The unforgiving world of football: the Barcelona-Valverde edition
In the late hours of Monday, 13th January, 2020, the football world received news of the demise of another manager-club partnership, this time of one of Europe's and Spain's greats, FC Barcelona. Rather unsurprisingly, and yet awkwardly so, to a rapturous acclaim of their many fans who had in recent times been calling for their manager's head on a platter in ways reminiscent of biblical history; this show casting Ernesto Valverde as John the Baptist, Barca fans as Herod's wife and the Barca board as card-calling King Herod.Valverde's replacement was almost immediately named in the form of Quique Setien.
The fans' anger and frustration can be understood. Barcelona have in the past two UEFA Champions league seasons, surrendered three-goal first leg leads to lose on aggregate in the knockout stages, to AS Roma and Liverpool. This after they themselves came from being four goals down to knockout Paris Saint-Germain 6-5 on aggregate three years ago.
Furthermore, fans have complained of the team's inability to perform without Lionel Messi on the pitch, or on the Argentine playmaking genius' off days. As many have suggested in social media lashings, Valverde's tactics relied entirely on Messi's quality and not on his own tactical nous nor the tiki taka system the Catalan club is famous for.
Yet, that's somewhat defendable. It would be outright stupid to have a player such as Messi, who takes the term "world class" to different heights, in your side and not tweak your pattern of play to suit him or have it revolve around him. However, Messi is still human and there are times, albeit very few, when even he goes off or gets injured. And it is in such times that Barca falter.
The Spaniard's record at Barcelona is still remarkable as the stats tell. In his time at the Catalan club,they lost only 16 matches of 145 matches played in all competitions, with only one being a home defeat. They also drew 32 matches whilst winning 97, very impressive even for a club like Barcelona. Illatively, his loss per match (LPM) ratio is 0.110.
In comparison with Barca's last four managers, Valverde's LPM ratio is superior to Luis Enrique's 0.116 and Tito Vilanova's 0.111, with only Pep Guardiola having a better LPM ratio at 0.085. It's equally amazing that he's lost only two UCL matches in the past two years given the outcry by Barca fans for his sack, albeit those two losses were very costly; both being infamous turnaround knockouts out of the competition.
Seeing that he won the league twice and the Copa del Rey once in his two-and-half year spell there and Barca was also top of the league and through to the knockout stages of the current season and that they had seemingly kept the faith in him by not sacking him over the summer, it was quite startling that they decided to sack him now.
I reckon that the reason for the uneasiness which plagued fans of this Spanish giant was the seeming over-reliance on Messi's quality and showmanship and a not-so-definite style of play which inadvertently led to them faltering at very important junctures costing them the fight for the UCL crown in the last two years. These seem the most plausible reason for the disdain Valverde was shown by Barca fans and not the usual poor run of form or perceived inconsistency, or even lack of titles which cause fans and boards alike to lose faith in managers.
With the opinion of the fans on the standards for rating his success not dovetailing with that of the board, it was expected that Valverde would finish the season in the job, at least. Maybe the board later conceded to fans' views or they didn't want another knockout repeat of the last two years, none exactly can say.
Whatever the reason, another football manager has been relieved of his duties, this time probably even in disgraceful fashion.
This is another episode in football's unforgiving series of managers getting sacked without being totally awful, and this time Valverde played the role of John the Baptist sadly perfectly well.
Featured image credits: FC Barcelona Noticias