It would be easy for Jose Enrique to have mixed feelings about football and Liverpool. The Spanish fullback came to Merseyside from Newcastle and had a decent start to his Liverpool career. However, a series of injuries drastically shortened his career, and a battle with brain cancer ultimately ended it.
At 34-years-old, the same age as James Milner, Enrique is retired and relegated to playing charity “legends” matches and celebrity FIFA tournaments on Sky Sports.
In a recent interview with the online publication Tribuna, Enrique shows why he’s far more beloved as a former player than he ever was as a player. His humor and respect for the manager, club, and fans were all on full display.
“The way Liverpool plays is unbelievable. Being a tactician is key but his man-management skills are great as well, players love him,” Enrique said about Klopp and the current Liverpool squad. “With me, he was really honest right from the start. Sometimes it hurt but I knew he was telling the truth.
“And look what he did for me. He knew I was leaving so he gave me a chance to play as a center back and gave me the captaincy in the cup game.
“I remember when he first told me that, I called my partner and said, ‘I’m going to be the captain!’ And she said, ‘I’m surprised!’ Klopp told me that I was the oldest player in the team and I deserved it. I still have that armband in my house! Being the captain of Liverpool, even for one game, I will always remember it. It was a dark period for me but I was very happy that day.”
He still has the armband! The simple act of giving Enrique the captaincy, even for one match, might not seem like a lot, but clearly it mattered very much. It’s one of the many reasons why Klopp is so well regarded by players past and present.
“When Klopp arrived, he also organized the meeting with all the people who work at Melwood,” Enrique continued, “Everyone was a bit surprised, ‘What is he doing?’ Then he asked everyone to sit down and we, the players, started clapping.
“We did this for about 15 minutes and then he said, ‘Look. All these people, the workers, they have the same weight at this club as I do. They make your life easier every single day and allow you to focus on football’. I’ve never seen anything like that before. I’m sure all the staff felt very proud.
“Everyone talks about players and managers but there are so many people working in the background. Even now, when I play for Liverpool Legends, they treat me just like they did when I was a first-team player.
“It’s unbelievable. This club… like they say, Once a Red, Always A Red. This is true. If you play for Liverpool, you’ll never stop supporting this club.”
It’s rare to get this kind of behind-the-scenes insight from a player, even years after the fact. As I alluded to, it would be understandable for Enrique to feel upset, or even resentful about the years of football that he didn’t get to play. But he seems to be genuinely thankful of the time he did have, and even for the limited capacity that he’s still involved.