With the doubt over Ernesto Valverde’s future at Barcelona still lingering, it’s worth considering that the decision of club president Josep Maria Bartomeu will be partly conditioned by the availability of a suitable replacement.
If Valverde goes, who should replace him? There don’t appear to be any particularly obvious candidates, with the fact that unconvincing names such as Ronald Koeman and Quique Setien have been bandied about illustrating that Barca’s options are not exactly abundant.
Perhaps, though, there is one extremely clear successor to Valverde who would be the perfect man for the job, meeting all the required criteria.
After all, the Catalan club would be looking for a dynamic and energetic personality following the staid and sensible reign of Valverde. With the squad facing an overhaul, they would need someone who can integrate and develop young players alongside established veterans, utilising a passing-and-pressing style befitting Barca’s Cruyffian heritage.
The right man would ideally know Spanish football well and, following the haunting Champions League capitulations in Rome and Liverpool, he should also have a proven track record of instilling his team with mental resilience in tough away games, especially on the European stage.
Doesn’t all of that sound more than a bit like…Mauricio Pochettino?
It is widely acknowledged that Pochettino has done a great job in England, and that his work has earned him the right to step up into the European elite – if the money to do so with Tottenham is not forthcoming, even the London club’s fans would not begrudge him the opportunity to chase serious silverware elsewhere.
So, why not with Barca? Well, there is one major obstacle, explaining why Pochettino has only really ever been linked with Real Madrid rather than the Camp Nou: his past life with Espanyol.
Over the course of two playing spells and his first job in management, Pochettino spent 13 years with Barca’s big crosstown rivals, whose hatred for the fancy-dan show-ponies across the city knows no bounds.
And for that reason alone, many people believe there is absolutely no way he can ever become Barca coach – he has even said so himself, once quipping that he would prefer to return to Argentina and work on his farm than manage Barcelona.
Should he now rethink that attitude? That depends upon the extent of his ambition. If he wants one of the very top jobs in football, his options are limited.
Two of the possible clubs, Real Madrid and Manchester United, have recently resembled madhouses with a rapid turnover of managers and haphazard transfer strategies. They would be risky moves for any manager.
Another two, Manchester City and Liverpool, are occupied for the foreseeable future. Juventus likewise. Paris St Germain? A poisoned chalice. Bayern Munich? A possibility, perhaps.
Which only really leaves Barcelona, a club with a long established playing style which suits Pochettino’s own philosophy, the budget to add new stars and a burning ambition to reclaim the Champions League trophy after a long wait.
There is also, of course, Lionel Messi. Like the Barca number ten, Pochettino also hails from the Argentine hotbed of Rosario and started his career in that city with Newell’s Old Boys before heading to Europe with a move to Barcelona. They have a similar back story, and the chance to manage Messi during the latter stages of his career would surely be an enormous temptation to Pochettino.
The only thing stopping him is loyalty to Espanyol, whose fans, no doubt about it, would absolutely despise their former coach if he turned coat and took over at the Camp Nou. For a principled man like Pochettino, that would be a tough call.
🇦🇷 - On this day in 2014 Tottenham hired Mauricio Roberto Pochettino Trossero from Southampton.— FourFourTwo ⚽️ (@FourFourTwo) May 27, 2019
5 years later, and Spurs are just days away from the biggest game in the club's history. Their first Champions League final. pic.twitter.com/WgyEeprf2A
It has been done, though, on many previous occasions. Luis Enrique, for example, made nearly 250 appearances for Real Madrid before becoming a star player and later manager for Barcelona. There are plenty of precedents in the football world of revered heroes betraying their former teams and joining a bitter rival.
Pochettino doing so would be nothing new so perhaps – if he really wants to become one of the greatest managers in the world, he should just get over himself.
Or is that too callous?
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde rejected the suggestion his players had been psychologically scarred by their Champions League experience at the hands of Liverpool.
The Reds’ 4-0 comeback in the European semi-final second leg appeared to still be playing on the Barca squad’s minds in the build up to the Copa del Rey final with captain Lionel Messi admitting it was “tough to get back up”.
That hangover continued as they were beaten 2-1 by Valencia to end the season with just the LaLiga title despite, a month ago, having dreams of a treble.
Valverde, who insists he is ready to renew the fight next season despite speculation over his future, said the tie at Anfield was not responsible for their defeat in Real Betis’ Estadio Benito Villamarin in Seville.
“We have lost, but not because of a psychological issue,” he told a press conference.
“It’s different from the game we played a fortnight ago, but we’ve lost again, that is reality, the feeling.
“We have not been able to fulfil our own expectations: we celebrated the league title, we thought we could make a triplet and we stayed on the road at the decisive moment in the Champions League and in the Copa del Rey.
“You’re left with a bad feeling because we created that expectation and it has not been like that. We’re here to win titles and not for anything else.”
Asked about his feelings, Valverde added: “I’m fine, coaches always want a rematch when we lose, get up the next day and put a challenge ahead of us.
“I know that losing in this club is hard for the coach, because he always makes a mistake even if you do not know why.
“That’s the responsibility and it’s difficult and you have to take it in. And here I am.”
First-half goals from Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo saw Valencia become the first team since Real Madrid in 1974 to take a two-goal half-time lead against Barcelona in the final of a competition they have won 30 times.
Messi pulled one back with 17 minutes remaining but Valencia held on to win their first trophy since 2008 to make the club’s centenary year one to remember.
“Winning a Copa del Rey and beating Barca has a special merit,” said coach Marcelino.
“Valencia deserved to win. I feel an immense, indescribable happiness.
“It would be impossible to win a title to Barca, win this Copa del Rey, without suffering, but I also believed that in any counter-attack we could score the third.
“They dominated us (Barcelona had 77 per cent possession) as we predicted, we had to suffer, but we have competed at a great level.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Valencia claimed their first major honour since 2008 as a magnificent first-half performance allowed them to defeat Barcelona 2-1 in the Copa del Rey final, with goals from Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo Moreno enough to defeat overcome Lionel Messi’s second half strike.
Coming in the wake of his team’s shocking Champions League exit at Liverpool, the outcome leaves Barca boss Ernesto Valverde’s future hanging by a thread, with several players also perhaps poised to be sent through the Camp Nou exit door.
But although the headlines in the next few days will be dominated by Barca’s potential imminent changes, it’s only fair to kick off our key talking points by paying tribute to the victors.
Valencia finish strange season in style
This has been an odd but ultimately very fruitful season for Valencia. After finishing fourth in La Liga last time out and making some promising summer signings, Marcelino’s men entered the campaign with confidence high and optimism restored following a few fallow years.
But that soon faded as they won just two of their first 13 games, leaving Marcelino’s job under serious threat during a dark mid-winter which saw the team closer to the relegation zone than the head of the table as well as suffering a group stage exit from the Champions League.
Marcelino just about held on, though, and his team’s fortunes took a dramatic turn for the better from late January onwards, with a run of eight wins in 12 games to finish the season firing them into a fourth place league finish and now securing silverware.
And although they were nervously holding on at the end, this was a thoroughly deserved victory, with strong defending combined with masterful midfield play and purposeful attacking, and if Marcelino can add some more squad depth in the summer – as well as keeping key men such as Dani Parejo, Jose Gaya and Rodrigo – Valencia could be a serious force next season.
It’s a question which has been asked ever since Barca’s calamitous Champions League exit: will Ernesto Valverde still be in charge at the Camp Nou next season?
Over the past week or so, various figures from the Calatan club have been seeking to answer that question in the affirmative, with president Josep Maria Bartomeu and skipper Lionel Messi forcefully stating their support for the under-fire manager.
Now, though, a fresh round of speculation has been unfurled and the powers-that-be must be having second thoughts over Valverde’s position. His team selection for this game certainly deserves criticism, with Sergi Roberto being picked on the right wing instead of Malcom an unnecessarily negative move which left the team badly lacking in attacking thrust.
It’s by no means certain that Valverde will be forced out, but the confidence in him has been badly eroded over the past couple of weeks and the furious face of Bartomeu in the VIP seats after the game very much bore the look of a man undergoing a serious rethink. Firing Valverde is clearly not something the Barca board wants to do, but after the first-half fiasco in this encounter they may be left with no choice.
A new era?
Valverde isn’t the only one whose future could lie away from Barcelona, with the manager – whether it’s Valverde or his eventual replacement – facing some serious questions over the composition of the squad for next season.
The first half of this defeat – just like the calamitous game at Anfield – showed that the midfield is the biggest area of concern. Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic simply lacked the pace to live with Valencia’s lightning-fast transitions, and made it obvious that more speed and physicality must be added into the centre of the field.
Left-back Jordi Alba, such a key player for so long, has also really gone off the boil and a new left-back to compete with him is also essential. Clement Lenglet also finished the season poorly in the centre of defence, and the injury-enforced absence of Luis Suarez showed the urgent need for more depth in the striker position.
Most of all, though, Philippe Coutinho concluded a horrible season with another anonymous performance, and selling the Brazilian will be a vital task for sporting director Eric Abidal over the coming weeks.
The season might be over, but the summer will be anything but relaxing for Barca fans.