Barcelona after sacking Ernesto Valverde, a man often criticised for his lack of clarity and determination, have gone with quite an opposed option this time. Quique Setien, a Cruyff devotee and former Betis boss, will be Barca’s coach until, in principle, 2022.
Late in the evening of Monday January 13, FC Barcelona confirmed what had been an open secret for the previous couple of hours: Ernesto Valverde was sacked and Quique Setien was appointed as his replacement.
After two and a half years, Valverde left the Catalan institution with four trophies under his belt – two La Ligas, one Copa del Rey and one Spanish Super Cup – though following a spell at the Camp Nou filled with ups and downs, critical voices and questionable football.
“The film, regardless of the script, always ends the same way: they kill the coach”, Valverde said after winning the domestic double in his first season.
Perhaps, despite that being his most successful campaign during his tenure at Barcelona, he could already sense that being a manager is a high-risk profession.
A coach is always in the spotlight and under continuous scrutiny. Blamed for all failures and forgotten in the successes, a man sitting on the bench can never feel safe.
Probably, or surely, Valverde was one of the main reasons of the uninspiring football displayed in the past 30-ish months.
But the board, their manners and the lack of planning certainly did not make the complex job of the manager easier. In the end, as El Txingurri said, the film always ends in a particular way: Valverde waving goodbye in his car and smiling as if he was Joker.
Barca, following four hectic days since the Supercopa de Espana defeat, did not want to extend the drama and agony and instantly appointed Quique Setien, who, earlier that day, “was walking past the cows in my village”, as the protagonist himself expressed this midday in his presentation as the new Blaugrana boss.
Things have gone very fast for him, as well as for any cule, who, a week ago, wouldn’t have expected Valverde to be sacked given that club president Josep Bartomeu had showed him support after the Roma and Liverpool debacles.
Football, after all, goes too fast, and there’s no time to grieve or look back at the past – unless it is to learn from it. Setien himself, 61 years old, has a long past, perhaps not glamorous but certainly encouraging.
“I have abundant years, but not abundant doubts”, he once said. Setien is a man of clear ideas, “of convictions” – like his idol, Johan Cruyff.
Born on 27 September 1958 in Santander (Cantabria, in the north of Spain), Setien began playing football in the streets.
His main focus as a kid was never on education, but on football. His reluctance to learn in the traditional way, though, did not prove costly as he fulfilled his dream of debuting with his hometown club Racing de Santander as a teenager, in 1977 in La Liga.
As a technically gifted and elegant central midfielder, he started moulding his beliefs and vision of the game when he was a footballer.
While he was tall enough at 1.82 metres (5.97 ft), he stood out for his talent and intelligence. Since, he has continuously bemoaned the importance of physicality, expressing that football is about dribbling, skill and enjoyment first.
In 1985, the Spaniard moved to Atletico Madrid, where he played under legendary coach Luis Aragones.
He “put the work, the intensity, the pressure and the demand into my DNA”, Setien confessed. Setien would be selected by Spain for the 1986 World Cup, despite the fact he didn’t feature in a single game as he was controversially left out by Miguel Munoz.
👀 Does the name Quique Setien ring a bell @bangorcityfc fans?— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) January 14, 2020
Here's the new @FCBarcelona manager scoring for Atletico Madrid against Bangor in the European Cup Winners' Cup at Farrar Road in 1985 👇 pic.twitter.com/N2F3MYeuPh
To be fair, the aspiring mastermind was never a household name, but he simply played for pleasure and entertainment. Principles he has always looked to transmit as a coach. After leaving Atleti in 1988, he moved to Logrones, before returning to Racing and retiring at Levante in 1996.
It was back at home, with Racing Santander, where Setien kicked off his managerial career. El Maestro, as he’s known there, helped Racing to promotion to the First Division in 2002.
He later went to Poli Ejido, oddly coached Equatorial Guinea for a single match, moved to Logrones and then to Lugo, guiding them to promotion to Segunda in 2012.
He spent six seasons in total at Lugo. Such longevity was rare to Setien, who had lasted no longer than a year anywhere else as a manager.
“I’m starting to feel a bit like Alex Ferguson”, he joked.
In 2015, he joined Las Palmas, who had just sacked Paco Herrera after poor results in the first eight fixtures of La Liga.
Setien managed to turn Las Palmas into a revelation of the Spanish top flight, saving them from relegation and finishing 11th and 14th in his two seasons in charge of the Pio-Pio.
Leaving results apart, they were hugely enjoyable to watch, combining flair with a thrilling sense of adventure. In 2017, however, with Setien undermined by the board of directors, Las Palmas collapsed in the second half of the season and he left in the summer.
His next club, and last one before Barcelona, was Betis. In the 17/18 term he would guide them to sixth place in the league, securing a spot in the Europa League for the following course.
Setien’s second season, though, didn’t go as well, finishing 11th in La Liga and being knocked out of the Europa League round of 32 by Rennes.
He did take the team to the semis of the Copa del Rey, but departed in 2019 as the Betis supporters were fed up of his romantic and little productive brand of football. Nevertheless, for football fans, watching the Verdiblancos was a must. There would always be an exhibition and many goals involved.
In Spain, it was commonly said that you “should always, always watch Betis”.
“People have said it even on days we lost, meaning it stays with them. And, wow, that’s the satisfaction of the job”, Setién expressed.
He managed to make an impact on people, and that is a huge achievement for a club that was historically considered the worse of two in the city of Sevilla.
If Quique Setien has inspired people, it mostly is because, back in the day, Johan Cruyff inspired him. He once told newspaper El Periodico that he would have cut off his little finger to have worked under Cruyff as a player.
It was the Dream Team which marvelled him, and taught him how this game had to be played and viewed. Setien has admitted more than once that he admired Barcelona for years, as they had changed his life and ideology.
Back in November 2018, he payed tribute to Cruyff at the Camp Nou with a formidable 4–3 win with Betis against Barca – no side has beaten the Azulgranas at home in the league since. Now, the Santander-born tactician will be looking to obtain victories at the Catalan temple on a regular basis.
Like Cruyff, Setien is a fascinating figure that can change your thinking on football.
“I’m a spectator, and I don’t buy a ticket to watch a team stay stuck in their half waiting for a 0–0 or a counter-attack”, the former Las Palmas and Betis boss would say. “I’m a romantic, I like the football”.
Quotes that could have perfectly been said by Cruyff, but that had Setien written all over them. Setien is a puritan and a preacher. He’s refreshingly unconventional and will bring back the conviction that a club as unique as FC Barcelona desperately needed after its ideas had deteriorated in recent times.
It won’t be easy for him to shape the team into his own liking, with half season already gone and with several significant absences. Notwithstanding, while results still remain to be seen, cules will have fun with their new mister.
“I can only guarantee one thing: that my team will play well”, he said in this week’s presser.
The demands at an institution like Barcelona, which had made its fans lose their hope lately, are extremely high.
Even so, Quique Setién, guided by Johan Cruyff, knows exactly what he has to do. A cycle ends and a new era begins. May this be a good one.
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