It takes a special kind of player to overcome the ‘stigma’ of being an ex-Madrid player when signing for FC Barcelona. Luis Enrique did and became a Barca legend.

FC Barcelona

To a certain degree one can draw parallels between the life of Iron Man’s Tony Stark and FC Barcelona legend Luis Enrique Martínez García, or Lucho as fans affectionately call him. Of course, Luis Enrique was never as despicable as Tony Stark at the start of the first Iron Man movie, but in the world of football, many consider playing for Real Madrid an unforgiveable sin. Culés, in particular, oppose and despise anything remotely Real Madrid. For them to take to an ex-Madridista, even accepting him not only as a player but also as their captain, it takes a special kind of personality.

Whereas it’s more common for the Santiago Bernabeu faithful to welcome an ex-Blaugrana and adopt them as their own, as it has been the case with Bernd Schuster, Michael Laudrup, Luis Figo or Ronaldo, Culés aren’t familiar, nor long for an ex-Merengue at Barcelona. At best, they’d be tolerated if they turned out to be decent signings. No more, no less.

Some may point out that another FC Barcelona legend, Samuel Eto’o, is an ex-Madridista too. But, unlike Luis Enrique, Eto’o never played for Real Madrid’s first team, even though he came through their youth academy. Therefore Eto’o’s reputation was not ‘tainted’ so to speak, when he joined Barcelona in 2004.

Luis Enrique on the other hand had spent 5 seasons (1991 – 1996) with Real Madrid prior to signing with the Catalan outfit. A move that can be likened to supervillain Loki joining the Avengers after causing them much grief and misery throughout the years. Unthinkable, especially when one considers the fact that Enrique joined Barcelona on a free transfer. Meaning Real Madrid fans hated him with a vengeance even before he debuted as Blaugrana player.

Not many players would leave Real Madrid, all but assured of their hatred, for the almost certain reservation awaiting him in Barcelona. A special personality indeed.

Born May 8th, 1970, in Gijon, Asturias, Enrique joined local side Sporting Gijon’s youth team in 1981 and would represent the Rojiblancos until 1991 when he signed for Real Madrid, after impressing during his first two seasons at the El Molinón.

Though his time with Real Madrid wasn’t failure by any stretch of the imagination (18 goals in 213 appearances), it was a far cry from his exploits at his hometown club (17 goals in just 45 games). At Barcelona he found his home away from home which helped him find the consistency to match his undoubted talent.

In 8 seasons with Barcelona he scored 109 goals in 300 appearances, while winning two La Liga titles (1997/98; 1998/99), two Copa del Rey trophies (1996/97; 1997/98), a Spanish Supercup (1996), UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1996/97), and the UEFA Super Cup (1997).

But Barcelona fans will always remember him for the feats against his former employers Real Madrid. Nothing endears more to the Camp Nou audience than tormenting Los Blancos, and it can be argued that nobody was better at it than Luis Enrique. Lucho always showed up against the Merengues, turning up an extra-gear whenever he faced the Madrid outfit.

Unfortunately for Luis Enrique he wouldn’t enjoy more success with the Catalan side after winning the 1998/99 La Liga title as Barcelona entered a trophy drought that would last until his retirement from professional football in 2004. He did, however, pass the torch and shared a dressing room with many of Barcelona’s current stars.

Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol and even Andres Iniesta have played alongside the temperamental and fiercely competitive Asturian.

In his book “Barca: The Makings of the Greatest Club in the World”, Graham Hunter describes how instrumental Luis Enrique was in ensuring a smooth transition from his eventual retirement to Ronaldinho’s ascension and Barcelona’s re-emergence as an European heavyweight. In a way he helped lay the foundation of Barcelona’s ongoing dominance.

Carles Puyol will probably enter Azulgrana folklore as the greatest captain in their history, but he had an outstanding role-model in Luis Enrique who defended the Barcelona colors as much as any other captain(Catalan or else).

After the conclusion of his playing career he, how could it be otherwise, started participating in the most physical demanding of competitions – Ironman Triathlons. While most of his peers enjoy the good life after hanging up the boots, Enrique spent a good deal of time preparing and competing at the immensely challenging races.

Chances are he’d still participate at Ironman Triathlons had it not been for his appointment as manager of Barcelona B in 2008, effectively launching his managerial career.

Upon his presentation he said:

“I have come home”. He added: “I finished playing here and now I will start coaching here.”

To arrive in Barcelona as an ex-Madrid player and not only be accepted, but be given the honor of club captaincy is testimony to his character and resolve. Perhaps Barcelona will buy a Madrid player in the future, but it’s not likely that anyone will be loved or revered as much as Luis Enrique.

Though he hails from Asturias, Catalunya not only took to him, they made him one of their own. He signed as an ex-Madrid player; he retired as a certified Blaugrana legend.

Heroes aren’t born. They are built….at Barcelona.