BARCELONA Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has hailed outgoing coach Luis Enrique as one of the club's best managers of all time and called on his side to give him a fitting send off in Saturday's King's Cup final against Alaves.
Barca could win a third consecutive King's Cup under Luis Enrique in the final at the Vicente Calderon, the same stage Pep Guardiola bowed out on as coach in 2012, which would mean a ninth trophy out of 13 competitions entered in his three seasons.
Despite being the club's third-most decorated coach, Luis Enrique has not earned anything like the praise of Guardiola and Johan Cruyff, the two above him in that ranking, and has received plenty of criticism during his tenure for his prickly relationship with the media and for the team's relative inconsistency in his third campaign.
"He deserves a great final. He's been one of the best in the club's history and what better way to bid farewell to him than with a trophy," Pique told a news conference on Friday ahead of the final.
"The easiest thing to highlight is the trophies he has won, but I will always remember the way he has treated us. Perhaps he hasn't had the best relationship in the world with the press, but in the dressing room he won us all over.
"It's been three magnificent years, for what we've won and for many other things. I hope he can leave on a high, with one more trophy."
The Cup final is Barca's last chance of a trophy this season after surrendering the league title to Real Madrid and exiting the Champions League at the quarter-final stage.
They are looking for a record-extending 29th King's Cup triumph, while their opponents are hoping to get their hands on some silverware in their first appearance in a domestic final. The Basque side, who finished ninth in the league in their first top flight season in a decade, were beaten 5-4 in a thrilling Uefa Cup final in 2001.
"They have a unique opportunity to win a trophy, and I'm sure they're going to be very motivated so we have to match their motivation and make our technical and tactical ability count," added Pique.
"We want to control the game and play it how we know best."
Alaves stunned Barca earlier in the season by winning 2-1 at the Nou Camp as Luis Enrique's heavy squad rotation backfired, although the Catalans avenged the defeat by hammering the Basques 6-0 away from home in February.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Hugh Lawson)