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 supply a short term solution to the club’s emergency, but how it was handled merely highlights that Valverde wasn’t Barca’s biggest problem and does little to fix long-term structural issues at the Camp Nou.
Valverde appeared to be a dead-man walking at Barca following his side surrendered a 2-1 lead to Atletico Madrid in the last nine minutes of the Spanish Supercup semifinal, using a series of defensive errors allowing Atletico to locate space and turn the result around.
The defeat brought back memories of this shattering 4-0 Champions League defeat to Liverpool last year and the 3-0 defeat in Rome the previous year, which had ruined Valverde’s authenticity, and even more so after his side had been defeated in last year’s Copa del Rey by Valencia. There’s certainly an argument that Valverde should have been replaced at the end of last year, instead of being permitted to continue for the present campaign, which everybody knew would be his last.
One could argue that Barca have been well below their best this year and he leaves after a run of one defeat, three draws and only one win in five matches, but the manner in that Monday’s eventual sacking was completed and the remedy of an honest and dignified trainer left much to be desired and appears to demonstrate that club President Josep Maria Bartomeu did not really understand what he wanted.
Barca’s first action after the Supercup defeat was to affirm Valverde would stay in his role, while at exactly the exact same time sending officers to Qatar to negotiate with former midfield genius Xavi Hernandez allowing the negotiations to be the headlines at the next morning’s newspapers thus destroying any jurisdiction Valverde retained.
The club clearly sees Xavi as another Pep Guardiola and he surely will sit at the Barca dugout one day. However, Xavi wasn’t prepared to walk out on his present job as coach of Al Saad, preferring to wait until June to take up the job.
At the end Barca determined on Setien, who is undoubtedly the trainer whose playing style most closely matches the club’s philosophy, with a complete commitment to a pure passing game, but even this appointment seems to point to confusion at the highest levels.
Setien has been given a contract before the end of June 2022: therefore it appears there isn’t any prospect of Xavi taking over in the summer, unless things go from bad to worse in the Camp Nou and Setien is sacked in the end of the present campaign, which would cost the club more money in compensation.
So Xavi has gone from being the first choice to not being accountable for the following two and a half years, by which time he is working elsewhere and inaccessible; barely a coherent plan from Bartomeu.
Meanwhile, the team has done little to cure long-term structural problems which have been building up over time. The existing Barca team has been together for many years and the simple fact is that key players are getting older.
In effect, Barca has half of its greatest starting 11 growing older in precisely the identical time and the club has done virtually nothing to replace them.
Junior Firpo was signed as back up for Alba from the summer but has frustrated, Frenkie de Jong is currently a first team regular and Antoine Griezmann, who cost 120 million euros, is working hard but has to adapt to the club.
Other signings simply haven’t worked out with Ousmane Dembele spending half his time hurt and with questions about his off the area 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 to the future, seems set to move this month following a year in which he’s hardly played.
In summary, the club hasn’t done its homework signing players and that abandoned Valverde having an aging squad and insufficient alternatives. It says that Suarez needs a surgery which will keep him out of action before the end of April and there isn’t any indication of a replacement.
That has resulted in short-term problems that have led to Valverde losing his job, but there’s a long term crisis on the horizon, even when Suarez, Pique, Busquets, Alba, Rakitic and Messi all go, all that remains is to wish Quique Setien fortune in his new job – he is probably going to want it.