Following years of dire football and horrific European collapses, Barcelona have finally pulled the plug on Ernesto Valverde and appointed his polar opposite: Quique Setién.
Barcelona’s 3-2 defeat to Atlético Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup semi-finals proved to be the straw that finally broke the camel’s back on one of the most under-fire managers in the world in Ernesto Valverde. With another late collapse in a cup competition, the board simply were left without a choice and made the decision to move on (two years too late in my opinion) and appoint someone who will bring the excitement back to the Camp Nou—former Real Betis boss Quique Setién.
Setién has enjoyed a fruitful last five years to rise to the pinnacle of Spanish football. Previously known best as a player during his time at Racing Santander, he led a successful stint at Las Palmas, which saw the Canarian club have a three-year run in the top flight. Moving on to Andalusia, he played dynamic and exciting football to see Betis finish in sixth, and has been previously linked when Valverde was under fire.
In some respects, although both Setién and Valverde are veterans of Spanish football getting their first real opportunity in pressure cooker of top European football at Barcelona, they could not be more different stylistically. Valverde came under heavy fire for losing touch with the “Barcelona way” and over-relying on Lionel Messi. However, even at smaller clubs, Setién showed a commitment to forward-thinking, possession-based attacking football that will breathe new life into a tired side and reinvigorate the fanbase.
Valverde was a pragmatist at heart, a defensive mind built on stability and rigidity, a style of football that cuts so sharply against the grain of what it means to play football in this part of the world. The strength of his approach should have been to squeeze the life out of big matches with a sturdy defense, ensuring nights like Roma and Liverpool never happened, but instead the total opposite occurred. Messi’s individual brilliance allowed his club side to slip into a state of total dependence similar to that of the Argentina national team, and in the end, his coach and team failed him.
Setién will face key challenges in sorting serious recruitment, academy, and team imbalance issues that run much deeper within the club, but his bold style of football will give fans exactly what they wanted from Valverde. With Luis Suárez set to miss the rest of the season, he will walk into a massive test, but he could be the key to awaken the sleeping Catalan giant.
This could be a Champions League-winning move from the Blaugrana. With Valverde, this team simply did not have it in them to truly contend for the ultimate prize, but if Setién can return this club to the beautiful football that allowed it to dominate world football at the beginning of the decade, there is no reason to believe that it cannot happen again to begin the next one.
The pain of the past is gone, and Barcelona finally have hope. Now the real work begins, and there’s a new boss managing at the biggest club in the world.