Those close to me know that I was so done with Valverde*. His anti-rotation policy turned my stomach. His handling of players like Semedo and Dembélé merited a kicking. His cautious nature made me want to attack someone. The fiasco in Rome made me allergic to pizza for three months. I actually hashtagged #ValverdeOut after that game not because I was annoyed or humiliated or dismayed or frustrated or gutted or beaten or pissed off or demoralized or more than just a little bit upset. No. Rome was the culmination of all of Valverde’s flaws and none of his virtues and I was fed up like a fat man who gained all of his obesity over the course of half a season with the belly hanging over the knees and the stretch marks bursting at the seams. EV was also the first coach in a very long time who left me continuously exasperated at starting lineup announcements.**
Now I understand I might sound like the type who would bite out your adam’s apple in an uncontrolled fit of emotion, but let me assure you that on most days this could not be further from the truth. I put feelings to the side like brussel sprouts at Thanksgiving and analyze things from a cold and clear perspective. Even the morning after the worst humiliation our club has suffered since Athens 1994 it was evident that not only Valverde had many great qualities, but that this thoroughly decent gentleman had employed all these qualities towards an unprecedented undefeated league campaign and probable domestic double. He deserved respect and credit and if the people who run our club had a bit more hair on their sphericals they would have respectfully given him all the credit for an amazing season and hired Tuchel on the first day of June. This was my opinion after Rome and no sir, no ma’am, the Copa del Rey final in which we slaughtered Sevilla with the most luscious “Barça” football we had seen in more than a year did not change my mind.
Of course our board was never going to fire him and I knew our board was never going to fire him because it was obvious our board was never going to fire him. So am I going to rant and rage for months at a coach who in his first year steered the club away from the snake-bite induced calamity we all thought was coming after the “summer of Ney” and, closing my eyes and ignoring the previously discussed car wreck, drove us to success with a calm and steady hand? What for? Those who are close to me know that I am pretty chill***, so why would I punish myself by only looking at a person’s flaws and ignoring his positive attributes. That would make for a miserable season. If he is going to stay, I might as well hope that he improves some of the things that displeased with such consistent accuracy. He’s not going to be perfect but he might be better and better might be good enough. Deserve has nothing to do with it (I’m cold like an antarctic lizard) but the case can be made that he deserved to stay.
That was my thinking and he ended up staying, so yeah, who would’ve thought, right? And low and behold, he did things I liked, like playing in Coutinho in midfield which, ok, did not really work out but I like that he tried it. Like playing Dembélé, which maaaaan is this working out well for us. Like playing Arthur who has become essential in his first year in Europe. Like starting Aleñá in more matches this season so far than appearances in the season prior. Like moving away from a four four twoish formation which on some days stung the eyeballs and on others just numbed the senses. I no longer despair when I see his lineups and to my surprise and satisfaction I even find myself saying “fuck yeah” from time to time.****
Is Valverde the coach of my dreams? No. He still depends too much on Rakitic and/or Sergio Busquets (yeah, I said it). Luis Suarez, Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba should be rotated more. Malcom should get more minutes, as should Riqui Puig (!) and Semedo should be getting a lot more starts over Sergi Roberto. Most worrying of all he has played Messi while 80% fit. However the coach of my dreams might not exist at this very moment. Setien is the hipster choice because we give him all the credit when Betis play beautifully and look the other way when they don’t. People look at Ajax’s performance versus Real M*drid and not only ignore their losses against Feyenoord and Heracles, the latter of which might not even be a Segunda side in Spain, but also refuse to acknowledge the fact that if Messi, Suarez and Busquets and maybe even Dembélé and Coutinho press the way Ajax pressed for three consecutive matches, hamstrings will pop off more loudly than gunshots from favela rooftops on New Year’s Eve. These are squad-related complexities that any coach would have to deal with, whether his name is Valverde or Setien or Tuchel or Luis Enrique or Guardiola or none other than mister Hendrik Johannes Cruijff himself back from the dead to strike fear into the hearts of Valverdistas worldwide.
Valverdistas, give me a break. I honestly have never met any and I frankly think that if you use that term you should run to your mommy and request a diaper change. Given the current squad, its current manager is not someone I would like to see in charge next season. He is conservative and too focused on the short term, which makes him depend on veterans for what they can give him the next game more than what they can give us throughout this season or even next. However, force this manager to trust in Frenkie De Jong, Riqui Puig and Oriol Busquets by selling Gomes, Denis, Rafinha, Coutinho (!) and Rakitic (!) and give him real alternatives for Suarez and Alba and you will see that Ernesto Valverde’s pragmatic and short term approach will complement our mid and long term needs. Changing our coach will not necessarily change the complexities of an aging squad. Making brave changes to this squad will.
Let’s hope we are up to the task!
*Ok, those who are thousands of miles away from me and only know me through my twitter feed @barsalev knew this as well
**Starting lineups are not something I tend to get worked up about.
***Ok, those who are thousands of miles away from me and only know me through my twitter feed @barsalev probably do not know this at all.
****Note that I’m writing this before our game versus Vallodolid and if Valverde doesn’t rest Messi, Piqué and Suarez I would recommend waterboarding Ernesto with the blood of a thousand virgins before dumping him in a pool of unfed tiger sharks.