Fútbol Focus: Luis Enrique's masterstroke inspired Barcelona

Barcelona pulled off the most remarkable comeback in Champions League history on Wednesday night

Luis Enrique

Image: Nick Potts/EMPICS Sport

As Sergi Roberto reached for the ball to toe poke it beyond Kevin Trapp with the PSG players’ hands waving in the air - hoping, praying for an offside - Luis Enrique had pulled off one of the greatest psychological feats in modern football. His pre-match press conference was not one of ambiguity.

"We can score six," he said. 

The manager said he was confident of his side’s ability and noted that, "we are optimistic by nature and convinced of what we can do." Convinced. You could tell in every word he spoke that there was a confidence there that was not entirely merited. But he was backed into a corner, and this is the option he chose.

Compare that to Unai Emery’s watery, half-baked answers in his pre-match meeting with the press. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Leaving aside the system and players chosen, Barcelona are a great team with great players," Emery said. Even he had fallen into the trap of thinking this was Barcelona’s night with them as a sideshow, or at the very worst a mild irritant to be overcome at all costs. Don’t ruin it for them by beating them 3-0. Let them have a go before drawing 1-1 and slipping out the back door while everyone else applauded Barcelona’s courage.

The kicker though was when Luis Enrique said "we have nothing to lose." He knew that this, above all else, was his trump card.

Cast your mind back to the time after the PSG defeat in the first leg when Luis Enrique so often cut a mysterious figure on the sideline. A hard man to figure out at the best of times, it was often impossible to read his body language in the few weeks before and after the first leg humiliation.

He would stare off into the distance, almost disassociated from the action on the field, from the players, his players and from his job. They had plodded their way to a Copa del Rey final and were putting up a halfhearted fight for the title but nobody was convinced; not even them, not even him.

Luis Enrique embraces Lionel Messi after the final whistle at the Nou Camp. Image: Manu Fernandez/AP/Press Association Images

He knew he had to arrest the decline. Grab the momentum and swing it back in his direction, get the players, and the fans back on his side and change something. After the Sporting Gijon game, he made his first move. He gave everyone a finish line.

Try it yourself. Tell yourself you are going to go for a run for an infinite number of miles, Forrest Gump-style. With no end in sight, no milestones to reach, no countdown, no urgency. It’s depressing and not least uninspiring.

So Luis Enrique put a timeline on his stay at the club. He announced it after a particularly good win and his masterplan was in motion. And with that, he had turned the tide and affected change starting at the only place he could truly do so; he started with his own position and with himself.

During Barcelona’s 5-0 win over Celta, their best performance up to that point, before the Miracle at the Camp Not took place on Wednesday night, the fans sang his name and pleaded with him to stay. 

The plan was working. The players and the fans seem invigorated by his announcement. Instead of looking forward into an unending future with their grumpy old coach, they had a finite number of games left together. Best make them matter.

The ambiguity and tepid responses that Emery provided at his pre-match press conference spilled out onto the field, likewise for Barcelona and Luis Enrique. The stamp of his confidence evident in every pass forward and surging run as they ran riot against a shambles of a PSG side. 

Luis Enrique and the fans urged them to go for it, be creative, take a shot, try that through ball, push a few metres forward. Take that risk.

After all, they had nothing left to lose.