Luis Enrique kills boredom at the expense of Mbappé | Soccer | Sports


Luis Enrique remained motionless like a Kabuki actor. The eyebrows were arched, the forehead furrowed by folds of astonishment, the corners of the lips contracted. He looked at the audience as if he were looking into a metaphysical void. He did not lack even a gesture of perplexity. The seconds passed, endless. The silence became uncomfortable. They had just asked him if he had heard that Mbappé had insulted him with the popular French expression au putain (to the whore, a preposition and adjective with very wide semantic possibilities) when he had replaced him with Gonçalo Ramos in the 65th minute of the match that pitted Olympique de Marseille against PSG at the Velodrome this Sunday. A practically irrelevant classic in the fight for the title, given the 12-point advantage that the Paris team has over the second-placed team, the surprising Stade Brestois. One more game in the tedious French football season, if it weren’t for the esoteric conflict fueled by Luis Enrique and the most media-worthy and richest footballer in Europe.

“Did you talk to him about this topic?” asked the journalist, in the Velodrome conference room. Silence on stage. Luis Enrique lets out a laugh that is suddenly drowned out. The central nervous system of the PSG coach seems to be equipped with an automatic switch capable of turning on and off the exhalation of hilarity, an involuntary act for the average person. “I haven’t seen anything at all,” the technician finally says. The packed room breathes a sigh of relief. The situation is strangely banal and violent at the same time. If Luis Enrique does not secretly enjoy these episodes that alter the competitive monotony of Ligue 1, he is not Luis Enrique. Another thing is what Mbappé thinks.

Sources close to president Al Khelaifi at the club say that the relationship between the Spaniard and the team’s star is of a startling and indecipherable nature. That already in the fall Mbappé expressed his surprise at the apparently contradictory orders of the coach, who for a time insisted on placing him as the forward in the axis of the attack. Mbappé doesn’t like to play between the centre-backs. He prefers to enter through the lane of the eleven. He prefers his starting point to be the left wing. And in that intersection of orders, guidelines and suggestions, the first disagreements occurred, according to these witnesses, who assure that Luis Enrique is as unpredictable as the player he directs has been impassive. At least until now, as an acquaintance of his says: “Mbappé behaves like a vedette “In terms of business, but within the locker room he is a relatively normal guy.”

The sheikhs of Qatar, owners of the club and top strategists, do not get involved in this matter, they insist. They barely try to iron out rough edges. Mbappé, who is the captain, faces a new situation in his career: for the first time he lives with a coach who challenges his undisputed authority in the locker room. Leaving him on the bench with the substitutes or substituting him like anyone else in the middle of a game are, for the moment, the tools that the coach has used.

“It’s the same music every week, it’s exhausting,” said Luis Enrique this Sunday, about the causes of his treatment of Mbappé; “I am a coach and I make decisions.”

Technically, Luis Enrique was right with the changes. Despite playing with one less from the first half, due to Beraldo’s expulsion, PSG ended up beating Olympique 0-2 with a goal from Ramos, Mbappé’s replacement. But the captain had sporting and marketing reasons to remain on the field every minute. He had nine goals against Olympique with PSG and wanted to surpass the record of 11 goals held by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His substitution, after 65 very poor minutes (31 touched balls, 12 lost, no shots, two successful dribbles out of four attempts…) frustrated what will probably be his last attempt, if he finally leaves PSG next summer, as announced on December 15. February in a statement.

Beneath his histrionics, his feigned surprise at the curiosity aroused by his decisions, Luis Enrique suggests that he has fun managing the star and that nothing will make him change his policy while boredom threatens his existence in the sumptuous sports city. from Poissy. As for the player, Mbappé is not going through a particularly bitter moment either. He has 38 goals in 38 games in all competitions this season. His appearance next Wednesday in the Cup semifinal against Rennes seems assured, unless the escalation of tension with the coach escalates to unknown levels a week before hosting Barça in the Champions League quarterfinals.

“The last of my problems is the coach,” he said in San Sebastián, after eliminating Real with two great goals, when someone asked him about his relationship with Luis Enrique. At 25 years old, the footballer with the most potential for commercial growth in the world has become a major French company. He still doesn’t surpass Luis Vuitton’s billing, but he feels far above the mundane contingencies of everyday life in a locker room. Even though in France they claim to have read on their lips the expression: “au putain!”.

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