Ernesto Valverde has just embarked on his third season at Barcelona. The Basque coach arrived in the 2017/18 season and was immediately thrown right into the fire of the Catalan capital.
At that time Barcelona needed a saviour, a manager who would be courageous and, above else, competent enough to take a squad in disarray and pull them out of the gutters. They had just lost Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain and they got thrashed in the Spanish Supercup by their eternal rivals, Real Madrid.
A major overhaul was expected and it did seem like a project not many would be keen to take head-on. But Valverde did, valiantly. He changed Barcelona’s style and tactics and altered them to cover up their weaknesses and emphasise their strengths.
By all accounts, it wasn’t really pretty but it was effective. He was one game away from writing history at the club as the first coach to give Barcelona their “Invincibles” in La Liga and despite failure in the Champions League, it still felt he did a good enough job to warrant a second year. After all, a double in his first season was by no means a bad result.
But at Barcelona, it’s also very much the norm and almost the absolute minimum. Valverde managed to steady the ship that looked like it was about to sink and restored some faith to the roaring crowd. But it couldn’t last.
He seemed like the right choice throughout his first year and the style he implemented was tolerated because he didn’t have the squad to do more. Or at least, that seemed to be the excuse that was fed to the masses. Once that was stabilised and Barcelona’s lineup was complete, it was very much expected that he would revert to the Catalans’ signature style and that he would leave his pragmatic preferences behind him.
But that didn’t happen. In fact, a similar trend continued in his second campaign as coach, much to the disbelief of fans who were getting pretty fed up with tactics that were labelled “too defensive” and suiting a “mid-table” team.
“Messidependencia” grew stronger and without Lionel Messi himself, the squad didn’t seem to function properly. Soon, the Roma debacle was repeated at Anfield, and then that was followed by a crushing blow by Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey. Disaster after disaster and yet Valverde endured them all, supported by the club and most of the players.
And here he is, still standing tall in his third season as the head coach in Catalonia. But he’s off to a pretty bad start. Barcelona’s opening game at San Mames ended in a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat at the hands of Athletic Bilbao after the eternal Aritz Aduriz notched a stunning late goal to steal the three points.
What makes it even worse is that it’s been a whole decade since Blaugrana lost their curtain-raiser in La Liga, and that didn’t really win over any fans for Valverde, either.
Looking strictly at his resume, it’s getting more and more difficult to see what exactly is keeping the “Ant” at the Camp Nou. Is it his success? Sure, domestically, he’s been able to deliver two La Ligas and one Copa del Rey but in Europe there have been two disasters already.
Is it his style of play? Hardly so, his overly pragmatic and defensive approach has been bothering the fans since he took over at Barcelona in 2017. Is it his character? Once again a resounding no. Being calm and collected has its benefits but a coach that can’t rally his troops nor motivate them when they need it is definitely a concern.
So what exactly is left? That’s the million-dollar question at the moment. Something in Valverde makes the players trust them. Maybe he is really friendly and easygoing, which would be a fair assumption given his calm temperament. But if he can’t get the results, he is still the wrong choice overall.
A closer look at Barcelona’s recent purchases unearths another problem. The Catalans have never spent that much money in their history, which could indicate that the board is doing everything they can to pile up the Galacticos in hopes they would pull Valverde up from the slumps. It very much feels like the sheer individual talent is what keeps this Barcelona still ticking. That, and Messi, of course.
We’ve already had a taste of what it’s like when the little Argentine magician is not around and it’s safe to say it’s as sour as it gets. That would also explain the club’s obsession with Neymar, as well. But the Brazilian is another superstar in line that Valverde might not know how to properly utilise.
Last season, it felt like Valverde had no room for error and yet, somehow, he survived again. Maybe the board saw that he could do better or they simply didn’t want to admit the fans’ outcries were true and their appointment was wrong. But that can’t be true, can it?
Either way, his third season once again has that gloomy vibe and it feels like this will be his last.
Judging by everything that happened before, it definitely should be, for the better of the club and its fans. But then again, would it really be a surprise to see him continue even further?