Ironman Enrique following in former team-mate Guardiola's footsteps

The Barca ultras behind the goal sing their anti-Madrid songs. Hurling insults, they also wave a Stone Island flag, as if brandishing the logo of an Italian designer brand confirms their hooligan authenticity.

Barca legend Luis Enrique paces up and down the touchline, as lean as the man he succeeded, his former team mate Pep Guardiola. Enrique does iron man competitions in his spare time and can often be seen running along the beach at Gava Mar, the wealthy suburb to the south of the airport which is home of many of Barça’s biggest stars.

The lights of the Camp Nou can be seen a few hundred metres away. The team of the moment will play Racing Santander in two hours, a game which will be watched by over 70,000, but for now 6,000 people have chosen to watch Barca B in their 16,000 capacity home take on a resurgent Rayo Vallecano.

Pep Guardiola led Barça’s stiffs to promotion from Spain’s regional fourth level in his first season in management, 2007/08. Enrique, the lungs of the Barca side at the turn of the century, was his replacement.

Enrique had taken a couple of years off to learn English, surf in Australia and watch some of the globe’s biggest derby matches. It’s also a little known fact that he used to room with Kevin Moran when the gnarled Irish defender was closing his career at Enrique’s hometown club, Sporting Gijon.

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Enrique led Barca B to promotion to Spain’s second division in his second season in charge where, this term, they joined Villarreal B as the only other reserve side in the second division. Home gates have jumped from 1,000 to 3,500, with ticket prices often reduced to €5. Games are timed a few hours before the first team matches so fans can watch both.

In their lofty position where they last played throughout much of the 90s with Carles Puyol captain, Barca B have been meeting – and beating – established sides like Celta Vigo and Real Betis, a great experience for future stars who could be asked to step up to the first team at any point. Several have done so far this season like Thiago, Nolito and a couple whose names don’t end in ‘O’ like Fontas and Muniesa.

Barca B have been in a play-off spot for much of this term, though Spanish Football Federation rules would prevent any promotion to the top flight. The first and second teams of one club can’t play in the same division. And, should Barça’s first team be relegated, the B team would have to drop down a division too.

Rayo Vallecano were the visitors at the weekend, the third biggest team in Madrid with a group of fans as passionate as any. Three hundred of them travelled 600 kilometres to the Mini Estadi on Saturday and their reward was a wonderful winning goal as they triumphed 2-1.

Among those to make the journey was David Bergin, a Manchester United fan who stopped watching United after the Glazer takeover in 2005. Like a couple of thousand others, he started following FC United. Unlike the others, he also went regularly to Rayo Vallecano games.

Bergin’s love for Rayo started when he saw them play while in Madrid following a Champions League game between Valencia and United in Spain in 2001. He was attracted to the working class ideology of the club and their fans.

Along with his ‘Manchester Rayistas’ flag, he’s now seen Rayo play 50 times, many of them at away games in provincial Spanish towns. Bergin dreams of one day owning a bar close to their ground three-sided Teresa Rivero stadium in the tough southern Madrid barrio of Vallecas.

Eleven points clear of the chasing pack, Rayo are fighting for one of the two automatic promotion places with Betis and Celta. The team with the distinctive diagonal red stripe on their white shirts were relegated from the top flight in 2003, two years after they reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup.

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