Luis Enrique is on the verge of dropping the reins at Barcelona. The former Spain midfielder will be hoping to finish on a high on Saturday by defeating Alaves and winning one last trophy. And afterwards, the Catalan will be looking forward to the start of the next season.
Ernesto Valverde will be taking over from Enrique at the Camp Nou after he puts a stop to his four-year reign at Athletic Club this week. So what does the 53-year-old coach have to offer Barcelona?
Valverde came into the footballing world as a footballer at Alaves and afterwards had a two-year spell at Camp Nou under Johan Cruyff. Barca are in the habit of employing coaches that can comport to their philosophy and considering that, the Basque is the perfect man for the job, regardless of the little playing he got during his time at the Catalan club.
Valverde has had two spells at Athletic as a manager, two at Olympiacos and one spell each at Espanyol, Villarreal and Valencia. A shrewd tactician, he has employed varieties of formation in his managerial career, including 4-3-3, 3-5-2, 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1.
His time at Athlectic brough back the former glory of the club after an unsuccessful season under the former coach Marcelo Bielsa. Valverde performed a miracle in getting the best out of a squad filled with only Basque player due to the club’s policy of only signing local players.
That could only mean he had done the best that could possibly be done with a club of such limited scope. The first Athletico coach to lead the team to a trophy win in 31 years (overtaking Barca to the Spanish Supercopa in 2015), he won 102 games in his second spell and a total of 140 wins across his two stint which leaves just one win behind Javier Clemente who holds a record of 141.
What stands Valverde out is his man-management skills, although the players he will be working with are quite different from the ones in his past experience and he will need to accord some respect to the hierarchy of the MSN in the dressing room, most especially Lionel Messi – a fact Luis Enrique found out too late at the fall-out at Anoeta in his debut season at the club.
A deep thinker with an astounding tactical skill, Valverde is able to capitalize on opposition’s weaknesses, while he likes I teams to put pressure on the rivals. However, the only glitch about his time at Athletic, is his poor record in fixtures away from the club’s stadium San Mames. At Barca, he will be expected to excel in both fronts – home and away.
“Ernesto has done a great job at Athletic the last few years,” Gerard Pique said this week. “He played here for Barcelona as a player and I think he could be a good option, as could others.”
And Andres Iniesta added: “If the coach is Valverde, then I wish him all the luck in the world. If it’s him, he’s prepared for the job. The teams he has been at, the general opinion is that they know what they are doing and they know how to play.”
There is no doubt about that, but he has no experience with a club as big as Barcelona. Valverde was able to lead Espanyol to a UEFA Cup final and can lay claim to three league titles in Greece and he also has a good record at Athletic. He is obviously capable of taking up the job, but the jury is still out on whether he can help rejuvenate the Barca team that has been on a decline over the past two seasons.