Barcelona finally made it official on Wednesday. The replacement for Quique Setién is Ronald Koeman, the former Barca defender who has left his job as manager of the Dutch national team.
Koeman has long made it clear that he wanted to coach Barcelona one day – his contract as manager of the Netherlands reportedly contained a clause allowing him to leave early if the Catalans came calling – and now he gets to do exactly that.
But if this isn’t a “be careful what you wish for …” situation, then I don’t know what is. Let’s save the talk about his unenviable task, though, for later in this piece. First, we should address whether Koeman was the right man for the job. We don’t do transfer grades on manager appointments, but Barcelona would get a B- if I had to grade this move.
Why Ronald Koeman?
Koeman’s hire does make some sense. First of all, he’s A) not Setién and B) he comes in with far more clout than his predecessor. Between his accomplishments as a player on some revered Barcelona teams and his extensive (if not terribly impressive) experience as a manager, Koeman ought to have the respect of the locker room.
As crazy as it is to say this about possibly the biggest, richest club on the planet, it’s also a huge deal that Koeman wants to manage this team right now. With everything going on at the moment, and all the upheaval we’ll continue to see ahead of next spring’s presidential election, there aren’t a ton of qualified coaches dying to step into this mess.
The last thing I’ll say “in favor of” Koeman is that at this point, I’d rather have him than Xavi, though the former midfielder will almost certainly get this job one day.
Why Not Mauricio Pochettino?
Barcelona had two options (though I’ll admit Marcelo Gallardo is completely unproven in Europe) I liked more than Koeman. The first is the former Tottenham manager, who is as close to universally respected as any manager in the game right now, active or not. He’d need some time to implement his system, but he would make a ton of sense considering what he pulled off with Spurs.
Apparently, the main reason he wasn’t considered the man for the job was that he has strong ties to Barcelona’s hated Catalan rival, Espanyol (and Pochettino has previously said that because of that, he would never coach Barcelona). But if he’s willing to put that behind him – it’s notable that he did recently change his tune, and it’s also worth mentioning that Espanyol will be in La Segunda next season – that seems like a terrible reason not to consider him.
The other intriguing option for the Catalans is unproven in Europe, but is widely considered a major up-and-comer in South America: River Plate’s Gallardo. After a successful playing career with the Buenos Aires giant, he took over as coach in ’14 and has piled up 10 trophies. That includes two Copa Libertadores (essentially South America’s Champions League) championships. The 44-year-old has been linked to the Barcelona manager role before, and said as recently as December that he wasn’t interested, but the Catalans should have given him another call this week. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that whatever European club finally gives him a chance (assuming he ever wants to make the move) will be glad they did.
The daunting task at hand
It’d be easy to write a separate piece (or four) about everything Koeman has to tackle in the coming weeks and months, but let’s start with the purge the club is planning. Club President Josep Maria Bartomeu said when he sacked Setién that a “wider restructuring” was ahead, and sure enough, Sporting Director Eric Abidal has followed Setién out the door. To add intrigue to the weeks to come, Bartomeu specifically named the seven players that are not for sale, leaving out a number of the organization’s biggest names.
The off-limits list?
That would be Lionel Messi, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Nelson Semedo, Frenkie de Jong, Clement Lenglet, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann.
So Ivan Rakitic, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, Luis Suárez and Arturo Vidal, among others, are all available? If, somehow, it’s difficult to offload those players amid a depressed market due to the pandemic, keeping them all happy as he dramatically limits their roles should be a piece of cake, right?
In conclusion, godspeed, I guess, to the man who helped Everton capture 1.48 points per match during his 16-month stint from June ’16 through October ’17 after leading Southampton to seventh- (’14-15) and sixth-place (’15-16) finishes in the EPL.