El Clasico: a clash of two underappreciated managers

If you conduct a football poll and ask the followers of the game to list the best crop of managers still actively managing a football club, you are more likely to get repeated mention of names like: Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Diego Simeone, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp and even Arsene Wenger. Yet, the manager who has recently won more than all of these managers will be conspicuously missing. Such is the bane of Barcelona’s Luis Enrique.

The 46 year old manager – who represented both Real Madrid and Barcelona in a successful playing career that spanned 13 years – has won all there is to win as far as club football is concerned. In his first two years as manager of Barcelona, he led the club to eight trophies – including a treble in his very first season. Since he took over at the club, there has been a significant/obvious change in the style of play and physical strength/stamina of the players. Yet, despite all of these, Enrique is hardly rated by most.

As far as his critics are concerned, any manager with a fair understanding of the game will win games with the trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar Jr. With those kind of players leading the line and Andres Iniesta providing support in the middle, you do not necessarily need to be a genius to win laurels and deliver success.

Even though, in times past, several managers who failed spectacularly with a bunch of talented players and – in the case of Barcelona – Tata Martino have proven this theory to be faulty, the critics still will not yield ground.

Enrique is in a cold world where he doesn’t get the credit for victory but always first on the line for criticism each time something goes wrong at the club. It is a tough place to be in, but he is not alone.

The emergence of Zidane as the manager of Real Madrid was something many expected to happen at some point. It was obvious he was being groomed by the higher ups to one day take charge of affairs and complete a perfect Disney movie of a legendary player turned manager of a legendary club. It was a script still on its way to perfection but the surprising failure of Rafael Benitez forced the director of the movie, Florentino Perez, to move the production date forward.

Benitez lost his own plot and forced Zidane’s to commence prematurely. It is this circumstance that surrounded the appointment of Zidane that still informs the way he is viewed by a good number of football followers and pundits: a naive, unprepared manager that profited from an ugly, emergency situation.

This view holds, despite the fact that the numbers suggest otherwise.

Since Zidane took charge of the club, he has managed 33 league games, won 27, drawn five and lost just one. He won the UEFA Champions League in his first try and this season, his side remains the only side in Europe’s top five leagues yet to lose a game.

Surely, these impressive numbers are an attestation to the fact that the Frenchman knows a thing or two about managing the game but no, not according to his critics. Like Enrique, they credit his victories to the quality of the players at his disposal but never forget to hold his lack of tactical knowledge responsible for poor outings.

The two managers, Luis Enrique and Zidane, have a lot in common. They both played for Madrid, both managing clubs they love and once played, and are both battling for acknowledgement as managers with substance.

It is uncertain what the outcome of the Clasico would be at the end of today, but one thing is certain: while one manager will get sticks for his team’s performance, another will watch his players get all the adulation while he is treated like an addendum.