Smiling faces, joined hands and an announcement that Ernesto Valverde has been renewed as the head coach of FC Barcelona, a decision that is the wrong one for the team. It’s a lazy, blinkered decision by a board that is content to do nothing except kick the can down the road. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is the wrong way to run a football club.
There is a pathology about Valverde that is foolish. People scream about him playing boring football, without trying to understand the tools he has available and how they limit what he can craft.
Others are still screaming about Rome last season, laying the blame solely at his feet out of timidity in the face of asking hard questions about their heroes.
In the wake of the Ajax Champions League match, and the cries of “Why can’t Barcelona play like that,” or “I am enjoying watching this team play more than anything ever under Valverde.”
It’s all weird, and pathological because it ignores the fundamental blessing and curse of Valverde, and the real reason he is the incorrect choice. As a coach, he has done an excellent job at Barça. Only the obstinate or — well — pathological refuse to admit that. His strengths of working with veterans, and constructing a solid, stolid footballing analog of himself all work.
For this team.
The technical staff of Barcelona has made a recent run of exceptional decisions and signings. You can grouse about how the club dropped its trousers to land Frenkie de Jong, but they did it. Moussa Wague is looking ready, and the move to nab Emerson on a joint venture with Betis is potentially smart, and Todibo? Whoa. Add to this expected acquisitions of a left back and a forward in the summer market, both of who are expected to be young, and these are looking like exciting times for Barça.
Try this hypothetical starting XI on for size, realizing that it isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Todibo, Umtiti, Ferland Mendy, De Jong, Arthur, Alenya, Dembele, Messi, Luka Jovic. Wow.
In thinking of the coach you would be excited about having command of that XI, there are a lot of names that come to mind before Valverde, for good reason. Yes, he has done a great job with bringing along Dembele and steering him through that off-pitch nonsense, and rolling Alenya out at the exact right moment.
But next season would, ideally, begin a rebuilding process for the team, one that is fearless, worried more about developing mentally powerful beasts for the future rather than looking to gobble up more trophies. The coach of that group should be a teacher, a confident, innovative leader unafraid of losing, backed by a board that understands his mission. When you think of that person, nobody thinks of Valverde.
How will the team play? Does anyone expect a bold commitment to the kind of football that the players seem to have been acquired for?
Valverde has been renewed for next season, with an option year that the next board will be able to consider at its leisure. It’s the same board that plans to offer Jordi Alba a five-year (??!!) renewal, the same board that seems determined to just kick the can down the road and let the next bunch do some heavy lifting.
It’s a shame, even as the decision surprises no one. Accountants want an accountant. But who among us doesn’t envision the XI of Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba, Busquets, Arthur, Coutinho, Messi, Dembele, Suarez — essentially, the same XI of this season, while young talent sits and waits. And rusts as Barça Twitter rails against the insanity of it all for good reason.
We should have had some indication from Bartomeu’s comments about Riqui Puig, where he talked about the travails of Xavi and Iniesta, and the years they took to become what they turned out to be. We should have sensed that would indicate that they would choose to renew the very man who will require deep wells of patience from Puig, as Arturo Vidal or Coutinho run around in midfield while he watches from the bench.
Coaches get a mandate from the board that appoints them. Just as with Sarri at Chelsea, and the people who seem surprised that a man of principles would stick to his principles, Valverde is going to Valverde. What works quite well for now is the wrong choice for the future, a young future that can learn so much from working with the likes of Messi in match situations.
The board is lazy and timid, their decisions are lazy and timid. The Valverde renewal is just another one. #valverdeout? No. But #valverdestay? Hell no.