What is Spain boss Luis Enrique’s problem with Barcelona star Jordi Alba?

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde was asked ahead of last weekend’s clash with Huesca what advice he had for Jordi Alba, who had been surprisingly left out of Luis Enrique’s first Spain squad.

“Well,” he mused, “the same as anyone: focus on the game without going crazy.”

The game may have been insane, with Barca triumphing 8-2, but Jordi Alba was his usual calm and composed self. And, as a result, as influential as ever. 

The left-back scored one goal and created two others, teeing up Luis Suarez for his first of the season, and providing the cross that Jorge Pulido turned into his own net.

In short, he was a constant menace down the left flank he has essentially made his own since Neymar’s departure for Paris Saint-Germain last year.

At the time, Jordi Alba insisted that he was sad to see such “a great player” go, but at the same time admitted, “I have more of the wing to attack now. Honestly, it is much better for me.”

The statistics certainly support such a claim. Jordi Alba racked up nine assists in La Liga alone, more than any defender.

Of greater significance, though, was the fact that he created 11 goals overall, making it the most productive season of his career. Never before had he managed more than seven assists.

Jordi Alba even contributed two goals to Barca’s triumphant Liga campaign – as many as he had accumulated in his three previous seasons.

The increase in efficacy wasn’t just down to Neymar’s exit, though. Luis Enrique stepping down as Barca coach was arguably even more significant.

Indeed, Jordi Alba had been dropped several times during the 2016-17 campaign, as the coach experimented with a 3-4-3 formation, and after Valverde had taken over, the former Valencia ace confessed: “I haven’t played as many minutes as I would have liked, despite feeling good.

“I do not know how it will go this season. I hope better.”

In truth, he couldn’t have done much better, with Jordi Alba forming an excellent rapport with Lionel Messi, essentially replacing Dani Alves as the Argentine’s assist man.

The defender teed the No.10 up for eight goals in all competitions, with Messi even returning the favour on a couple of occasions, most memorably and importantly with the stunning pass from which Jordi Alba salvaged a late draw for Barca against Valencia at Mestalla.

That goal had preserved Barca’s unbeaten record in La Liga and Valverde described the pair afterwards as his team’s “life insurance”.

“Jordi is a player who reads the space and Messi has a peripheral vision that is out of the ordinary, to be able to find him with the ball when he gets into position,” the Barca boss explained.

“We are taking advantage of them and it is one of our strengths.”

Jordi Alba’s pace, precision in possession and defensive diligence have also been of great value to Spain.

He has been a virtual ever-present at left-back since making his debut seven years ago, even netting La Roja’s second in the 4-0 Euro 2012 final demolition of Italy. 

His sudden omission, thus, came as quite the shock, particularly to the player himself.

“Of course, the decision surprises me,” he admitted last week. “It is not something that I expected.

“I don’t know why I’m not going. I can tell when I’m bad and when I’m good, too.

“I’d like to go to the national team but it’s the coach’s decision and I have to respect it.

“At this moment, both Marcos Alonso and Jose Luis Gaya will represent the national team and they are two great players.

“It isn’t down to me if a coach calls me up or not. It’s a decision he’s made. I don’t have any problem with anyone on a professional level.”

The suspicion is, though, that Luis Enrique has a problem with Jordi Alba on some level.

It seems strange, given the Catalan was among those to speak out in defence of the Barcelona boss after the abysmal 4-0 first-leg loss to PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League last year, insisting he was still the best man for the job.

But Luis Enrique didn’t call to inform the 66-time capped defender that he had been dropped and refused to speak about it at last week’s squad announcement.

“I’m not going to talk about those who aren’t here,” he declared.

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