“So, welcome to FC Barcelona, Mr. Koeman. Here’s your roster, and the keys to the executive dining room. Anything else we can do to make your stay more pleasant?”
Ronald Koeman. Failure at Valencia, failure at Everton, moderate success with the NED national team, but a legit Barça legend. And now he’s the new manager. For now.
Supporters are greeting the news in one of two ways: a yawn, or noting that sliding deck chairs around the Titanic didn’t work the last time, either. Managerial change when a team is broken and a club is foundering on the rocks doesn’t seem like an entirely logical move, though it is certainly a desperate one by a president looking to save his despotic hide. Usually a new manager brings excitement and anticipation. Not Koeman. Setien brought more, illogically, because he said the right things at the presser and his mess of a Betis side came to the Camp Nou and took advantage of a messy, lazy Barça side. But the only people really excited were those who didn’t pay very close attention to his Betis teams. His Camp Nou tenure was doomed at the start.
On the surface, here’s what he has to work with:
— A psychologically damaged team
— A team whose best players are geezers in football years
— No transfer budget for an overhaul
— A big roster filled with questions and questions already answered with, “Not quite”
Exciting, right? But now that we know who the manager is, and we know that he has at least one clear idea — though it was already clear to anyone with eyes — that Barça needs to be able to compete with the intensity and physicality demanded by the modern game. But this very statement is incompatible with the reality of the roster. Yet with utter humiliataion comes opportunity. Nobody has any credibility, so sacred cows are almost an vulnerable as any other cow. Fascinating names are rumored to be on the block, such as Alba, Busquets, Suarez, Umtiti, Vidal, Rakitic, Griezmann, none of whom anyone should have any quibbles with.
So who will be excited about Koeman? Frenkie De Jong, for one. He had a grand old time capering about with the keys to the midfield in the Dutch NT. Don’t expect that to change. And if Messi says, could we be saying hello to the universe’s most creative, creative midfielder?
In a previous interview, Koeman is on the record as saying if a 22 and a 30-year-old play a position with the same facility or close to it, he will always go for the 22 year old. Cool in theory. Let’s see what happens when the rubber hits the road. Barça is, theoretically, stuffed with young talent. Puig, Alenya, Fati, Pedri, Fernandes, Trincao, Araujo, Todibo. And look for the likes of Monchu to get a look, and tough break for Collado, but he will get some time as well. Nothing like unleashing the Youngs to purge psychology, right?
Koeman isn’t an exciting option. Even if he was an exciting option, he isn’t an exciting option because he’s clambering up the ladder to a club facing massive fiscal losses due to a global pandemic, whose best player is rumored to crave a departure, doesn’t have money for the kind of major rebuild it will need, and is run by the craven and self-serving. Under the absolute best of circumstances, it’s difficult to see Koeman succeeding in doing anything more than keeping the seat warm for the manager who will be appointed by the next president.
And speaking of presidents …
It is my fervent belief that Josep Bartomeu loves power more than he loves FC Barcelona. There is no other reason why he didn’t fire Setien, then resign himself. The previous preidential rock bottom in Gaspart, resigned. Sometimes, when you love something, you have to set it free. Or in the case of Bartomeu, when you have presided over the kind of institutional rot that would leave a crocodile toothless, you have to set it free. His tenure has been a complete and utter failure that has included a trio of increasingly seismic European escapades. “Hey, nothing can be as bad as Rome.” “Hold my beer.” “Whew! Okay. Anfield is done. Nowhere to go but up.” “Hold my beer. Again.”
Yes, the players have culpability for the three losses, but they are also kicking balls with one foot tied behind their backs due the kinds of institutional neglect of the human and sporting sides of the game that have been well chronicled by others. Bartomeu has chosen to convene elections on March 13. With proper elections in June anyhow, what’s the point except another symbolic gesture by a board and a president that specialize in them. The time to resign is now. Convene snap elections, set up a mechanism for electronic voting, which any reasonably smart web person should be able to knock out in an afternoon. Two weeks for candidates to declare, and in that time, everything is set up. The club has a new president for a new season, and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.
Even Sandro Rosell had the decency to resign. That’s saying something. Being a lame duck president is bad enough. Being a lame duck president who has almost single handedly blowtorched and laid waste to a once-great institution is something else altogether. Yeah. Power is nice. Free match tickets, glad-handing, you can hobnob with geniuses. But my heavens, how can anyone with a conscience look at what Barça has become, know that you did it and not immediately think about the most expeditious way to leave, before you do any more harm. Throwing people under the bus, even if they deserve to be there, doesn’t help much now unless you fling yourself under the wheels as well.
It’s arrogance, hubris and despotic neglect, all rolled into one. Ah. By March, the mangerial decision will have taken hold, Koeman will have the team flying, playing the kind of briliant football that will give a continuity candidate a head start, you say? That ain’t hope. That’s foolishness. People resign all the time when they have failed to uphold the deep and abiding trust of the people who elected them. Presumably there isn’t a soci around who voted for any of this, who said, “Well, it’s a sporting disaster but hey, there’s money in the bank.”
But the real reason to delay until March is to get all those fiscal ducks in a row, and everything approved, all ship-shape for the next president to stroll in and say, “Wait. WHAT?!” Even now, they specialize in covering their asses.
When the requirement changed to needing 18,000 socis to support a censure motion, any and all threats to any presidency, no matter how managerially inept, dissipated. Now it’s resign, or we’re stuck with it all. So resign. It’s the proper thing to do. Firing a coach doesn’t fix any of the real problems at FC Barcelona. If someone is sitting at home weeping and you buy them a bauble, expecting something material to substitute for utter spiritual and human failure, what does that make you? There are sponsorships and an allegedly solid balance sheet, evfen in the face of a global pandemic. Maybe.
Love is a weird thing. It’s easy to mistake being power hungry and arrogant for love, for thinking that you are the best person for a given job even as another failure lays splattered in the gutter like the aftermath of a night to forget along La Rambla. But if a 2-8 piledriving, if the greatest player in the game, the man who you constantly invoke as an example of what makes this club break, sits desolate at halftime, already sure of what everyone else also knew, what is there left for a proper president to do except resign?