinted towards the touchline in celebration, grasping at the Barcelona shirt on his back and pumping his fists. The Catalan giants went on to win the game 3-2 and subsequently won La Liga.
From that moment, the transformation was complete; he was now a fully fledged Cule. He went on to win two La Liga titles, a UEFA Cup, two Copa Del Rey trophies, a UEFA Cup Winners Cup and a Spanish Super Cup during his time there; an impressive haul for a continuously impressive player.
His love for the club was clear, and during an interview years after retiring, Enrique admitted: “I left some ligaments on the pitch, but it was worth it.”
Enrique’s style of play is still adored by the fans, with any attacking midfielder who ghosts into the box for goals immediately compared to him. He was so good, that he was named in Pele’s list of the 125 greatest living footballers following his retirement in 2004.
He even took over as manager in 2014, to the delight of Barcelona’s supporters, and can be safe in the knowledge that since he departed the club as a player a decade previously, no player has served the number 21 shirt as well as he did, nor has one of them been anywhere near as a popular.