Saturday, January 18, 2020

Valverde sacked, Liverpool trauma victim

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After two and a half seasons on the Barça bench, Ernesto Valverde was dismissed on Monday (January 13th) by the Catalan club, four days after his elimination in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP

Pep Guardiola on Sunday in England had a few words of compassion for FC Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde. Did he feel responsible, despite himself, for the trial of each of his successors for never having approached the harmony of "his" Barça? The sign of affection had no effect on the board of directors of the Catalan club: Ernesto Valverde was sacked Monday, January 13, after the club leaked information all weekend that he was looking for him a successor. Inelegance that Guardiola and Andrès Iniesta, former masters of Camp Nou, have publicly deplored. Perhaps it's the lack of habit: Barça hadn't sacked a coach during the season since Louis Van Gaal in 2003.

In the process, the Catalan club announced that it had reached an agreement "Until June 30, 2022" with Quique Setién , former Atlético Madrid midfielder (three selections for the Spanish team in 1985-1986), who has coached Las Palmas and Betis Seville in recent seasons.

Like "Tata" Martino and Luis Enrique before him, Ernesto Valverde never really convinced despite the trophies, conquered in difficult conditions. Barça, less than any other, accept no hesitation on his style of play. It was not easy either, in the last century, to succeed Johan Cruyff on the bench of a club that thinks above itself of the pack.

Valverde, discreet and appreciated coach, leaves Barça in a comfortable position on paper: leader, tied with Real Madrid, of a Liga of which he is defending, and qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League where he will face Naples. But appearances do not deceive many people: the last convincing match of Barça goes back to moons. The fragility exposed against Liverpool in the semi-final return of the last Champions League – 4-0 defeat after a Catalan success 3-0 in the first leg – becomes usual.

What was almost acceptable in Anfield is less acceptable in Leganes, Prague or Pamplona. "The blow taken in Liverpool touched us, even if we did not want and could not recognize it"admitted Valverde in a club media interview on December 24, adding that Anfield's trauma was itself a replica of Rome a year earlier – 3-0 elimination after a 4-1 victory at the go, in quarter-final of C1.

Lack of identity but convincing results

The catalyst for Valverde’s departure was the Spanish Super Cup’s semifinal defeat on Thursday in Saudi Arabia against Atletico Madrid. Barcelona monopolizes the ball, obtains half a dozen chances for goals and gives up twice after the 80e minute to bow 3-2. According to the Spanish press, Blaugrana leaders saw it as a new manifestation of the Anfield symptom. The remontada is a calamity invented by FC Barcelona and which now afflicts it.

Valverde, an amateur black and white photographer, looks gray. "Txingurri" – the ant, in Basque – had brought Barça a defensive rigor which is no more; he never found the identity, which is not incidental to Barcelona, ​​and put the fate of his team in the hands of Ter Stegen and the feet of Messi, which is certainly not a bad choice . However, the Catalan club conquered under his leadership two championship titles with a large lead, grazing a Champions League final, when it had lost Neymar against its will and the team built by Guardiola was disappearing.

His locker room was close to him – his protesters would say that he was too weak to stimulate a new dynamic, however necessary, and dare to impose on Messi a new partner in attack. While the Argentinian claimed Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembélé and Antoine Griezmann tried unsuccessfully – until then – to integrate into the offensive trident.

Xavi said no

In truth, as often, Valverde is the ideal culprit of a club whose problems are now structural, judged El Pais last Friday. Since the departure of Andoni Zubizarreta in 2015 – the man who brought Valverde to Barcelona – the house has known three sports directors. Current management is failing. It’s sometimes anecdotal, like when Gerard Pique spends his week in Madrid supervising his Davis Cup; sometimes less, like when Barça devotes his summer to a Neymar operation that he knows is impossible or that he clumsily manages the change of coach.

Xavi, the former Barça base man, said no this weekend, preferring to end the season – and a contract that one imagines lucrative – in his Qatari club of Al Sadd. Ronald Koeman, another privileged track, was not available until Euro 2020 where he will lead the Dutch team. Quique Setién, respected in Liga for his taste for beautiful football inspired by the precepts of Johan Cruyff, was therefore chosen to reconstruct an evaporated game identity.

In the background, the estate of President Josep Maria Bartomeu, elected by the socios and whose mandate expires in 2021; and hangs over the threatening shadow of Leo Messi's departure one day, at the end of the contract in a year and a half and free to leave, according El Pais, starting next summer. In dismissing Valverde, Barça has not got rid of all its problems.

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