Revealed: How Luis Enrique convinced Sergi Roberto to switch to right-back

Sat in a press conference minutes after Barcelona's 1-0 win against Malaga, Luis Enrique said: "If a socio saw Sergi Roberto today for the first time, they would say: 'This guy has been a right-back all his life.' [Roberto] is very intelligent." And Lucho continued: "Only a player with a high intellectual capacity can play as a full-back at a high level like Sergi Roberto has done." 

Ivan San Antonio

All praise and not one bit of criticism. Luis Enrique has good reason -- surely more reason than most -- to be happy with Roberto's performances in his new position. But his conversion has not happened over night; it has been on the back of a lot of work in training and many tactical chats with his manager, who has shown a lot of confidence in him. 

Luis Enrique was a versatile player who could combine several positions. However, it was in central midfield where he was at his best. But in Sergi Roberto he saw qualities which have made him think about shifting him away from the middle. 

The first time the Barça coach shared his idea with Sergi Roberto was at the end of last season, before the start of the summer. It was then that he told him he saw him as a right-back, as the player who could fill in for Dani Alves if and when required. 

Enrique didn't just tell the player this, but others at the club, too. Sources inside the club assured that Roberto "will play half the games as a full-back." It's not something born out of need, rather something born out of careful planning. 

The summer was not easy for Sergi Roberto. His first reaction was not positive. He thought that it would be a step back in his growth; the brakes put on his progression. He expressed his doubts to those close to him. Not just because he had never played there, but because he also thought he was being shifted there out of necessity, because of the transfer ban. 

It was difficult for him to get games in midfield and on top of that the club had signed Arda Turan from Atletico. He saw his future at the club slipping away. He began to think about the offers he had to leave, mainly from Premier League clubs. 

But Luis Enrique made him change his mind. In pre-season he insisted that he was convinced Roberto would be good as a full-back. He made a special effort to work closely with him in training, telling him that could help the team and that he had superior tactical intelligence to Dani Alves. "You will play," Luis Enrique assured him. 

He played there in pre-season. He started the game in Florence at right-back, playing 90 minutes. It was a game Barça lost, but none of the fault was Sergi Roberto's. 

The first time he played there competitively was at San Mames. Dani Alves's injury meant Luis Enrique turned to Roberto, who was fantastic in the win against Athletic -- both in attack and in defence. "I told you," Luis Enrique said to him after the match. Against Malaga last weekend Roberto responded again, producing a brilliant display in the 1-0 win at Camp Nou. 

Tactically responsible, technically perfect, defensively intelligent and mentally prepared for his new role, Sergi Roberto has become, thanks to Luis Enrique's hard work, the perfect alternative for the right-back spot -- if not the eventual first choice. 

And, despite that, the logical doubts about the player persist: What will happen when, in January, Aleix Vidal can play? The answer, as in all cases, will be Luis Enrique's motto: "Whoever deserves to play, plays." 

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