At the beginning of this week, Ernesto Valverde was fired by Barcelona and became the only head coach released by the club in the middle of the season since Louis Van Gaal in 1993. He will be replaced by the experienced Quique Setien.
The formal reason is Barcelona’s shaky form in the past several games. That includes three draws in the last four La Liga matches and a dramatic exit from the Spanish Super Cup after losing a late lead against Atletico Madrid.
And yet, one could say that wasn’t the end of the world. Barcelona is still leading La Liga and is alive in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. If you add the two domestic titles in Valverde’s first two seasons at the helm, it seems surprising that he’s gone.
To understand the reasons behind his sacking better, we should probably take a look at Barcelona’s main issues right now.
Barcelona’s Aging Core Hurts the Defense
The core of the current Barcelona squad remains pretty much the same as it has been for a while now. Lionel Messi is the main contributor, with the likes of Gerrard Pique and Sergio Busquets play key roles in the defense and midfield of the side.
They are excellent footballers but are on the wrong end of 30 which hurts the intensity of the side. The Argentinian magician is going strong but the defense hasn’t been the same this season. Barcelona is shipping too many goals and Valverde has struggled to improve the back line.
Part of that is related to Barcelona’s other big problem.
The New Signings Have Mostly Disappointed
The reigning Spanish champions have invested heavily in the past several years and most of the new signings have disappointed. The likes of Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, and even Frenkie De Jong were expected to lift Barcelona instantly.
There’s still early for some of them, of course, but the immediate effect hasn’t been there. On top of that, the club has failed to attract top defensive talent because of the strategy to invest the vast majority of its resources in midfielders and forwards.
All of that is not Ernesto Valverde’s fault, as the specialist is not responsible for Barcelona’s transfer policy. He is basically given a certain squad and has to do as good as he can.
Easing the Pressure
The overall sensation is that Ernesto Valverde was sacrificed by Barcelona to calm down the fans. This is a squad that hasn’t been among the best in Europe in the past several seasons, so the Champions League was never a realistic target.
At the same time, Valverde took full advantage of the poor form of Real Madrid and earned plenty of domestic honors.
That wasn’t always enough for the supporters that have gotten spoiled in the Leo Messi era. Someone had to pay the price for Barcelona’s inability to refresh the squad, despite of the huge investments. Valverde was that man.
What Next for Barcelona?
Quique Setien is the new head coach of Barcelona but I’m not sure how stable his position will be. It’s well-known that the club wanted Xavi Hernandez. The iconic former player declined the offer in the present moment and wanted to wait until June.
If Setien doesn’t deliver success instantly, his stint at the helm might be short-lived and I won’t be shocked to see another change in the summer.