Evaluating Valverde's Barça tenure, as club look to go back to their roots with Setién
Catalan giants part ways with manager who won last two league titles, naming Quique Setién as replacement
Barcelona have sacked a manager mid-season for the first time since getting rid of Louis van Gaal in 2003, with Quique Setién replacing Ernesto Valverde in the Camp Nou dugout.
The decision came after the Super Cup semi final defeat to Atletico Madrid, and following failed attempts to bring in legendary former player Xavi Hernández back to Catalonia, the ex Real Betis boss Quique Setién was the man chosen to lead the blaugrana for the next two-and-a-half years.
So, how do we evaluate Valverde’s time at Barça, and what does the future look like?
European catastrophes and a regressing squad
The former Athletic Bilbao boss spent two and a half seasons at the helm at Barcelona, winning two league titles and one Copa del Rey. However, he was criticized for his style of play almost constantly throughout his tenure, as he employed a more cautious, rigid game, deemed unacceptable for many culés.
In the Camp Nou, they demand a more expressive and attacking approach, something many supporters believe the now fired coach was incapable of doing, something some consider inadmissible considering the quality of players Valverde has had at his disposal.
Despite now sitting top of the table, Barça’s 7 points after 5 games this year was their worst start to a season for 25 years, with results away from home particularly bad. An aging squad looked a lot more like they were regressing under Valverde, rather than improving.
The manager’s position then looked almost untenable last year following the Champions League semi final catastrophe against Liverpool, but to most fans’ surprise he was kept on for the start of this campaign.
The biggest crime considering that result was that the Anfield meltdown was not the first time such a disaster occured. The season prior, Barça also crashed out of Europe, this time to Roma, after carrying a three-goal lead into the second leg of the tie.
Stabilizing a crisis situation
But to his credit, Ernesto Valverde stabilized a club engulfed in total crisis when he arrived at Barcelona. Neymar had just unexpectedly left for Paris, stunning the world of football, and Gerard Piqué admitted after a Super Cup loss to Real Madrid that he felt “inferior” to his eternal rivals for the first time in his career.
Barcelona did not know how to react to losing the Brazilian forward; it was a shifting of power in European football, away from their hands, that they would rarely have experienced before. Valverde, known for his calm and collected nature, eased tension and anxiety in the club, set upon a rigid structure that was a little more defensive than what Barça traditionally play, and went about winning game after game.
They would not lose a domestic game all season until after the league was already wrapped up. The only match they did lose was a bizarre 5-4 defeat away to Levante on the second last day of the season, when Messi did not play because he was saved for a friendly the club had organised in South Africa the same week. Barcelona, in complete crisis, nearly went that season unbeaten, eventually winning the title 14 points clear of 2nd place.
Setién and Barça - admirers of one another
After that Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid in Valverde’s first competitive games in charge of the club, he lost only one more home game during his entire spell in charge of Barça - and that was to a Real Betis side managed by none other than Valverde’s replacement, Quique Setién.
Ahead of that Barcelona-Betis game, Setién had to apologise for his public admiration of the blaugrana and their philosophy in how the game of football should be played. After it, Sergio Busquets gave his then-future manager his match jersey, writing on it a message of admiration to the coach for how he sees football.
Setién, who has also managed Las Palmas and Equatorial Guinea in his coaching career, is renowned for his attacking style of play based on keeping hold of possession, and is thought to be a natural fit for what Barcelona want to do.