What more does he have to do?
After 73 league games with just three defeats suffered and consecutive titles secured, you might think Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde would right now be hailed as something of a hero by his club’s eternally grateful fans.
Instead, though, the attitude towards this experienced and softly spoken coach is, as they say, a little bit ‘meh’: some fans are just about willing to give him begrudging praise as an afterthought, others are bizarrely outright hostile, while others don’t seem to have much interest in him either way.
The problem is three-fold. Firstly, Valverde is just a very quiet and sensible chap.
He is not charismatic, refuses to feed the media with snappy one-liners and does not court popularity with lavish sidelines gestures to supporters. If Pep Guardiola likes to portray himself as a tortured philosopher, Jurgen Klopp as a heavy metal drummer and Jose Mourinho as a Bond villain, Valverde is a staid accountant who spends his days balancing the books and then goes to bed after a quiet cup of tea.
Ah yes, Guardiola. It is impossible for any manager to fully escape the shadow of the club icon who returned after a glorious playing career to usher in an even more glorious period of success.
The fact that Guardiola’s triumphs were based squarely around a homegrown crop of players, who executed a bold and unique style of play at their manager’s behest, has lent The Era of Pep a magical, mystical air, creating a gold standard to which all other coaches must aspire but will never be able to match.
Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Puyol, Busquets, Alves, Henry, Eto’o and Valdes all at their peak? That kind of perfect constellation of stars can never be repeated, and Guardiola was fortunate to inherit such a magnificent set of players as well as talented enough to give them expert guidance towards glory.
Valverde, in contrast, inherited a squad containing, ahem, superstars like Aleix Vidal, Paco Alcacer, Gerard Deulofeu, Lucas Digne and Andre Gomes. Of course, he’s also been blessed with true world-class players like Messi, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique, but the overall talent at his disposal falls well short of the riches enjoyed by Guardiola, so naturally his football hasn’t been sparkling.
The fact that he has still obtained back to back titles deserves a huge amount of respect, but Ernesto (even his name is dull) just isn’t Pep, and he never will be, so he will always struggle to step out of his predecessor’s shadow.
The third reason for Valverde’s lack of credit is, of course, Roma. Even the word is guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine of many Barca fans who simply cannot forget or forgive their team’s infamous capitulation against the Italian side in last season’s Champions League quarter-final, denying Valverde’s men the chance to claim the European crowd against a relatively weak field.
That memory and the accompanying stigma will never leave Valverde’s side, which helps to explain why it is so vital that his team follow up their latest La Liga title triumph with the Champions League – not just because they want to win it this season, but because they should have won it last year too.
Even if they do that, Valverde will still be a dull accountant who just isn’t Pep, but he might finally start to get the recognition he deserves for a tough job done extremely well.
Wednesday night’s meeting with Liverpool is more than just one game. For Valverde, it could end up defining his entire Barca career.
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