Should Internazionale appoint Luis Enrique?

Recruitment Analysis
Michele Tossani

Michele Tossani


The Nerazzurri have parted way with head coach Stefano Pioli amid the difficult season they are facing with the former Lazio coach failing to live up to the expectations of the board or the fanbase.

Pioli was Inter’s third coach this season after Frank de Boer replaced Roberto Mancini on the eve of the campaign before he was dismissed too in November following a poor run of results.

The former Lazio boss initially improved his new side by winning 10 out of his first 13 games in charge. In the end however a winless stretch of seven games would cost him his job, a sign of the fickle nature of Italian football.

Pioli was Nerazzurri’s ninth coach since Jose Mourinho left the job following 2009/10 season.

Reports in Italy surfaced telling that Chinese owned club are ready to do everything they can to bring on Antonio Conte from Chelsea should former Juventus’ manager leave the Blues after just one season in charge. However, the chaotic club will have to be flexible in their recruitment process as Roman Abramovich is going to work hard to keep Conte at his club and the early signs are that the Italian is keen to stay in West London.

So, Chinese owner Suning is evaluating other options. With the likes of Diego Simeone and Luciano Spalleti being linked although perhaps of more interest is the possiblity of the current Barcelona coach Luis Enrique moving to Milan.

Although the Spaniard may indeed go on a year’s sabbatical after his Barcelona exit, as he has insisted, the link between Luis Enrique and the new director of football at Suning Sports Group, Walter Sabatini, are well documented.

Should Suning fail to sign Conte and if Sabatini is able to persuade the Spanish manager to forgoe his break, then we will have another marriage between Luis Enrique and Calcio.

In fact the Spaniard already had an experience in Serie A circle during 2010/11 season. It was a turbulent one for Luis Enrique as he ended up leaving AS Roma after just one year in charge.

Luis Enrique I: the failed revolution

At that time Luis Enrique tried to bring something of a tactical revolution to Serie A. A failed revolution, of cours and history teaches us a lot about failed revolutions. The idea was to run a Barcelona-style football in the land of Catenaccio with Enrique preferreing a brand of attacking football based on controlling the ball.

Luis Enrique tried to install Barcelona’s movements, a 4-3-3 with full-backs moving forward to become wing-backs; with the holding midfielder, often Daniele De Rossi, sometimes Fernando Gago, collapsing on the back line at the start of the attack and with wingers moving forward to go beyond the lone forward. The adage runs that Rome wasn’t built in a day but in Italy results remain king/

Why then fif he fail? Because the system wasn’t suited for the players at his disposal. But Enrique never altered his approach and in truth he doesn’t think that football should be played any other way.

Despite the rise of Fabio Borini, forwards weren’t effective weapons in this system. In some matches, Roma created few scoring chances; in some others, they created a lot but failed to score. The idea to keep Francesco Totti far from the goal, asking him to come back and play an attacking midfielder role was uneffective and highly criticized, even though he would play some of the best football of his career from that position.

Moving Totti further away from the penalty area effectively deprived the team of its best goalscorer. Also, Enrique liked to use Totti coming off the bench. He wanted forwards able to press high when the ball was lost, and the 35-years old captain wasn’t suited for this job.

Youngsters showed growing pains as Lamela and Bojan were unconvincing. The centre forward Osvaldo impressed, despite the fact he played often as cutting inside wing. The hirings of Fernando Gago and Miralem Pjanic showed that Enrique wanted control the game a la Barcelona. Roma averaged 60% of possession but the team struggled to create scoring chances in the first part of the season.

In Italy, a possession style with no penetration was not effective. To improve this part of the game, and correct the lack of penetration, Enrique switched his system, utilizing both 4-3-3 and a 4-3-1-2 formations, and his gameplan. But issues stayed. On the flanks, Enrique lacked true wing-backs. Jose Angel has been far from impressive at left-back; Brazilian Marquinho was much better when he played there. Simone Perrotta and Rodrigo Taddei was uncomfortable defensively, playing out of position; Marco Cassetti and Aleandro Rosi neither have looked good.

The early decision to drop Cicinho was inexplicable. Utilizing De Rossi deep in midfield, dropping between the centre-backs, gave the team a strong platform from which to build but depleted Roma of a scoring threat, as he was as attacking midfielder in the early part of his career. And employing him sometimes at centre-back fit Enrique’s will for ball-playing backs but depleted midfield. But the bigger downside to this tactic was that Roma were helpless in defending counterattacks. The team would concede on average 13 shots per game and often allowed goals defending with just the two centre-backs.

With Nicolas Burdisso injuried, Enrique had just Gabriel Heinze as gifted centre-back. Simon Kjaer’s season was horrible. But Enrique also paid As Rome’s lack of maturity. Too often his team went out of the game too early. Just take a look to the matches vs Juventus or Lecce as examples.

The years passed and Luis Enrique restored his career with Celta of Vigo and Barcelona. During last couple of seasons he showed a more flexible kind of football. Just take a look to the matches in which Luis Enrique lined up Barcelona in a bielsesque 3-3-1-3 system.

But he still remained adherent to his principles: building from the back using the goalkeeper to facilitate ball cirulation as we can see below.

We also saw Enrique build on his principles when working on the width and depth of his side within the attacking phase as well as having them counterpress to stop or at least slow down the opposition when they entered their attacking transition as shown below.


Could a Luis Enrique appointment work at Inter? Surely, Suning should have to rebuild the Nerazzurri in a way to build a roster compatible with former Barcelona manager’s minds.

As they are right now, Inter’s attacking play is too much vertical and too much focused on moving the ball outside creating connections between full backs and wingers. That is because the key source in Inter’s offensive plan is crossing.

Also, in the last games, Pioli’s Inter showed a lack of ability to occupy the half-spaces and a general weakness on positional play.

On the other side, Luis Enrique’s arrival could improve some players as he could get the best from Banega and Joao Mario’s passing and creativity skills.

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