Cape Town - Former Barcelona player Luis Enrique signed a two-year contract to become coach on Wednesday, a hire the club hopes will resemble the success stories of Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola.
Enrique signed the deal with club president Josep Bartomeu two days after it was announced by the club. That was two days after coach Gerardo Martino stepped down when Barcelona finished its first season without a major trophy in six years.
"It's a very special day for me. We believe that this is the beginning of a new Barcelona, a Barcelona that will excite again," Enrique said. "I can't wait to hear the hymn of Barcelona in the Camp Nou."
The 44-year-old Enrique won two league titles as a Barcelona player from 1996-2004 and coached its B team from 2008-11. He also coached at Roma, and led Celta Vigo to a respectable ninth-place finish this season after installing an attractive passing attack on the Barcelona model.
Enrique's hiring continues a tradition of in-house coaches recently represented in Guardiola and Tito Vilanova. That string was broken when Martino was hastily brought in last year.
Enrique is the club's eighth former captain to coach the club, joining such greats as Laszlo Kubala, Cesar Rodriguez, Cruyff and Guardiola.
Although Enrique was never in the same class of such players, he is only the second former captain to have coached both the club's B side and now its first team. Guardiola is the other.
Enrique's immediate goal is to help sports director Andoni Zubizarreta rebuild a squad that has experienced a slow but steady slide over the past two years.
"He is a coach that knows our way of playing, our philosophy," Zubizarreta said. "We believe that we have put the squad that we are going to build for next season in good hands."
Under Enrique, Barcelona will be expected to bring in reinforcements to help Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Neymar. And he won't be measured -at least not immediately - against Guardiola, who won an unprecedented six titles in his first season and 14 of a possible 19 in four years.
Martino's disappointing season ensured that Enrique will have room to improve on a team that failed to reach the Champions League semifinals for the first time in seven seasons, lost the Copa del Rey final to Real Madrid, and couldn't beat league champion Atletico Madrid in six meetings across all competitions.
Enrique can also draw on his deep knowledge of the club's staff, and links with three generations of players, having played alongside veteran Xavi Hernandez, coached former B team player Sergio Busquets, and taken rising talent Rafina Alcantara from Barcelona to Celta on loan and now back.
Enrique is one of the few players to have enjoyed successful stints at both Barcelona and Real Madrid. He occupies a special place among Barcelona's faithful as the one recent player to have left Madrid for Barcelona, in contrast to a group of former stars who left for the Spanish capital, including Luis Figo, Bernd Schuster and Michael Laudrup.
- Sapa - AP