“That’s how much of a dickhead I am,” Luis Enrique said. Three days after Spain scored seven against Costa Rica, and on the eve of a game which – unless Costa Rica beat Japan – comes as an opportunity not just to secure an early place in the last 16 but also eliminate Germany, the head coach claimed he would rather manage failure than euphoria. The good news for Luis Enrique is that Hansi Flick’s team provide the perfect opponent to prevent his players from relaxing.
“You always hope for the best when you’re about to make your debut but maybe I didn’t expect such a version of us that was so, so strong,” he said about Spain’s demolition of Costa Rica. “It was a pleasure and you enjoy it so much when you see the team function like that. But I feel better managing problems [than success], that’s how much of a gilipollas [dickhead] I am.”
There was a laugh from a packed press room at the media centre. “Don’t laugh,” Luis Enrique shot back. The Spain coach is from Gijón in the principality of Asturias, in the north of the country, and proud of it too. He has previously mentioned Don Pelayo, who legend has it began the reconquest of Spain from Covadonga in the Asturian mountains, and for all that Luis Enrique is committed to a footballing vision, there is fight in him too. Here he drew on that defiance.
“It’s true,” continued Luis Enrique. “I feel more comfortable when I have to lift my team, when everything is against us; that’s where that Asturian blood comes through, that Gijón in me comes to the surface. I have had very good moments but it is in the bad moments, when they must try to sink me that that character, that edge, comes out. This week has been very nice but my essence, when I am the real me, is seen in adversity.”
For Spain that is in short supply right now, but the head coach insisted that they won’t fall into the trap of assuming this is done. “We have dealt with this [euphoria] as normally as we can,” he said. “It’s three points, no more. We have talked about that. And Germany have all the qualities needed for us not to be [over]confident. If we do that, they will roll over us. This is a very intelligent group of players who know that you need to be fully focused. It’s a nice challenge.”
“You look at Germany’s shirt and you see four stars,” Luis Enrique said. “I played against them at the 94 World Cup and their physical power was bestial. There was a big difference at the time. Now in footballing terms Spain is at as high a level as any team. In fact, in the Fifa ranking I think we are above them.”
“They are a team that always attacks, they want to be in the opposition’s half, they’re the national team that’s most like Spain. If anyone knows how to compete it is Germany. If anyone can turn it around, it’s them. They have lots of players who are world class, their history is there. They will want to control, dominate, have the ball, and that’s a lovely challenge for us because we have the same aims. But we have the conviction that we can beat them.”