In considering the Barça coaching vacancy and general reactions to it from supporters and media critters, all that comes to mind is some adaptation of the Sinead O’Connor album title, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.”
But nobody has any idea who the right coach is for Barça. Not even the people for whom the decision actually matters. There is also romance vs need, the coach someone wants vs the coach the team needs. Those are also often different. The only thing that is a guarantee is that whoever is chosen will be “wrong” for someone.
It has only been during the era of Pep Guardiola in superclub Barça history (Ronaldinho and onward) that culers have been content with their coach. There were mumbles during Rijkaard, mumbles during Vilanova, caterwauls during Martino, shrieks of horror during Luis Enrique. The volume of those shrieks is louder because of the joy that calmed the land during annus Guardiolus, also known as Pax Guardiolus.
Once unrest began among the peasants, better and different coaches became all the rage, like the latest menswear trend. Klopp begat Tuchel begat Guardiola coming back begat Sampaoli. The roots present in all of these longings wasn’t just simple dissatisfaction but the lure of magic. Any of these candidates would be able to bring back that thing missing from Barça, that thing that even a treble or double couldn’t sate: playing the Right Way.
Names popped up in the rumor mill to fill the latest vacancy, but woe betide the name that wasn’t the right name. Valverde? Ugh. Sampaoli is the name on the lips of one and all, and woe betide the person not on that bandwagon.
As with players, there are degrees of hipsterism. There is always the supporter, the true geek, who when a name pops up on the transfer rumor mill, can honestly say, “I watched him in junior football at FC Club You Don’t Even Know. He was brilliant. He continued to mature as part of his youth NT, and is more than ready.” Most people Google the player, search YouTube and become an authority. Jorge Sampaoli burst into the consciousness of most via his Chile national team, whose tactical talk was, in sum, “There they are. Get ’em.” Then Sampoli turned them loose.
What in that could be seen to presage a return to juego de posicion and Cruijff is beyond me. He took over Sevilla and turned the team into a championship contender by having them play lovely football. Nasri was a crucial addition, giving midfield stability and creativity. He also integrated Jovetic into his side in a dynamic way while solidifying the defense. The biggest thing he brought to Sevilla was the belief that allowed them to outplay top team after top team, even beating Real Madrid.
But the lingering question is this one: What in the hell makes anyone who has watched Sampaoli teams play, makes them believe he is going to bring back That Barça. New ideas? The right kind of ideas? Okay, go for that. But the devotion to the cause of Sampaoli is intense, based on, in the case of most of his proponents, little more than a quality half-season at Sevilla. In reality, there isn’t all that much to recommend Sampaoli over Luis Enrique except that he isn’t Luis Enrique, which is fair if that’s what you want: seeing Luis Enrique gone.
Now the buzz has broken that Sampoli is going to renew at Sevila, there is chagrin in the land, even as this is the right move for him as he has more work to do there as well as on his overall mystique. Nonetheless, Barça Twitter has been generally morose about something that was never going to happen. The Barça board in place is always going to opt for the most conservative candidate because of how they view the team, which is a license to print money. Recall the Bartomeu comments that part of their job is to make the club so big that it can still thrive even in the absence of sporting success.
People lost their minds at that comment, mostly because it’s hard to be perceptive in the face of passion. But that was a money manager’s comment, or that of a club president who understands marketing. It also made perfect sense, because if Barça needs to win trebles to make money and win sponsorships, that isn’t exactly a recipe for a stable future. But that kind of thinking also makes a board and its president conservative. You want a coach who is going to not upset the apple cart too much, particularly as the apple cart doesn’t really need upsetting right now, even as it might in the future.
Can you imagine the looks a coach would get now if he came in screaming, “Run, you bastards, run!” There would be so much sideeye that Barça would be nicknamed Team of the Damned. The next coach will usher Messi almost into his mid-30s. Same with Pique and Busquets. This will also be the last coach that Iniesta plays for. Given the amount of time it would take for old dogs to learn new tricks, that is time wasted in careers whose effectiveness is slipping, like sand through an hourglass.
But money managers are conservative in general. Which is why we are hearing a name such as Valverde as the front runner, even as rumors have all the veracity of a man trying to get that last rap in at last call. Don’t trust them. One thing you can count on is the money managers making a safe bet. Don’t be shocked if Unzue just moves over one seat. People won’t like that, will say that assistants don’t make good coaches, particularly perpetual assistants such as Unzue. But if you want someone to just carry on, who better than a current assistant, even as this assumes the assistant doesn’t have ideas of his own. Vilanova did. Note that Unzue has been attending matches at B and youth team levels, and has been more prominent on the sidelines and in conversation with Luis Enrique. Does that mean anything? Who knows, but there it is.
What’s most important to note about the coaching search is that this isn’t Christmas, and what you want most is Gi Joe with the Kung-Fu grip, and no other action figure will suffice. There are people thinking about this who have more on the line than vicarious supporter joy, or being to talk shit on social media.
And those folks are quaking in their boots. Because right now, Barça is NOT an entity sustainable in the absence of sporting success. And there is a base of supporters sitting there lying their asses off when they say that style of play is all that matters, that not winning would be acceptable as long as the style of play was right. This choice is more essential than that of Luis Enrique in terms of the team dynamic. An aging core is combining with a coterie of new signings that, if the “it takes a year to assililate” is as true as always, will be ready to kick ass next season. The team could be brilliant. The “wrong” coach could come in with a bunch of new ideas and, dependent upon how long the team takes to absorb and assimilate, could cost time that the team (and the board) doesn’t have.
That choice is probably going to be a conservative one, and preferably one who already has knowledge of the club. Unzue? Who knows? Who is best for the team? Who knows? Not me, not you, not even the ones tasked with making the ultimate decision. Because it’s all a crap shoot. With a different psychology, injury list and motivation, Tata Martino might have won a treble. That’s how capricious the reality of coaching is. A man relies on a group of 22 players, 11 playing at a time, for his livelihood. If those players produce, he’s a genius (assuming he isn’t unfavored). If they don’t, he’s a prat (assuming he isn’t favored). A lot of that is luck, bounces of the ball as much as systems. Unai Emery is a Di Maria finish away from being a genius instead of finished at PSG. Sampaoli is a crappy N’Zonzi penalty finish away from being the name on everyone’s lips. It isn’t fair, but it’s reality.
Lord knows why people fixate on things. Klopp is still wrestling with making Liverpool into something more than what it has been: a top five Premiership side. Tuchel has Dortmund essentially as the same sort of young, exciting, dynamic team that captivated during the Klopp era. Would I want either one to coach Barça? Nope. Sampaoli? Nope. Because the reality is that I have no idea who the hell I really want to coach Barça, beyond the best man for the job. How do we know he’s the best man? Because the team will play beautiful football, and win. The danger lies in letting expectation define the answer to the question. Often the only thing behind that door is perpetual disappointment.