Never has the renewal of a Barcelona coach caused such tremors within the Catalans’ fanbase. Sure, they had coaches in the past that were not exactly liked throughout the entirety of their campaigns with Blaugrana. Heck, Luis Enrique brought them the treble and yet, by the end of his mandate, he was practically thrown out the door.
But that is not really anything new, is it? Fans are usually happy when things are going well and then as soon as the tides turn, so do their emotions: Cheer turns to sadness and love to anger and hate. Ernesto Valverde would know best.
By the numbers
The ex-Basque coach has received mixed comments and opinions ever since he arrived from Athletic Bilbao on what still seems like yesterday afternoon. He’s been at the club for just over a season now and it is fairly safe to say that it has been a journey with lots of ups and downs.
While at the Catalan capital, the Ant has recorded a total of 96 official matches (prior the game against Real Valladolid), winning 65, drawing 22 and having suffered just 9 defeats. Of those 65 victories, 43 were recorded in La Liga, 11 in the Copa del Rey, 10 in the Champions League and one in the Spanish Super Cup. A pretty impressive start to what usually becomes one of the most stressful jobs on the planet, which is evident in the receding hairline of almost all and any ex-Barcelona coaches.
But even if we take into account the team under him scored 233 goals and conceded only 78 (45 clean sheets), the performance is what is always under the microscope at Barcelona. The wins, and the titles matter but if you don’t respect the philosophy, and don’t play in the way you are supposed to, your job is never safe. Or that’s what it used to be like in the Catalan capital.
“Quiet people have the loudest minds”
Ernesto Valverde was always a guy who was characterized as a pragmatic, silent coach. He would get the job done, he would get you over the line in the domestic league or the cup but he would not necessarily do it so that it’s extremely pleasing on the eyes. The problem in that is that it’s not the club’s way. So how exactly do you fire a coach that brings you success but does it in a new, and not necessarily an exciting way? The simple answer to that is – you don’t.
And that is exactly what Barcelona have done now. Amid all the speculation on whether they should give him a brand new contract or not, or even on whether Valverde wants to continue coaching the squad at all, the Catalans broke the news that he has indeed signed a new contract for a whole new year. And not only that, if he chooses to, he can extend it by an extra year, which, if seen through, would make him the coach for four years straight. That is a rare sight in modern football where coaches usually don’t last that long.
The board seems to trust in the man even though the timing of the new contract is a bit strange. We are only halfway through the season and key fixtures are yet to be played. What that tells us is that they are certain Valverde is the right decision even if things suddenly go south for Barcelona. And they definitely could.
All to play for
They are the league leaders in Spain but Real Madrid’s rise in form could jeopardise that, and not to mention the scales are in Los Blancos’ favour in the Copa del Rey as well, where they held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw in the first leg. In the Champions League, they travelled to Lyon this past Tuesday and the young French team weathered the Catalan storm with difficulties but also with success, ending the night in a goalless draw.
Basically, we can conclude that Ernesto Valverde is still on the hunt for the treble this season but might well turn up empty-handed as there is still everything to play for on all fronts. The board’s decision to renew him right now at this particular point in time might signal that they are willing to take that risk, and still continue on the same path whatever happens in the next couple of weeks.
The other side of the coin is a more dire one for Valverde. If he were to bottle it completely, losing out on all three trophies (or just the Champions League and/or La Liga), no contract would save him from the eventual sacking that would fly his way pretty much definitely.
But what is maybe the most important aspect that needs to be addressed is the way the players feel about this renewal. Reported by numerous reliable sources, the Barcelona dressing room, and more crucially, the key figures of the squad like Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and co., were all on board with this decision, and seem to think Valverde is the one to go with.
There is always space for improvement
So where did this rift between the two sides of their fanbase come from? The board and the players are seemingly happy with their coach and obviously, want him to continue. That means he is doing something, or rather, most things, right.
Having said that, at this point, having renewed his contract, Ernesto Valverde will have to show clear signs of evolution and certain adaptation to his game. In a more loose translation, he will have to start learning from his mistakes. Youth management, proper team rotation, game time based on performance rather than reputation are just a couple of clear writings on the wall that Valverde has been missing since he joined Barcelona, not so long ago.
And while he has managed the minutes of some of his key players far better than last season, there is still a lot to improve on, not only in that department but in many others, as well.
Being a calm character, Valverde brings that restraint and peace into the team but also that lack of passion, and sometimes, it can be visible on the pitch as well. If your coach can’t really stir up that fire and belief in you, then the whole team might have a problem motivating themselves. It might sound like a small thing but those can also go a long way in the most crucial of moments.
So to conclude, is this renewal a good thing for Barcelona? In a nutshell – yes. Ernesto Valverde might not be a perfect match with the Blaugrana team, far from it, but he is getting the results that matter. The problem is, once he stops doing that, he will be shown the door almost immediately, and without excuse.
While it may sound pretty obvious, it is not that simple. In his particular case, those “results” refer to the Champions League. It’s pretty hard to imagine that the board will tolerate yet another failure on the biggest club stage of them all, no matter what transpires domestically. Make no mistake, the Champions League takes precedence over everything this year.
Yes, the treble is the dream but European glory is the ultimate goal, and it may include a couple of sacrifices along the way, as we have already seen this season. In a scenario where he fails to deliver the La Liga title or even the double but secures the Champions League trophy, the board will not question him at all, and neither will most of the fans.
Walking away from the philosophy, even going as far as sacrificing it for the result might sound like blasphemy to most Cules, but wouldn’t it be far worse if it was the other way around? Imagine that Barcelona play beautiful football but constantly lose their games. That might stand for a couple of weeks but that bitter-sweet taste would turn to just bitter pretty quickly, wouldn’t you say?
And that might very well be the thing with Barcelona coaches in general. None of them get the leisure of planning for the future or banking it on the long-term results. Just like their presidents, coaches in Barcelona are (mostly) rated by the trophies won, and the results shown during the tenure, and not a couple of years after.
So yes, they always have to deliver the results right now, during their stay or they get kicked out of the door. It’s fairly simple when you think about it, actually. Is it fair, though? Not really, no, but no one cares about those trivial things.
The way I see it, Ernesto Valverde has shown that he is capable of correctly strategising in order to secure the league title and bag another cup title but that will only get him this far and not a single step further. If he truly wishes to continue for another year, or even two, he will have to improve significantly and more crucially, bring the Champions League trophy back to the Camp Nou.
When it comes down to it, he knows it, the board knows it and so do the players. This contract signing might have been a pat on the back to show some trust and motivate the Basque man so he makes it across the finish line.
But a failure to do so will have significant consequences, and Valverde knows what he has to do next. In fact, the whole world does, and it’s up to the Ant to make that big step and get his team back to firing on all cylinders, one game and one victory at a time.
As for the fans, well, the team needs their support. Now more than ever.