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Bust-ups & barnies: Why Luis Enrique the 'culture shock' Arsenal need

COMMENT: Luis Enrique and Arsenal? This is going to be fun. The players may be talking 'culture shock' with a first managerial change in 22 years. But if it is to be Enrique, they ain't seen nothing yet...

Appearances. Reputation. They can deceive. Especially when forged away from the English media. And in the immediate aftermath of Enrique's departure from Barcelona a year ago, potrayals of his management had him closer to Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte than Pep Guardiola and his mooted predecessor, Arsene Wenger.

For Enrique, reputations don't matter a jot. He'll not only bench his club's greatest. He'll take a swing at him in training! Enrique at London Colney? Oh yeah, this is going to be fun.

He'll employ decent football. But not Pep's tiki-taka. He'll talk up the kids. But rarely play them. And he'll work with the football director. But will insist upon final say on all transfers.

Okay, okay. We're painting a bleak picture here. But that's not the aim. We just want to point out that while he's a treble winner, a former Barca B and first team coach... Luis Enrique is not a Guardiola clone. Anyone connected to Arsenal expecting as much are in for a rude shock.

Which is why the Asturian is the ideal coach for this current set of Arsenal players. That underperforming senior clique. The indulged. The protected. The ones who could always rely on Wenger to take their flak. If it's to be Enrique next, there'll be nowhere to hide.

That's not to say Enrique will hang them out in public. No-one inside Barca's locker room would ever accuse him of that. But to be fair, there was no reason for Enrique to open up on his frustrations. After all, nothing screams louder than benching Lionel Messi. Well that is, unless you're squaring up to the club's most valuable asset on the La Masia training pitch.

He was a Treble winner for his first season back. But it was carnage in those opening six months as new Barca coach. He took them all on. Messi, Neymar, Andres Iniesta. They were benched. Dropped. There were clashes in training. And Messi calling for Enrique's head over the winter break.

The one to really suffer however, was Enrique's good friend, Andoni Zubizarreta. Zubi lost his job that first season of the Enrique era. Contrary to some reports floating around over the weekend, it was Zubi who drove the appointment of Enrique - not Arsenal's new football chief Raul Sanllehi. Though significantly, Sanllehi is leading the current pursuit. He and Enrique were spotted at a London restaurant earlier this month.

In Zubi's case, the then Barca sports director convinced Enrique to return after visiting his family home before the end of the 2013/14 season. The team that finished with the Treble at the end of the following campaign was built by Zubizarreta. It saved Josep Maria Bartomeu's presidency. But Zubi's reward was dismissal in January. And he was never replaced - as no football director had the bottle to meet Bartomeu's (and Messi's) demands: to sack and replace Enrique upon his appointment.

In the end, results improved. As did the atmosphere. With Enrique and Messi finding a way of tolerating eachother. A marriage of convenience - which ended with a historic Treble that season. But when speaking of marriage, it's significant that Enrique didn't receive an invitation from Messi for last year's wedding. Indeed, none of his staff did.

Enrique doesn't play favourites. He'll go back to the well, sure. He did that with Bojan Krkic at Roma. And with Denis Suarez at Barca. But neither player was a regular under him. It's about performance. Winning. There's always been a deliberate distance established between Enrique and his players. As he proved at Barca, no matter who you are, you need to perform.

For the nearly men of Arsenal. The team that never grew up. Enrique is the shot in the arm they need. Selection will be competitive, even ruthless. As will the football. It's significant that his successor at Barca, Ernesto Valverde, has been celebrated for returning the team back to it's La Masia roots. Enrique's football is attractive, but with an edge. Sometimes more mechanical than majestic. But nine trophies in three years is proof that it works.

"Chelsea has the cult of being a winning machine," so said Petr Cech, Arsenal's current No1, just a few weeks ago. "You can see it from the top to the bottom. It works like that. The pressure just works in a different way. That's why you have so many managerial changes.

"Arsenal obviously have the same continuity, the same manager. There is a completely different philosophy and a different way of doing things."

Well, after Wenger's decision, that "continuity" is now gone. And the "philosophy" will soon follow. If Luis Enrique is to represent the first change of manager in 22 years, then claims of a culture shock would be an understatement.

This is going to be fun...

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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