FC Barcelona have bid farewell to Luis Enrique, after he achieved an impressive 9 major honours at the club over a three year period – starting with a League, Cup and European Cup treble in the 2014/2015 season. A frequent trend for Barcelona has been that their managers rotate frequently, with each one introducing a fresh and vibrant atmosphere in the squad that slowly seeps away until overly predictable and less efficient football rears its head.
The latest introduction to the Barcelona hot-seat is another ex-player of the club’s, Ernesto Valverde, who most recently vacated his position at Basque club Athletic Bilbao. Barcelona have a habit of appointing managers that don’t necessarily have an abundance of experience or a high profile, but that end up winning silverware and generating success for the club nonetheless. Is Ernesto Valverde potentially the next manager to fit that bill? Perhaps.
The first benefit that Valverde brings is experience. He started his managerial career as an assistant manager at Athletic Bilbao in 2001, and then proceeded to have short stints at various other Spanish clubs as well as two spells at Greek giants Olympiacos. He does not arrive at Barcelona with a great number of trophies to his name, having only won the Spanish Super Cup in Spain with Athletic Bilbao, and getting three League and two cup titles in Greece. Despite this modest managerial career in terms of trophies, if one digs a little deeper, there are some signs he may have been an astute choice for the Catalans.
Beyond his prolonged participation at a managerial level, he’s also an ex-Barcelona player and understands the heritage and expectation attached to the club. Barcelona, like most of the great European clubs, expect a certain kind of football to be played by their team, and their manager to conduct himself in a particular way. Valverde is familiar with their traditions and respects the importance of making the correct stylistic choices when it comes to the kind of football Barcelona will play, so the fans will likely be patient and allow him to settle.
The other indicator that he may adjust to this high profile position is the continued consistency and improvement Athletic Bilbao showed during his recent tenure there. In his four seasons, starting in the 2013/2014 season, Bilbao finished 4th, 7th, 5th, and 7th respectively. Maintaining a decent level of performance with a modest club is something that the Barcelona board seems to find attractive, as Luis Enrique served a similar “internship” at Celta Vigo before his appointment at Barcelona. Considering the vast upgrade in terms of personnel, Valverde’s workmanlike discipline that he instilled in his Bilbao team is likely to paid dividends when transferred to the Nou Camp.
The last key piece to Valverde’s appointment is the stylistic change he’s likely to implement at Barcelona. Knowing that the club’s dedication to possession-based football began to stagnate under Enrique, one of Valverde’s first comments was regarding his intention to re-establish the midfield as a crucial part of the team’s play. Considering the talent of Barcelona’s frontline, Enrique became increasingly direct with his play, encouraging possession and passing to be predominantly focused at the feet of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. Although this hasn’t been terrible, it has made Barcelona slightly predictable and monotonous, as well as requiring an emphasis on the individual strikers to score goals rather than the overall team build up.
Valverde will find a number of challenges to navigate during this transfer window, though, particularly with transfers and his squad in mind. Core players like Pique, Iniesta and Sergio Busquets are getting older and will require replacements, as could Luis Suarez in the near future, despite his impeccable contributions this past year. Additionally the club have been doing without a recognized right back since Dani Alves’ departure, which is bizarre considering the amount of width Barcelona historically try to play with. Before the pre-season kicks off Valverde will likely encourage the Barcelona board to make some additions to his squad. When the season does kick off, though, expect a more balanced style of play from the Blaugrana, with a little less emphasis on the attacking trio and more focus on each section of the team.
Becoming the manager of a club like Barcelona is a massive challenge irrespective of the players at his disposal, though, so success or immediate effectiveness are far from guaranteed. After losing out to Real Madrid for this season’s La Liga title, can Valverde return pride and trophies to the Catalan city?