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January 14, 2020

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Valverde on the brink at Barcelona

Ernesto Valverde took training yesterday morning but his future as Barcelona coach looks bleak, with the club expected to make a decision on his position later in a board meeting, a club source confirmed.

Valverde arrived more than two hours early at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper and took training as usual, despite Barcelona’s public pursuit of its iconic former midfielder Xavi Hernandez at the weekend.

Xavi, currently the coach of Qatari team al-Sadd, has indicated he is not prepared to take charge immediately but the negotiations have left Valverde in limbo.

A board meeting was planned for 2pm local time yesterday, when Valverde’s position will be discussed.

If the decision is to remove him straight away, Barcelona could install a temporary replacement like B team coach Francisco Javier Garcia Pimienta, perhaps with a view to appointing Xavi at the end of the season.

Otherwise, it could opt for a more permanent solution immediately. Former Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino is a viable option, despite his previous claims he would never coach Barcelona due to connections with rival Espanyol.

Former Real Betis coach Quique Setien, renowned for an attractive, attacking style of play, is out of work and has also been mentioned as a possible candidate.

Barcelona’s open hankering after Xavi has left a bitter taste, particularly with those who believe Valverde, who always speaks with sense and integrity, deserves better.

“I feel bad for Valverde, he doesn’t deserve this treatment,” former Barcelona coach, and current Manchester City boss, Pep Guardiola said on Sunday. “I hope the situation can be resolved soon.”

Former club midfielder Andres Iniesta, now at Japan’s Vissel Kobe, said: “What Barcelona are doing is a bit ugly. They have to have some respect for their current coach, the way things are done are what hurt the most.”

Barcelona sits top of La Liga, level on points with Real Madrid, and it faces Napoli in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League next month, after sailing through top of its group.

Yet scepticism around Valverde’s suitability has long been building, with every loss prompting renewed speculation about his future.

Underpinning the doubts are Barcelona’s last two exits from the UCL, after the team followed an incredible collapse against AS Roma in 2018 with a remarkably similar capitulation against Liverpool last year.

Given the obsession with bolstering its record in Europe, many were surprised the club did not opt for a fresh start last summer, even if Valverde’s domestic record has been excellent.

In his two completed seasons, Barcelona has won two La Liga titles, as well as the Copa del Rey in 2018, and another league title remains very much in sight this term, despite second-placed Real’s recent impressive form.

There have also been lingering concerns about a more pragmatic style of play, which for some has veered too far from the club’s possession-football DNA.

Nostalgia remains for the brilliance of Guardiola’s side, even if most of the players he was blessed with have gone.




 

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