Enrique prepares for Croatia with Alba back in bosom of Spain

Barcelona: It was the embrace that all of Spanish football had been waiting for and it finally took place at the Spanish Football Federation’s headquarters on Monday between Jordi Alba and Luis Enrique.
The Spain coach gave each of his players a welcome hug in front of the cameras and there seemed no awkwardness or tension between himself and the Barcelona left-back as they greeted each other for the first time since Luis Enrique landed the top job.
He had twice left out Alba of his squad amid claims from the Spanish media that there was a personal problem between the two men.
When he was Barcelona coach, Luis Enrique had switched to 3-4-3 formation in his last season and Jordi Alba had lost his place in the team.
Alba had not taken the decision well and on international duty he would later say of then Spain coach Julen Lopetegui: “I have the confidence of the coach here, something I don’t have at Barcelona.”
Worse still, he would later add: “I appreciate that he [Lopetegui] is up-front and to my face about things.”
That suggested Luis Enrique had not been straight with Alba and it has been widely recognised as a slight too far in the relationship between the player and coach who would then jettison Alba from his squad when he became national team coach.
But with Alba in better form than almost any Spain player so far this season Luis Enrique recalled the 29-year-old in his third squad selection — to the delight of all Spain supporters.
Alba and the coach may have had a disagreement, but it was time to draw a line under old differences.
Asked last week if Alba had had to apologise, Luis Enrique said he had answered enough questions about the player and would say no more.
He had previously stated: “I have never had a [personal] problem with any player.
“This has been a professional decision, nothing more. When we decide to name a player or not there are many factors involved.”
He had also made light of the whole affair at the end of the conference when reminded that former Spain coach Vicente del Bosque once said the player in his squad he would most like to resemble was Sergio Busquets.
Asked who he would most like to resemble, Luis Enrique replied: “Jordi Alba. But I am a little bit taller.”
That joke and the friendly greeting on Monday now sets up Alba’s recall to the team on Thursday in Croatia as Spain look to finish the job of qualifying for the Nations League Final Four tournament in June 2019.
Luis Enrique might have found it easier to justify leaving him out had his replacement, Chelsea’s Marco Alonso, performed better. He has now been dropped from the squad.
After England beat Spain 3-2 in their last Nations League match, Spain were left still needing a win in Zagreb to make sure of going through. They thrashed the World Cup runners-up 6-0 in their first meeting two months ago in Elche.
Recalling the player who scored in the nation’s last major final victory over Italy at Euro 2012 and who club team-mate Lionel Messi rates as one of his greatest assist providers ended up being a decision the coach could simply not avoid. — dpa