Why not Unzue? Unzue would suck!

You’re at work, and hear that your boss is about to be promoted. As the assistant, you’ve worked well with your superior, given some good ideas and faithfully helped to execute the overall goals of the company.

But on a thumb drive, you have a couple gigabytes of ways that you flat-out know your boss has screwed up, things that could have been done better, bright ideas you have for propelling your department into the future. What an opportunity! Even luckier is that your company has a history of being conservative with promotions, of believing that the person next in line is the individual best-suited to continue the mission.

And then the gossip begins. Your boss sucked, you hear, as people hope the company isn’t stupid enough to promote the person next in line. That would just continue with the same crap that nobody likes anyway. That bold, cool exec at a competiting company? Awesome! What a choice that would be! Here’s hoping the bosses aren’t stupid.

How would you feel, as that assistant?

That is the Unzue complexity. Even as people in various places snark and howl about Sampaolis, and Tuchels and the like, we have precisely zero idea of what a person who might be ideally suited for the job can do. He might have better or different ideas, might be more bold than any of the cool folks. When the club promoted Tito Vilanova to take the reins after Pep Guardiola left, nobody considered for a second that it wasn’t a good choice, because Vilanova was burnished in the warm glow of memories, rather than the assistant who assumed the reins of a team that managed to win only a Copa the previous season. That was the reality, no matter the previous magnificence of the Guardiola team’s accomplishments.

Vilanova came in, and went vertical. He understood, as did his predecessor, that people were figuring out how to get at the tightly controlled positional play of Barça and wanted to try something new. The messy season and sad ending aside, there was some fantastic football played that year even as it raised the curtain on a succession of “success the wrong way” allegations, and supporter bleating about tainted victory.

Being the coach of Barça is much like standing in a valley ringed by tall hills. At the top of each hill is a mountain of shit, and a bulldozer. Every day, people shovel crap into that valley you’re standing in, and it begins to pile up, to rain down upon your head. Yes, you get to coach some magnificent athletes. But that small part of your day is made less joyful by the reality of standing in Crap Valley as it piles higher. It’s a job that eats people up. Guardiola seemed to age twice as many years in the time he was Barça coach. Luis Enrique’s visage, in the wake of his departure announcement, is a lot lighter and brighter. He seems to look younger almost overnight now that the burden has been lifted from his narrow shoulders.

So who next, and why not Unzue? As noted before in this space, Luis Enrique’s successor will be Iniesta’s last coach. That person will also ease Messi, Busquets and Pique into their football dotage. Does the club want someone who is going to, potentially, waste some of that time by implementing bold new ideas? What if in the clunky time required to implement those ideas, damage is done in Liga, key matches lost in Champions League? That’s time that the legendary spine of the Barça team doesn’t have as “next season” gradually becomes “last season” for proud athletes.

Further, what if Unzue has bolder ideas than Sampaoli, but can’t implement them because he is an assistant. Ah, he should be able to by working with Luis Enrique? Not if the boss has his own ideas. What if those ideas are still taking shape? What if, what if, what if? It’s absurd to dismiss a possibility out of hand for the simple reason that people have someone “cooler” in mind. As supporters, we are supposed to want what is best for the team, not what suits our individual agendas, right? But who among us is stopping to consider that maybe, just maybe, Unzue is the ideal choice for the job?

Crickets … crickets …

Time for a real change

Luis Enrique has done a great many things wrong, even as he has steered Barça to a span that continues the remarkable success of an extraordinary team. He has made tactical and personnel decision that have cost his team. If he indeed works as closely with his assistants as any top coach does, any ideas that Unzue had, any strokes of genius, would already have been implemented as the coaching staff struggled to shake off the tactical malaise that seemed to grip this club earlier in the season.

Further, Unzue has been a perpetual assistant until now, even as he has been, as an assistant, a lot like professional cyclist Joop Zoetemelk, who finished second in the Tour de France six times, as he kept running into legendary riders. Rijkaard, Guardiola, Luis Enrique aren’t bad folks to be lending a hand to. But the ambition that makes an assistant to storied coaches throw his hat into the ring for higher office seems to be absent in Unzue. Why hasn’t he done it before now? Why didn’t Vilanova? There is strong reason not to trust an eternal assistant. Unzue could be another Roura as easily as another Vilanova.

Just as the club worries about wasting time as a new coach implements bold new ideas, what if the assistant has nothing new, only the same stuff that the team has been struggling with previously? Then you waste a season, with some of the best players in the history of the game, and who the hell has time for that.

Another argument against Unzue is that the players need something new, really new, in the aftermath of Luis Enrique, something to activate their senses, both mental and physical, in a way that only a completely new face with new ideas can do. Guardiola inherited a group of players that had, in the previous two season, invented ways to screw up. They were a mess, even as the talent was there. But a spark was needed, someone to scream, “Run, you bastards, run!”

Promoting an assistant is conservative, a submission to a staid approach that would allow the players to relax and believe that things are the same. Incumbents ease off rather than looking over their shoulders. New folks are saddled with the same psychic baggage. Paco Alcacer, rather than perking up because this new coach would be seeing him anew, would think, “Same folks, same ideas about me.” When trying to shake something up, there is always a strong argument for new and different.


Whoever gets the Barça job is probably going to do pretty well. A team that stacked with talent is like a chocolate cake recipe. Follow the instructions, and the result is going to be pretty tasty. Yes, a fancier chef might add a sprinkle of say, chili pepper to the batter to give the pastry a little sumthin’ sumthin’, but chocolate cake is damn good no matter how you come at it. Potentially, Barça will have an XI next season that is pretty much the same as this one: Ter Stegen, Vidal, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic, Neymar, Suarez, Messi. It’s pretty hard to mess that up. And even as so many from amateur coaching chairs allege that Luis Enrique has indeed messed that up, they’re wrong. He hasn’t.

This is true even if you allow for the nonsense that says a favored coach has the wrong players and that’s why he isn’t wonderful, while an unfavored coach is an idiot who can screw up chocolate cake, no matter how good the ingredients or precise the instructions. Tata Martino was five goals away from being in with a shout for a treble. And he is, no matter what knowledgeable critter you consult, the crappiest coach in the history of crappy coaches, Captain BBQ clad in a mint polo.

Wny wouldn’t a nervous board, realizing this, make the decision that the assitant should just move over a chair? Recent quotes have made it clear that the players would be fine with that call. Pique publicly likes it. So does the captain. So does a key midfield component in Rakitic. Don’t mess up the money machine.

Between social media and an Internet that has brought access to many levels of informed football writing, supporters are more informed than ever, able to converse about the merits of various formations. Twitter exchanges sound like math conventions, as numbers fly around. 3-3-1-2s vs 1-1-1-2-2-1, blablabla. We know more, even as we know less. The most vaunted Twitter genius, the most voceferous, vehement Luis Enrique detractor or proponent would, given the whistle, probably sit there, mouth agape at the job confronting them. And the quality of that job would, like it or not, come down on most days to precious little more than the quality of the execution from the players you are tasked with managing. What if Neymar hadn’t been seized by genius those last seven minutes? What if Messi hadn’t been Messi, any of the zilion times he decided to be Messi? All the tactical nous on the planet doesn’t have a solution, whether for or against, in the face of brilliance.

Guardiola wasn’t a fantastic choice to manage Barça, until he was. Rijkaard? Dunno, man … not that sure about his … whoa! Okay! This rocks! There are people who know more than any of us (yes, even you) tasked with making a critical decision. What say we all sit back and give that process a shot.

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. “At the top of each hill is a mountain of shit, and a bulldozer. ”
    I am still crying 😀

  2. Nice piece on the complexities of this matter! The discussion regarding which coach would be better is certainly very… arbitrary. When discussing players, at least we have access to their game; with coaches, we see only the tip of the iceberg. As is often pointed out here, we can never know if it is the coach of the players who “failed”; we have little idea as what to goes on behind the scenes, and can – perhaps – have an inkling whether coach A is a good game reader (judging from subs and changes during the game), or a bold tactician, etc. etc. But we don’t know. How much do the board know? Well, I hope a little more, though I certainly do always not trust their motives – Unzue could, I agree, be a case of “Don’t mess up the money machine.” Safe, cheap.

    Klopp is capricious, Tuchel not experienced enough, Sampaoli too crazy (and tied firm to Sevilla), Ancelotti (hahaha), Allegri has a good job already, Wenger would be hired as an interim but then refuse to leave (except in a casket), Valverde is too boring and seems to be on the slide, Eusebio maybe but probably not, Guardiola don’t wanna, Xavi not ready… who else? I don’t know. Unzue seems a pretty good alternative from where I’m sitting – especially if an interim coach is the alternative. Perhaps there are other names within the organisation, youth coaches etc., but probably no one who an step right up.

    I’m willing to bet a few bucks on our current assistant.

    1. Great comment, as always, Davour. Love the nutshell descriptions of the coaches. Always count on you for a good chuckle 🙂

    2. Arbitrary seems to be the right word. Speaking of which, with so many candidates the next season should be organised as a casting show, something like “Barca’s Next Savior”. Five games for Sampaoli, five for Unzue, and so on, with the winner (either according to points won or to popularity) getting to coach Barca for the next twenty years.

      In any case, Spanish television seems to have their mind made up. I’ve never seen as many scenes involving Unzue the whole last season as I did during the Valencia game.

    3. Ditto here. One commentator even started wondering whether Luis Enrique had left the field! On Twitter, it seemed many people noticed for the first time that Unzue is the one who dictates during set pieces (which has always been the case I think).

  3. \\

    For me, the incoming coach would have to be one who can fire up the troops constantly and keep up the required level and not let the players relax. That, for me is the primary objective.
    When you take care of that, the rest kinda takes care of itself.
    Because Barca with that quality in personnel – you dont need to teach them much.

    Unzue may be a master tactician but can he light a fire under neymar’s arse for example?, no i guess not.

    A Simeone or a Conte type personality with ties to the club is kinda what we need.

    Unfortunately there’s only one who fits that bill – well actually two, but one is leaving us already and the other is employed at city.

    1. In other words.. we are doomed 😀
      well lets face it culers, we have enjoyed such an amazing decade.
      Surreal. Unfair infact when you look at what some supporters get.

      I think Barca is set to enter a lull period. Atleast a bit ‘lull’-y when you compare this glorious decade. An ageing squad with not just messi, but busi, suarez, iniesta, pique are all 30 or well past it. Alves gone, puyol gone, xavi gone.

      The only bright future prospects in our team are Ter Stegen, Umtiti and Neymar.
      We need a coach that can make messi understand that and take a more Riquelmesque role. Also in the process, ensure his longevity ala a pirlo or a buffon, imagine if we could have messi spraying those delicious lobs and through balls even at 40. That would be amazing. The point is neymar is leaving sooner or later. So that really leaves us with umtiti and Ter stegen.

      Unfortunately those guys are in defense. and goal.
      Which is why a simeone kinda makes sense to me. Look, barca will never be a defending team and there will always be quality in attack. but when you build onwards from Mats and umtiti, you have team that is very hard to beat.

      anyway i digress.
      Klopp managing barca would actually be way cool.
      but he is defo going to burn out the squad much like pep did.
      but hey, maybe that is part of managing a club lke barca.
      maybe barca is a club that CANNOT have a long term manager.
      Perhaps that just isnt sustainable at a club like barca, or real for that matter.
      which is why we need the peps and luchos of the world, come in, do their thing, and get out most importantly. and therefore, hit the reset button so that we can rinse and repeat this flow of sustainable success.

      Pardon the verbal diarrhoea. I am just really jobless at the moment.

    2. “I am just really jobless at the moment.” which is good for us, because it was fun reading your comment.

      “maybe barca is a club that CANNOT have a long term manager.” – You said it. You can’t have Arsene Wenger smokin’ up on the bench for 20 years – you’d need a manager to manage him then.

  4. I’m not entirely sure how serious your second comment is, or if it’s more of a statement on how gloomy culers can be ; )

    Only three bright future prospects in our team? I don’t know about that. I would bet money that some of the young players who didn’t shine too much under Enrique this season – Suarez Minor, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha, Gomes, Vidal – will do better under a different coach. Not a jab at Enrique, other players might do worse than under Enrique, but different tactics and/or different approach to players can do that. Not too many people rated Thiago before he went to Bayern or Busquets before he replaced Touré. Only in hindsight, it’s easy to say they were always going to be great.

    Also, footballing life doesn’t stop at thirty. The team doesn’t need to be full of energetic young players. There need to be some, but players like Piqué and Busquets still have three or four more world-class seasons ahead of them, which is a small eternity in today’s footballing business. Three or four seasons are a lot of time to introduce new young players (who might not even be at the club yet) into the team.

    You are probably right that the next few years will feel a bit “worse” than the period of Guardiola to Enrique. However, I think that will be due to the absurd expectations generated by the success of that period, and not due to a sharp decline in the quality of play.

    1. With Unzue, I see him as a great choice.
      -An established FCB player for 7 years, All of it under johan cruyff.
      -Five years as an assistant to Frank Rijkaard
      -Four years as a Barca B coach, In 2013-2014 helped Barca B to reach the 3rd position in segunda.
      -A currently successful manager of real sociedad.

    2. Honestly, Eusebio is the most suitable for that role If only the barca board can go all the way in appointing him but unfortunately we have dull business men who cannot even wrap up a sponsorship deal managing the club.

      Only a dumb individual will go through Cryuff, Rijkard and Barca B and still not be able to manage Barca first team successfully. Eusebio is proving at Sociedad that he’s not a dumbo.

      Even though they’ve failed is countless number of times, this is a very tough test for Bartomeu and his executive members to prove to us the fans that they really know what they are doing.

    3. I have to admit I’m struggling to see what you’re referring to in terms of Bartomeu failing us but then I’m not overly interested in that side of things. Can you share some of the failures with us ?

    4. If we want to stick to the facts, This administration under Bartomeu has been successful both sporting and financial wise.
      -The team under them won 5 out 6 major trophies, A number that can still increase by the end of this season.
      -In 2018 they will sign the most expensive kit deal in the world with nike, valued at 155m euros per season, For the next 10 years
      -Next season they will sign the second most expensive shirt sponsor deal with rakuten, Valued at 55m euros per season, For the next 4-5 years, Both deals will make sure that FCB will still be competitive financially in the future, To retain it’s spot as one of the best teams in the world.

      Bashing the board is sort of a trend, That doesn’t correlate with the facts, But instead driven by emotion and temperament, A way to ventilate a fan’s frustration, because an X players deal didn’t pay off the end, Or they didn’t bring Y player or Z coach,
      There is no realistic criteria that i know off where this board had failed, In any way.

  5. Eloquently put kevin, Your articles sometimes resonate with my own thoughts to a degree that i feel i’m reading an article of mine, In a universe where i can actually articulate and write worth a s**t.

    Unzue, Or not to Unzue
    As weird as it sounds, There is no “correct” and “right” decision on this matter, Which makes it easy to be confused on what to feel and decide about this ,But there is a question to ask oneself, That might alleviate this confusion:

    -If it were up to you, Would want luis enrique to stay?

    An answer of yes, And Unzue will make sense, He’s the closest that we’ll get to LE, A logical choice to ensure continuity, And this sheds more clarity on why roberto and the board will probably go for him, They themselves wanted LE to renew.

    I my self would want luis to stay, So that makes me a proponent of unzue, Who he himself ticks many checkboxes on what i want from an FCB coach, Two years as a GK from 1988-1990, And GK trainer from 2005-2010, Means he worked under Johan cruyff, Frank rijkaard and pep guardiola, All indicates he’s well knowledgeable about the footballing philosophy of our club, Also four years as an assistant coach to a coach that made history, Yep, that’s a good résumé in my book.

    Yet i admit i see the choice of unzue does have a potential major downside, Something kevin also pointed out, It’s the familiarity.
    The players seem to really welcome the choice, But not for totally unselfish reasons, They take comfort in him because they can expect, Similar practice drills, Similar routine, Similar set up, The big names on the squad will feel more safe in their spots, They love the familiar, And that’s not a good thing.

    Clubs constantly replace managers, And in many occasions the replacement isn’t necessarily a better tactician, But someone new to kick the players in the butt and re-energize the players when they had become complacent.
    FCB players need a kick in their butt, Considering that most of them had already tasted success in all it’s forms, And are still required to go out every season and compete in all competitions, Against a deprived and a starving evil rival.

    To be fair to unzue, This potential downside isn’t out of his control, He might put his foot down when he takes helm and establish his presence as a new coach with new ideas and methods, And makes it clear that it isn’t more of the same.
    Of course i have no evidence of this, Just wishful thinking from my part.

  6. As one commenter (dunno where I kept his name) nicely put it that maybe Barca isn’t the type of club that keeps a coach around for long, since this past decade we haven’t had a coach for a period of 6 seasons! Unzue may or may not be the ideal candidate for the job but why not give him a trial, we might be 3rd time lucky, considering the recent successes we’ve had with assistants and former barca players at the helm of affairs.
    Barca fans are one of the hardest fans to please, but real cules will place their fate in the system and a tinge of luck ; Unzue has been untested in higher managerial positions – so was pep – not trying to compare them, so I don’t think it’s hard for people to see reasons why the club socios will likely appoint him in stead of more glamorous candidates.
    The major factors are the players, and luckily for us we won’t be experiencing any wholesale additions/shipping out for atleast 3 seasons, we’re in safe hands.

  7. Um’….. I’m TEAM VALVERDE all the way….. Well, if not for any other reason :solely for youth promotion (he will definitely win trophies, don’t they all?)……. I still fantasise about Thiago Alcantara, still hurting from Sergi Samper not giving a chance, Deulofeu too

    1. I’m sure Valverde would do a fine job, there is just something about him I don’t trust; a lack of that super club aura (that Rafa Benitez also lacked). Almost better coming from “nowhere”, like Unzue. We’ll see!

      Thiago, though, he ain’t coming back. Said he is happy at Bayern – and why would he come? Expectations would be ridiculous, while he is comfortable enough at the moment in a top 3 club. Just like your old dog is not living in a farm up state (but is dead), Thiago is “dead”. Deulofeu, though, would be a possibility. My brother (who follows Ac Milan) claimed he is working like a dog (speaking of which) these days, helping out in defence and everything. Still selfish, though…

      And Samper will surely be back next season?

  8. Was watching both games last night. While Brazil are clearly on Neymar’s shoulders and he enjoys that role in leading them, Argentina on the other hand continue to be clueless. What’s the point of having all those attackers when you don’t have a midfield to feed them.
    Unless something remarkable happens in Russia, they have 0 chance on lifting the trophy. I mean, their midfield still relies on Biglia!!!!

  9. Busi, Iniesta and Thiago in Spain’s midfield plus a glass of wine in front of my TV. what’s not to like ?

  10. See, that’s the kind of football I want to watch. Ball flying about between world class players and a beautiful through ball from Alba for first goal. Iniesta and Thiago brilliant together.

  11. It s obvious that the coach of Portugal NT is an idiot and he dont follow Barca fans on twitter or he dont listen to the whistles of Camp Nou.
    The man want to lost his job?Is he stupid?Andre Gomes starter again?
    Mr Santos u are clueless.Barca fans know better.

    1. Did he do well, then? Because playing for Barca, he has not. Two different contexts, so I don’t get the ironic approach. Too much responsibility, too soon, I’m sure. Still.

    2. Sorry Luis, I don’t know if you are being serious or joking because you start by saying that Portugal’s manager is stupid for playing Gomes and then suggest that everyone has a poor first season with Barca
      Gomes has tons of potential and on my opinion will be a world class player. If you watched his long ball for Ronaldo’s first goal you’d probably agree.

  12. I didnt watch the game but i watched some Portugal games before and he was good.
    I was ironic because Andre is targeted a lot and people forget the 1st season in our club of Henry,Abidal and others.Even Neymar in 2013-14 he was not the beast he is now.
    All our midfielders have problems this season and are incosistent.And when i see people protect Rafhinia or Denis,when both dont have good seasons,but they want Andre out i cant stand it.

    1. I’m sure he was good; I guess that is why we bought him. I certainly don’t agree with the whistlers, that’s a disgrace, but we cannot ignore his game being poor. We can ask for intensity, even now. I, like Cieran, think he might become an important player, but also slightly worried he is not mentally up to it. We’ll see; definitely a second season. He is a type of player that, in theory, can dominate in a way I don’t think either Denis or Rafinha can (who get less criticism partly since they didn’t cost a fortune).

  13. And when Busi was bad in some games many said it s the system that dont help him.
    Imagine a new player who the coach play in many positions in midfield and he had no preseason with the team.

  14. As we all support a Catalan team i am so happy that Maverick Viniales started the season with a win at MotoGp!
    I know that not many people watch it and i cant understand why much more watch F1,it s really breathtaking watch a man ride a bike and touch the ground in a corner!
    F1 was fun old days now driving is much easy and watching Mad Max is the only good thing!
    Boring international breaks!

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