A bad result next weekend could be the limit for Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde

Andy West 17:22 17/08/2019
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Ernesto Valverde

And so it begins.

With the new La Liga season barely two hours old, Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde was already on the receiving end of vicious criticism following his team’s opening night loss at Athletic Bilbao.

If you want to see how unloved Valverde is in cyberspace, just type two words – Valverde Out – into the Twitter search function and you will be assailed by a barrage of angry opinions, with everyone from Torquay to Timbuktu furiously lamenting Valverde’s inability to lead the squad and fervently demanding his immediate firing.

So far, the group of fans who will really decide the cautious coach’s fate – those who actually attend games – have stayed largely on his side.

A few half-hearted whistles echoed around the Camp Nou during his pre-season speech before the friendly against Arsenal a couple of weeks ago but on the whole Valverde remains, among the majority of Barca fans, if not exactly loved then more or less tolerated.

That, though, could soon change. Just like those raging bulls on social media, the club’s members and season ticket holders will judge Valverde not only on the basis of what happens this season, but through the prism of his back to back humiliating failures in the Champions League.

Those local supporters may be rather more forgiving than their cyberspace brethren, and place more value in the consecutive La Liga titles gained under Valverde, but they are also finding it tough to move on from the team’s European exits and their remaining patience in the current coach is rapidly running out.

This is Valverde’s problem: he has no credit left in the bank. All the trust that he earned through his successes on the domestic front were instantly eroded when his team succumbed to their 4-0 capitulation against Liverpool in May. Where there was once respect, now there is suspicion. Where once there was a willingness to overlook the occasional bad result, now there is an eagerness to jump onto any setback as proof that he must leave.

Ever since he was rather surprisingly retained by president Josep Maria Bartomeu during the summer, the criticism he is facing now was inevitable. It was only a matter of when Valverde would find himself besieged, not if. He is living on borrowed time, with even the most loyal and forgiving of fans starting to turn against him.

The words ‘Roma’ and ‘Anfield’ will continue to haunt Valverde throughout his Camp Nou reign, or at least until he has the chance to lift the big trophy aloft in celebration. The question is, though, whether he will survive for long enough to make that happen, and the coming weeks will be crucial.

The next test for Barca comes with their first home outing of the league campaign, against Real Betis on Sunday evening.

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Already, that game is assuming the look of a must-win encounter for Valverde, who would be hard pressed to survive the furore that would inevitably result from being left with zero or one points after two games, at least five points off the lead.

It is common wisdom within footballing circles that manager’s fates are decided by home games. Away defeats are witnessed in person by far fewer fans and are therefore leave less impression, and Valverde is significantly helped by the fact that nearly all Barca’s bad results under his leadership have been inflicted on their travels.

Next weekend, though, roughly 80,000 expectant Barca fans will be gathered in their own cathedral, and expectant is the word: they will expect victory, they will expect it to be delivered in style and they will expect consequences taken if those outcomes do not materialise.

Valverde might be on safer ground in real life than he is on the Internet, but even the Camp Nou crowd will only allow themselves to be pushed so far. A bad result next weekend could well be the limit.

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