Barcelona just made one of the most interesting – and impactful – decisions of the season in European soccer.
On Monday afternoon (Eastern time), the Catalans confirmed the hire of Quique Setién. His contract will run through June 30, 2022.
The confirmation that Setién would replace the embattled Ernesto Valverde followed a weekend and full day of rampant speculation. As it turns out, the Spanish press, and oddsmakers, were all over this, as Setién (+200) was the favorite to replace Valverde ahead of much bigger names like Mauricio Pochettino (+350), among others.
The announcement came after a failed attempt over the weekend to coax legendary former midfielder Xavi into leaving his current job coaching Qatari side Al-Sadd to manage his former team.
Once everyone in the soccer world had heard about that, Barcelona seemingly realized that Valverde couldn’t twist in the wind for too much longer. Even Andres Iniesta weighed in to wonder what the hell was going on, saying that “the way everything is being done is a bit ugly.”
Despite Xavi’s denial, Barcelona knew it had to go through with a coaching change, but not until after Valverde led practice this morning.
Sacking Valverde has seemed like an inevitability, the epitome of “not if, but when,” since his team’s meltdown at Anfield in the Champions League last spring. With his contract expiring after this season, it would have been shocking to see him back as Barcelona’s manager next spring.
But parting ways with him now? With his team in first place in La Liga and in position to make another Champions League run? The timing is head-scratching, especially considering that Barcelona had not sacked a manager during a season since ’03. Was blowing a 3-0 lead in the Champions League semifinal last season a less serious offense than last week’s Supercopa loss to Atletico Madrid???
In case it’s not clear already, I’ll admit that this breakdown will have more questions than answers. But that won’t stop me from taking a shot at
explaining guessing what Barcelona’s top decision-makers have been thinking over the last eight or nine months.
Below are two of the many questions we all have regarding the La Liga leaders, who hold the tiebreaker over Real Madrid, and remain clear favorites to win the league. Currently, Barcelona are -190 to secure another trophy, followed by RM (+160) and Atlético Madrid (+2,000).
Who is Quique Setién?
First, even Setién is surprised he got the gig:
Setien: I didn't think Barca could go for me, I have no honours, I don't have a great CV. I have this philosophy of play that I love and my teams play well. I didn't know if it was enough, but I am tremendously grateful. I didn't take five minutes to accept the offer.
— Rik Sharma (@riksharma_) January 14, 2020
Setién’s last coaching job was with Real Betis. The 61-year-old was sacked last May after two seasons there. He led the team to a sixth-place finish in ’17-18 before Betis finished 10th last season. Despite the season being a disappointment overall, though, he did manage wins over Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atleti.
Every article you’ve seen today has probably mentioned the words “attractive style” in the sentence introducing the veteran manager. The tangible output (60 goals in 38 games) from his commitment to an attacking style was impressive with Betis his first season. Last year, however, the returns – 44 goals – were minimal.
Prior to his work at Real Betis, Setién coached Las Palmas for two seasons (’15-16 and ’16-17). Before that, he worked for several Spanish clubs that make Las Palmas and Real Betis seem like juggernauts. The consensus from the Spanish press seems to be that he’s a very respected coach, particularly for his teams’ style.
Should Barcelona be the clear favorite in La Liga?
About Barcelona being -190 to win La Liga. Based on their recent dominance of this league and the fact they have Lionel Messi, I get it, I guess.
But the results have been lackluster for weeks, and the “Messidependencia” is going to be a major issue now that Luis Suárez is out until May with a knee injury that required surgery. After Messi and Marc-André ter Stegen, the Uruguayan is arguably the player this team could least afford to lose. With Antoine Griezmann and Messi up top, there is still plenty of talent, but someone who’s yet to prove himself as completely reliable is going to have to step up. Ousmane Dembélé? Ansu Fati? The glass-half-full take on the Suárez injury is that it perhaps results in improved form for Griezmann now that he can play centrally.
Are oddsmakers watching Real Madrid?
Time will tell on that, but either way, Real Madrid is in great form right now, especially defensively. And the truly scary thing for Barcelona and the rest of La Liga is that Los Blancos are rolling without Eden Hazard. At even odds, I’d be unsure on who I’d like to win La Liga. At +160, though, there’s great value on Zinedine Zidane’s team.
As for why Barcelona didn’t part ways with Valverde last summer or what exactly led them to the midseason pursuit of the as-yet-unproven-as-a-manager Xavi and then the pivot to Setién, who knows??