Can it be a harsh decision by the board of La Liga’s winners to part ways with their head coach?
Arguably the most surprising factor around Valverde’s departure at Barcelona is the distinct lack of surprise.
Since replacing Luis Enrique in Camp Nou in May 2017, the former Athletic Bilbao boss has won four significant honours and claimed victory in 66 of the 95 La Liga games.
And yet there’s been an ever-present grumble from the background. Whether it be grievances over his style of play or more legitimate concerns over large collapses to Roma and Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League from the past two campaigns, the rumblings of discontent have never been too far off.
Still, his death — that came after a 3-2 defeat at the Supercopa de Espana semi-finals to Atletico Madrid — sounds a bit harsh, and we look at five reasons Valverde, that has been substituted by Quique Setien, might feel he’s been treated unfairly.
What sounds harshest of all is that, despite frequent discussion of a”crisis”, Valverde led Barca to La Liga glory in all his two full seasons in charge. Really, the Blaugrana were defeated only once as they cantered into the trophy from the 2017-18 campaign. The more skeptical of pundits may point to how last season their great Clasico rivals Real Madrid suffered a bad effort, losing 12 times and completing 19 points adrift. Throw in a Copa del Rey and a Supercopa de Espana and the decoration return has stayed healthy.
Okay, so if we are being honest, Barca haven’t been anyplace their best this term — especially in defence where the 23 goals they’ve surrendered is 11 more than Madrid and Atletico. However, as things stand Barca are high in La Liga, albeit only by goal difference from Madrid. Three beats and four draws from 19 matches might not make for excellent reading for a club that’s been so utterly dominant domestically, but they stay top of the heap. And in the Champions League, they went to easily top a tricky-looking group featuring Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund.
Granted, the caveat here is that you could argue Messi does not really have to win football’s most prestigious individual prize to put his claims as the best player on the planet. Under Valverde, Messi has been at his majestic best, with the Argentina celebrity scoring a remarkable 83 goals in 84 La Liga games. While others from Barca’s golden age are believed to be on the decrease, Messi has continued to wow the soccer world.
Valverde may be the coach of the team and will most likely have some say in regards to the direction the club goes in with signings, but as is the way with modern soccer, others are responsible for recruitment. Chief executive Oscar Grau and sporting manager Eric Abidal are ultimately in charge of that front, even though it was Pep Segura before the former France international. Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jeison Murillo have been one of the head-scratching signings, while Malcolm was snatched from under the noses of Roma but established a complete flop. Philippe Coutinho underwhelmed after his big-money coming from Liverpool and was sent out on loan to Bayern Munich, while Ousmane Dembele was hit-and-miss at best. Arturo Vidal has had his moments, Yerry Mina largely frustrated but brought in a significant fee and Jean-Clair Todibo has seldom featured despite showing promise. Antoine Griezmann’s arrival was met with fanfare but the France international was nowhere near the standard he revealed at rivals Atletico.
With the exception of Messi, who at 32 is similar to the proverbial bottle of wine and becoming better with age, you can assert Valverde is getting the best from a crop of players that are no longer in the height of their powers. Centre-back Gerard Pique has been out of shape, Luis Suarez remains an undoubted talent but not at exactly the exact same level as he had been in the treble-winning times of Luis Enrique, while Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets will also be in their 30s. To point the finger only at Valverde is slightly ludicrous.