You come upon a thicket, slash your way through to a clearing, which contains a cauldron. Surrounding the cauldron are piles of human bones, shredded clothing and other remnants of a grim, untimely demise. The cauldron is still bubbling. Do you pick up the ladle, or run for your life.
Quique Setien has, like so many before him, picked up the ladle. By taking on what is the most difficult job in football, the 61-year-old veteran manager might lead many to ask whether he’s out of his mind. The Barça job is that is even more difficult now than it was even four or five years ago, and as difficult as it will ever be. Here’s what is expected of a Barça manager:
— win every trophy
— play a particular kind of football
— meet statistical standards for possession and passing
— win, despite people saying results don’t matter. They do.
— promote from the youth divisions
— make the right transfers, and use them in the exact right way
On paper, coming after the philosophical wreckage of the SS Valverde, Setien has the easiest job in football. Make a bunch of passes, say Cruijff and lot and you’re golden. Not quite. As Setien himself noted, he didn’t roll into a situation like Abelardo, where he has to save a team with talent from relegation. The team that Setien has assumed comtrol of is leading the league, walked its Champions League group and possesses the greatest player to ever play the game.
Nowhere to go but down. Win the league? Pah. Valverde did that. Win the Copa, like last-season Guardiola? #setienout Win just Champions League? What about the league? Almost no matter what he does short of a treble, is going to suck. It’s like wondering what Sisyphus thought as he began every day. “Welp. Rock time again.”
After two matches there isn’t much to report or glean, nor was there ever goimg to be. The breathless reports and Tweets from people effusing over the more than a thousand passes against Granada weren’t interested in how many of them went forward, that there were only six shots on goal or that Granada used its sliver of possession to hit the post. When the necessity is there for a new arrival to be an improvement, perspective is hard to apply. Besides, nobody wants to be that asshole.
In the Copa match, when Tercera side Ibiza more effectively used its moment of possession to create a lead that drew out to sphincter-clenching duration, we saw some of the dangers present in the fledgling stages of ideological purity: you still need studs to pull it off. Jotdi Alba came on to make a difference. Antoine Griezmann, whose transfer fee could run Ibiza for a couple of seasons, scored the goals that ended their dream and deprived headline writers of a fun evening.
And both goals could easily have been scored in the Valverde era. Indeed, the one with Griezmann busting up the wing to shred the keeper was, quite recently. And both goals came from exceptional players doing exceptional things rather than gems forged in the fire of philosophical purity. But that is also to be expected, as it was as true and valuable in Guradiola’s tenure as it will be in Setien’s.
But the biggest problem facing Setien, one that is unique, is that these players have alteady acheived. It isn’t like Guardiola, rolling in after a disaster of a previois season and saying, “Run, you hasrards.” This team has won the last two league titles and a Copa.
The team is also filled with powerful, accomplished veteran players who know how they want to play, irrespective of a coach’s machinations. Phil Jackson’s “Triangle” offense with the Bulls often spatked smiles from the players who knew that was all well and good, but when you needed a basket, Michael Jordan was the offense. Messi will bail out Setien just as he bailed out Valverde, Luis Enrique, Tata Martino and every other coach he has played for. It’s what Messi does.
Setien has the unusual burden of expectation, one lightened by the fact that Valverde was despised. And how does Setien deal with being third choice, and how might that affect how his seeming mandate is perceived?
And we haven’t even gotten to the entorno yet. At a recent presser, when asked about any preferred candiate for the vacant 9 position, Setien said, basicqlly, others were working that, so let’s not waste time. Henisn’t interested in playing the game. Such things can matter to media outlets that define views on coaches and players. There’s a reason the Barça job ages coaches.
For me, contract duration aside, Setien feels like a caretaker, and not just because he was third choice. He has a job that will be difficult for him to succeed at, for so many reasons. Ideally, he would get the rest of thos season, his transfers in the summer and then a full season. Will a petulant, panicked board be willing to grant that leeway should the team not win Champions League this eason? Hard to see that happening with a third choice who has been given the hardest job in football