BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Luis Enrique paid tribute to midfield magician Andres Iniesta as the Spain international prepares to make his 600th appearance for the La Liga champions.
Iniesta is Barca’s second highest all-time appearance maker behind former midfield partner Xavi Hernandez and has been the club captain since Xavi left in 2015.
The 32-year-old made his Barca debut in 2002 when Luis Enrique was still playing for the club. The Spain international recently marked 20 years since joining Barcelona’s youth academy and will rack up 600 games if selected against Celta Vigo on Sunday.
“As a former team mate of his I am twice as fortunate and the fact he has played 599 games, possibly 600 tomorrow, can only fill us with pride,” Luis Enrique told a news conference on Saturday ahead of the visit to former club Celta.
“He has played all those games for a reason, he would never have reached that number if he had played badly. All we can do is enjoy watching him, because of what he has done, what he has won and the values he has shown while winning.”
Barca head to Celta on the back of an emphatic 5-0 win at Sporting Gijon and a second-half turnaround to beat Borussia Moenchengladbach 2-1 in the Champions League, winning both games without injured talisman Lionel Messi.
“I didn’t expect anything else. To win trophies you need a big squad and that’s what we have,” said Luis Enrique, adding that the Argentinian maestro was recovering well from his groin problem.
The coach also backed his new striker Paco Alcacer, who he took off early in the second half against Moenchengladbach when Barca were losing 1-0.
The Spain international is yet to score since signing from Valencia late in the transfer window shut and was heavily criticised in the Spanish press for his display in Germany.
“He’s doing marvellously, he’s been almost perfect and is performing exactly how I want,” the coach said.
“He arrived at the end of the pre-season, which makes things more difficult for him, but I‘m delighted with him. I‘m delighted with the displays of all my players and especially with Paco Alcacer.”
Luis Enrique coached Celta in the 2013-14 season and has endured difficult games in his two visits to Balaidos stadium with Barca, scraping a 1-0 win in his first season and losing 4-1 last term.
Editing by Ed Osmond