The Luis Enrique idea
If there is a recurring theme in art over the last few decades, it is that of the archive. The launchpad of this phenomenon is, on one side, the convergence of the technical advances which have made limitless the ability to reproduce the works, and on the other side, the increasingly blurred line between what is considered an artistic object and what is not. With photography and its ever-increasing accessibility, and with the presence of the Dadaist echoes and of Marcel Duchamp’s La Fuente, the authority of the creator and of the work itself are fading. There is no small number of people, rather there are many, who have enquired about the role of the artist and how it would develop in this context. What does it mean to create new images at a time and place in which they are already being created in such vast quantities? And if the artist’s role should now, justly, not to work with this melting pot of images which have been created by others, what does it mean to take a photo of the sunset when they have all been taken already? The photographer Penelope Umbrico asked a similar question after a simple search of the word “sunset” on Flickr which, nowadays, generates millions of results.
When exploring the notion of an archive, the author Pedro G. Romero must always be recognized. One of Spain’s most interesting artists, he is the creator of Archivo F.X., a monumental work of pictures and documents from the Iconoclastic fury and the destruction of images in Spain between 1845 and 1945, which he had worked on since the end of the 1990s. However, Archivo F.X. isn’t just a compendium of visual and written testimonies which serves to highlight the power that we give to images beyond the images themselves or the value that they get when we attempt to destroy them, as if we were calling for the destruction of something which the images transcend; rather, the singularity of G. Romero’s work has a second state in which these examples of the Iconoclasts are presented along with artists, works and turning points in the history of modern art. We are talking about a distinct form of connection which allows you to reread them from a different point of view and which appears to claim for them the same potential for liberation and possibility as the episodes with which they were linked. As if both of them, face to face and together, claimed that an act of destruction can also be an act of creation.
One could come to a similar conclusion after analyzing Luis Enrique’s journey during his first season on the FC Barcelona bench. The Asturian’s aim, since the very first day, was to carry out a long-needed overhaul which would completely change the look of the entire first-team squad. He wanted to set up a firewall, a clear and visible boundary with a past which had now become worn out. A past initiated by Guardiola, inherited by Tito Vilanova and which Tata Martino wanted to prolong, in his own particular way. He wanted a break from the old way of doing things, against which time had turned. Anyway, the tools to carry them out were no longer the same, and those that were the same didn’t work like they used to. Without Puyol, Abidal, Valdés, Villa, Keita and Henry, and with different versions of Xavi, Iniesta, Alves and Messi, it was time to stop searching for a replica; and that was exactly how it was from the beginning with Luis Enrique. Upon his entrance and for his cover letter, he went back to the drawing board, and when counting on a squad with such an embarrassment of riches up front like Messi, Neymar and the new star signing, Suárez, he was presented with the perfect excuse. With the aim of focusing the three of them through the middle, meaning that none of them would be forced to play out on the wing, Lucho set his team out in a 4-3-1-2 for a substantial part of the first half of the league season. Messi played in the number 10 role, with two men in front of him, and the right and left back played very high in order to open up the pitch.
Beyond whether or not the plan progressed or whether the team eventually returned to a blueprint which was more familiar to the Camp Nou faithful, this reshuffling served to create a new beginning with regards to scoring and to reassert Messi as the team’s focal point. Far from a role where his only purpose was scoring, his proximity to the midfield and the absence of leadership in this area led to him being the creator and finisher of almost everything the team did well. The argument winner and the team’s hero. The main protagonist of not just goals, but the build-up play, with a huge presence in everything that happened up to and including the final effort at goal. This plan, voracious and overwhelming against average opponents, gave the impression that it may come up short against better opponents; and this is not too far from what Luis Enrique must have been thinking when he undid what he had been doing all season when the team visited the Santiago Bernabéu. With Xavi back in the starting XI and a collective turning point towards previous seasons, Barça was unable to avoid defeat in Madrid and entered into a period of doubt and confusion which would last until the beginning of 2015. The slip-up in the Bernabéu, together with the one against PSG – another opponent against which Barça was measuring itself – indicated that the system being used up until then would not get very far on the biggest stage.
The alternative was late in coming, with Atlético Madrid as the first opponent. On the way, this reversal was affecting the right and left backs (who lost their specific influence further upfield and went on to play a more contained role), the midfielders (who, without the support from the left and right backs seemed to be playing an undefined role) and even an attacking trio which could now count on Luis Suárez, who, upon joining the team, saw how this idea of having the front three play close to each other through the middle was failing. At the season’s lowest point, it was precisely about the destruction, as a possibility, which enabled the restoration. Tactically, moving Lionel Messi closer to the right wing and Neymar closer to the left proved vital, but it was the space which lighted the spark, the manager’s insistent work at chipping away; by filling the forward line with debris he had taken away all the obstacles blocking the team’s three cracks. They were free to link up without being shackled by any positional barriers, a trio of talent the likes of which may never be bettered. With almost no intruders – excluding perhaps Jordi Alba who took advantage of Messi’s Ronaldinho-esque diagonal balls to the far side, and Rakitic, who made an occasional appearance from midfield – nobody else dirtied the canvas. Just those three: Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez. As for the rest, they all contributed to the team in their own particular manner.
First there were the wingers, openly obedient, flowing en masse and without chains, then the rest of the pieces took their place as they went along according to their modus operandi. Rakitic has grown, compensating for Messi on the wing, while Dani Alves remained Messi’s subject and held a more central position, becoming fundamental in both transitions and in a positional attack which has grown in importance; Busquets, with the majority of the team in the opposition’s half, has returned to the Busquets of old, fast and accurate when circulating the ball and always close to the recovery zone; Piqué, who has found himself relieved by Alves’ new role since he no longer has to defend his flank, has had a season to remember; the goalkeepers were working and both Mascherano and Jordi Alba have contributed to the team. On top of this, ever since the Champions League anthem began to play again in the knockout stages, in Luis Enrique’s Barça, you could feel the desire for the team to play with Iniesta at the head of midfield, which could open new horizons for the team’s future. A framework – if you want a crude term, but it is a framework, ultimately – that the front three just need to have the ball played to feet, even seeming at times that it’s their feet which drive them upwards so they don’t sink.
Ultimately, the year and the project belong to Messi, Neymar and Suárez. It belongs to the happy forward line to which the manager has strived to give more than any other one has had. He gave them nothing, and this is something that wouldn’t even have been contemplated in the Camp Nou 25 years ago. Improvise on nothing, go wherever they want and do whatever tickles their fancy; starting on one wing and ending up on the other, having space for a player to go through it alone, playing a one-two with a second player or even searching for a third to link up with. In sum, encouraging both collective team play and individual brilliance. With no previously established paths for any of the front three and the rest of the team, behind them, willing to follow them without getting lost. Just space, freedom and the possibility of starting everything again.
Translator: Mark Coyle