Ernesto Valverde’s inevitable sacking was finally confirmed by Barcelona last night.
It’s a curious state of affairs when a club can axe their manager while sitting top of the league and it not be met with any surprise whatsoever.
Such was Valverde’s failure to impress in his two-and-a-half-year spell with Camp Nou.
The 55-year-old has ultimately paid the price for his failure to win the Champions League and in particular, those capitulations against Roma and Liverpool in consecutive years.
It’s felt for a long time that his side’s infamous collapse at Anfield was the final straw, not as it would appear on paper the 3-2 turnaround against Atletico Madrid in the Supercopa de España last week.
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In wake of defeat to the Rojiblancos, it emerged that key figures like Eric Abidal had met with Xavi to offer him the not-yet-vacant job. To their surprise, the legendary midfielder turned it down, reportedly uncomfortable with the way Valverde was being treated.
Andres Iniesta has also hit out at Barcelona’s conduct, calling their treatment of their now ex-boss “ugly”.
Journalist Sid Lowe has painted a similar picture in The Guardian.
Valverde took training on Monday, a session which culminated in the players gathering around him ostensibly to say goodbye – an awkward situation for both the coach and the group when nothing had been confirmed.
Practically speaking, perhaps president Josep Maria Bartomeu might argue the meeting with Xavi was the confirmation.
It was deliberately transparent, the board acting in the knowledge the press would soon hear of the informal job interview in Doha.
Valverde would hear too, though not from the horse’s mouth. He was not told and like the rest of the watching world, found out in the various newspaper reports of a contract put on Xavi’s table and politely pushed back in Abidal’s direction.
Once again, finding a successor has been complicated by the upcoming presidential elections, Xavi and Ronald Koeman both taking into account their allegiances which do not necessarily lie with the current directors.
The only real consolation for Valverde is that he will have grown used to working in difficult conditions ever since making the switch from Athletic Bilabo. That first summer, when Neymar was sold to PSG, it proved a blow to morale in the dressing room.
Senior players like Gerard Pique began to doubt whether Barcelona remained the superpower they had been.
And so just as it had begun, with Valverde’s treatment seemingly an after thought, it all ended with Barca failing to announce his sacking for hours after the decision had been taken.
GIVEMESPORT’S Kat Lucas:
European failures are likely to follow Valverde’s entry when the recent history of Barcelona is written. However, it was his conservative tactics – even, with the greatest respect, against lesser opposition (case in point, Slavia Prague in the Champions League this season) – that meant he was never really the right man for the hot seat.
His approach was unbefitting of the Blaugrana’s great traditions. It is no coincidence that Barca have turned to Quique Setién, a self-proclaimed disciple of Johann Cruyff.
At a club where identity is everything, the Cruyff way will forever be the benchmark against which managers are judged.
That said, Barcelona might also be accused of acting in a manner unbecoming of their supposed values.
Yes, everything that happens behind the scenes is inherently political, and greater diplomats than Valverde, such as Pep Guardiola, have weathered under the strain. But Valverde had only another six months left to run on his contract and his employers were under no pressure to activate that one-year extension.
That would have been an altogether more dignified exit for a man who did, for all his faults, win back-to-back La Liga titles.