FC Barcelona’s decision to sack Ernesto Valverde as first team coach on Monday night and replace him with former Las Palmas and Betis boss Quique Setien may or may not provide a short term solution to the club’s crisis, but the way it was managed merely highlights that Valverde was not Barca’s biggest problem and does little to solve long-term structural issues at the Camp Nou.
Valverde looked to be a dead-man walking at Barca after his side surrendered a 2-1 lead to Atletico Madrid in the last nine minutes of their Spanish Supercup semifinal, with a series of defensive errors allowing Atletico to find space and turn the result around.
The defeat brought back memories of the shattering 4-0 Champions League defeat to Liverpool last season and the 3-0 defeat in Rome the previous year, which had damaged Valverde’s credibility, and even more so after his side was beaten in last season’s Copa de Rey by Valencia. There is certainly an argument that Valverde should have been replaced at the end of last season, rather than being allowed to continue for the current campaign, which everyone knew would be his last.
Valverde leaves Barca with two league titles, a Copa del Rey, a Spanish Supercup and with the club top of the Liga Santander and into the last 16 of this season’s Champions League competition.
One could argue that Barca have been well below their best this season and he leaves after a run of one defeat, three draws and just one win in five games, but the way in which Monday’s eventual sacking was carried out and the treatment of an honest and dignified coach left much to be desired and seems to show that club President Josep Maria Bartomeu didn’t really know what he wanted.
Barca’s first act after the Supercup defeat was to confirm Valverde would remain in his role, while at the same time sending officials to Qatar to negotiate with former midfield genius Xavi Hernandez allowing the negotiations to be the headlines in the next morning’s papers thus destroying any authority Valverde retained.
The club clearly views Xavi as the next Pep Guardiola and he certainly will sit in the Barca dugout one day. However, Xavi was not willing to walk out on his current job as coach of Al Saad, preferring to wait until June to take up the role.
Barca are rumored to also have spoken to Holland coach Ronald Koeman, who was also unwilling to leave his job, while former Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino was also a possible candidate, despite saying he would never coach Barca after his years with derby rivals Espanyol.
In the end Barca decided on Setien, who is without doubt the coach whose playing style most closely fits the club’s philosophy, with a total commitment to a pure passing game, but even this appointment appears to point to confusion at the highest levels.
Setien has been given a contract until the end of June 2022: so it seems there is no chance of Xavi taking over in the summer, unless things go from bad to worse at the Camp Nou and Setien is sacked at the end of the current campaign which would cost the club even more money in compensation.
So Xavi has gone from being first choice to perhaps not being in charge for another two and a half years, by which time he could be working elsewhere and unavailable; hardly a coherent strategy from Bartomeu.
Meanwhile the club has done little to remedy long-term structural issues that have been building up over time. The current Barca team has been together for several years and the fact is that key players are getting older. Defender Gerard Pique will be 33-years old in February, while Luis Suarez turns 33 in just under a fortnight. Left back Jordi Alba turns 31 in March, Ivan Rakitic is 32 in March, midfield lynchpin Sergio Busquets is 32 this summer, and starting to show his age, while Leo Messi, who is so vital to all of Barca’s ambitions, will be 33 in June.
In effect, Barca has half of its best starting 11 growing old at the same time and the club has done virtually nothing to replace them.
Junior Firpo was signed as back up for Alba in the summer, but has disappointed, Frenkie de Jong is already a first team regular and Antoine Griezmann, who cost 120 million euros, is working hard but has still to adapt to the club.
Other signings simply have not worked out with Ousmane Dembele spending half of his time injured and with questions about his off the field lifestyle, while Phillipe Coutinho, who cost around 150 million Euros is currently on loan at Bayern Munich, and young central defender Jean Clair Todibo, signed for the future, looks set to move this month after a year in which he has hardly played.
In short, the club has not done its homework signing players and that left Valverde with an aging squad and not enough alternatives. It says it all that Suarez needs an operation that will keep him out of action until the end of April and there is no sign of a replacement.
That has led to short term problems which have contributed to Valverde losing his job, but there is a long term crisis on the horizon, when Suarez, Pique, Busquets, Alba, Rakitic and Messi all go, all that remains is to wish Quique Setien luck in his new job – he’s probably going to need it. Enditem