Sunday 25 February 2018

Dion Fanning: There are times when the art of doing nothing can help to improve perfection

That was the week

'When Luis Enrique took over at Barcelona, he had a lot of big ideas'
'When Luis Enrique took over at Barcelona, he had a lot of big ideas'

Dion Fanning

When the Conservative politician Nicholas Ridley emerged from Downing Street in the 1980s having been appointed to a new position in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, he was asked what he hoped to achieve in his latest role. "Absolutely nothing," he replied.

Ridley was not advancing a case for laziness, but putting forward a philosophy. For Tories like Ridley, doing nothing was exactly what government was supposed not to do most of the time. The more he did, the more damage he would do.

In football, there is a time to do nothing, but attention is always given to the revolutionaries. On the field, there is a time to stand still and not run. In an age when data deals with sprints made and kilometres covered, those who are running less and thinking more may be overlooked.

When Luis Enrique took over at Barcelona, he had a lot of big ideas. He would remain faithful to the demands of the club, of the ideas of Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff, but he would have his own approach as well.

"We have to evolve that idea, perfect it, improve it, so that we can surprise opponents and so that they don't know what type of play we will use," he said when he was appointed.

Looking at Barcelona now, at a front three which may be the greatest which has ever been brought together, it would seem right to hail Enrique for his vision. Here is a manager with a philosophy so much stronger than the idea of non-interference.

If anybody craved the evolution of the Barcelona idea, then Enrique had delivered on his promise, but of course it may be that others would have delivered it, whether he was there or not.

For the first few months at Camp Nou, Enrique seemed to be doing something else. If he was compared to anybody, it was going to be David Moyes at United. The Moyes of a thousand crosses against Fulham, the Moyes who didn't understand the Manchester United way.

Enrique was seen then as separate to the Barcelona way. He might have played for the club, but don't forget he was not a product of the club as Pep was. He started his career at Sporting Gijon and played for Real Madrid before he joined Barcelona. He had ideas which were alien to the whole philosophy.

That was how it seemed in the winter of 2014, but in the winter of 2011, Enrique was seen as an emblem for the Barcelona way, demonstrating that, as in politics, labels are sometimes placed on figures as a replacement for analysis.

In the summer that Pep Guardiola won his second European Cup, Roma appointed Enrique as their coach. "The reason we chose Enrique is symbolic," Walter Sabatini, Roma's sporting director, explained. "Enrique represents an idea of football that we would like to follow, which imposes itself today through Spain and Barcelona . . . I was looking for someone outside of Italian football. Uncontaminated."

This was the time when everybody wanted to see their central defenders positioned on either touchline, when the holding midfielder would drop deep into defence and possession statistics seemed to be as good as a result itself.

At Roma, Enrique represented that idea of football, but it didn't last. When he arrived in Rome, he was seen as the successor to Guardiola, but he left seen as an uncertain representative for the idea which was trying to impose itself around Europe. Andre Villas-Boas was also enduring similar problems at Chelsea. But when Enrique arrived at Barcelona, perhaps he felt it was important to represent something other than the idea of Barcelona, maybe something more representative of himself. So he promoted himself as the leader when there is only one leader at Barcelona - certainly since Guardiola left.

By November of his first season at the club, many people expected Enrique to be fired. In January, he left Messi out for a game Barcelona lost against Moyes's Real Sociedad. The next morning Messi didn't take part in the opening training session at the Camp Nou, and having earned Messi's displeasure, Enrique was expected to be dismissed.

Instead, Barcelona won their next 11 games and things began to change. Perhaps Enrique is under-rated, perhaps history will judge him as an equal to Guardiola, whose achievement he matched by winning a treble in his first year. Yet it is hard to see anyone remodelling a club to entice Luis Enrique as Manchester City have for Pep.

He lacks the strong brand attraction which Pep provides. If both coaches were lucky to have Messi, Pep also had Xavi, who allowed him to promote a style of football, an idea of football, which suggested a clear pathway from Guardiola's time as a player.

Enrique's Barcelona is different, but if Messi is the biggest influence, another player has had as big an impact as Xavi once did. Luis Suarez is a rarity in modern football, a rarity in any era. He is a player whose immense gifts are surpassed by his relentless commitment which has an effect on all those around him.

In his autobiography, Steven Gerrard says that he only saw Suarez in the treatment room at Liverpool twice, and once was to get a bag of ice.

It may not have been possible for Suarez to make Messi a better player, but he has certainly reawakened something in the Argentinian that seemed lost during the World Cup. He has lifted all around him, driving himself and others to new heights.

Enrique could never have arrived at Barcelona and said he wanted to do nothing. It takes a certain type of confidence to do that. Claudio Ranieri talks now about how it was important to let Leicester City do what they were good at, but he says it from a position of unexpected strength.

Many of the greatest ideas in the world have been ruined by people who look at something and think 'if it ain't broke, fix it'. Even the best things can be destroyed by those who don't understand the art of doing nothing. Luis Enrique grasped that, helped immeasurably by the finest players in the world.

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