Ernesto Valverde finds himself on a sticky wicket after yet another UEFA Champions League debacle. We discuss three possible replacement options for the Barcelona boss.
Being a Barcelona manager can be a privilege and curse at the same time. While it exposes one to the adulation and reverence that comes with winning trophies, failure to triumph in the biggest of competitions can sweep the rug from under them in no time. Ernesto Valverde finds himself in a similar situation.
The former Athletic Bilbao boss has delivered successive La Liga titles while also standing a chance to complete a domestic double for the second time in as many seasons he has been at Barcelona. But, a UEFA Champions League triumph remains the most sought-after target for Barcelona fans. And, it is here where Valverde has failed to deliver.
In each of his two campaigns at the helm at Camp Nou, the 55-year-old has overseen embarrassing defeats in the knockout rounds of the competition, with Barcelona squandering healthy leads to be ousted by AS Roma and Liverpool, respectively. And, the loss to Liverpool has compounded the pressure on Valverde.
If recent reports are anything to go by, Valverde could be facing the axe from the top job at Barcelona. But, getting his replacement right, if the manager is indeed be shown the exit door, is of utmost importance for the Catalans. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we discuss three possible options to replace Valverde.
Erik ten Hag
Perhaps the hottest property in the managerial market at the present moment, Erik ten Hag has seen his stock skyrocket over the course of the season on the back of a scintillating campaign with Ajax. While the domestic double is a fantastic feat in itself, the attention he and his side grabbed is due to the Champions League campaign.
The Godenzonen were on a giant killing spree this season en route to the semi-finals, having stood toe to toe with Bayern Munich before knocking Real Madrid and Juventus out in back-to-back stages. And, it is during this campaign ten Hag’s side displayed the kind of fearlessness that Barcelona could well do with.
A basic comparison between the general outlooks of Valverde and ten Hag would show the difference being like chalk and cheese. While Valverde’s has a sense of pragmatism attached to it, ten Hag encourages his players to express themselves more while also laying an emphasis on the Total Football ideologies of Johan Cruyff.
Another key factor going in his favour is the fact that ten Hag has shown that he can work wonders with talented youngsters, as shown by the progress the likes of David Neres, Frenkie de Jong and Ajax captain Matthijs de Ligt, among others. This trait will surely be appealing to the Barcelona board, having seen the influence of La Masia wane in recent years.
All in all, having drifted from the style of play that has brought them so much success over the last decade or so, appointing ten Hag would be just the way to retrace their steps and go back to playing a more attractive, fluid brand of football, which in turn, might just bring the Champions League back to Camp Nou.
Another popular candidate to take over from Valverde is Quique Setien. The 60-year-old may not be as high profile a name as ten Hag, but the style of play he prefers also closely resembles that employed by successful Barcelona managers in the years gone by.
During his stint with Real Betis, he first came into prominence after overseeing a stirring 2017-18 campaign that saw Los Verdiblancos finish ahead of fierce rivals Sevilla and qualify for the Europa League. 2018-19 might not have gone as envisioned, but Setien and his men impressed in some big games.
Betis handed a convincing defeat to Barcelona at Camp Nou, the only loss the Blaugrana suffered at home this season. They then ended the season with a win over Real Madrid. But, immediately after the match, it was revealed that Setien would be parting ways with Betis. And, his availability makes Setien an even more attractive prospect.
As for what makes him an ideal fit at Camp Nou, Setien does not just lay an emphasis on dominating possession, but also utilising it smartly. Also, having shown that his side can perform as more than just a sum of its parts, which would bode well in a competition like the Champions League.
And, having revealed this week that he would love to coach Barcelona, the stars might just be aligning to get Setien to the managerial hotseat at the Nou Camp.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst
Finally, a slightly left of centre suggestion for the post, albeit a name who has a past with Barcelona. Giovanni van Bronckhorst might not be a name that many would have followed since he stepped into the world of football management.
But, the Dutchman, who spent four years as a player at Barcelona had made quite a few waves since becoming the full-time boss of a club where he started and finished his playing career. The 44-year-old became Feyenoord manager after previously being an assistant to Ronald Koeman.
When Koeman joined Southampton in 2014, van Bronckhorst took a step away from football before being appointed as the first-team boss in 2015. In his first full season at the club, he guided the team to the KNVB Cup before the crowning glory came the following season.
The 2016-17 season saw Feyenoord grab their first Eredivisie title in 18 years and van Bronckhorst delivered three more trophies with a largely unheralded side. That in itself shows that the former Barcelona superstar can bring the best out of a group of players and some.
As for his style of play, van Bronckhorst too, prefers a possession-based system with short passes and quick, fluid movements, like the other candidates we have proposed. And, after announcing that he will no longer by Feyenoord manager after this season, he is ripe for the taking as well.
After four years that saw Feyenoord of establishing as genuine title contenders once again, van Bronckhorst might just be ready for bigger things. And, if Ernesto Valverde is to be dismissed as the Barcelona boss, a return to Camp Nou could well be on the horizon.