When Ronald Koeman returned to the Camp Nou last summer to take the reins after the sacking of Quique Setién, he probably wasn’t the obvious choice despite his status as a club legend. Koeman’s last job in club football had been in the Premier League with Everton where he was sacked in October 2017 with the club in the relegation zone. A few months later, Koeman was appointed manager of the Netherlands national team and achieved a little redemption, leading his country to the UEFA Nations League final, and qualification for Euro 2020. Indeed, tipsters at Casino Kenya believe that they can, and all eyes will be on their clash with Atlético at the Camp Nou on 9th May. How things are shaping up, it could well prove to be the La Liga title decider.
And then Barca came calling.
The club announced Koeman as their new manager on a two-year contract on 19th August 2020, and he walked into a firestorm. The previous campaign had ended disastrously, with fierce rivals Real Madrid pipping them to the La Liga title, while they were dumped out of the Champions League in the most humiliating way possible, Bayern Munich dismantling them 8-2 at the Camp Nou. And on top of this, the club was dealing with the fallout from two controversies involving captain Lionel Messi. First of all, he attempted to force a move from the Camp Nou, and that was followed by revelations surrounding the scale of his pay packet. All in all, what was a big job for Koeman anyway became even bigger.
Barca began the season slowly after Koeman’s arrival. But with everything that had been happening away from the pitch, the slow start was perhaps unsurprising. Their form was consistently inconsistent, and by the beginning of December they found themselves off the pace down in eighth place.
But following back-to-back defeats to Cadiz in La Liga, and a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Juventus in the Champions League, Barca slowly and quietly began to get themselves together, and since the turn of the year on the back of a seventeen game unbeaten run in La Liga – and inspired by Lionel Messi who has scored seventeen goals during that run – have dragged themselves back up the La Liga table into second place behind Atlético Madrid. The gap between the two is now just four points, and given that Atlético have dropped points over the past month, Koeman and Barca will be confident that they can catch them.
Great credit must go to Ronald Koeman for Barca’s turnaround over the past few months. When he returned to the Camp Nou, it would have been fair to say that they were a team in transition. And so for them to now be back in the running for the title after all the upheaval and controversies, Koeman – who has gone about his business diligently and quietly – deserves real praise.
If Barca manage to lift the La Liga title this season, it will be one of their greatest ever triumphs.