After the humiliation against Bayern Munich, the only certainty in the managerial situation of Barça is that Quique Setién will be sacked. Is it the right move? And who should succeed him?
Curtains have fallen on what was a deplorable season of football for Barcelona. The year turned so sour that towards the end, most of those following the club just wanted it to be done and dusted, so as to turn the page over.
The signs were there right from the beginning of the season, whence the board decided to stick with Ernesto Valverde in spite of the poor manner in which the team went out of the Champions league at the hands of Liverpool in the previous season. There were several points dropped in the first half of the season. Early this year they were kicked out of two tournaments, the Supercopa de España and the Copa del Rey. The former led to the sacking of Valverde and the appointment of Quique Setién.
Setién’s fortunes weren’t looking great either, when the global pandemic struck and football was suspended. When the games eventually began under closed doors, Barça looked quite shaky and inconsistent. They coughed up the lead at the top of La Liga and practically handed over the league title to their archrivals, Real Madrid. What was left then was the Champions League, and that as we witnessed recently, ended in a calamity.
Recuperating from such a disappointing year needs a renovation from top to bottom, as has been rightfully pointed out by several players in the squad. Holding the players or the coach exclusively responsible for the debacle would be erroneous.
The calls for the club president Josep Maria Bartomeu to step down and bring forth the elections is nothing new, and as worse as the situation is, it is highly unlikely that this call will be answered. But whether it is the current president or a new one in the office, the task before them is not a simple one.
The man in the dugout
Quique Setién’s tenure at Barça has been nothing rosy, so far. For all the fanfare that was raised while bringing him in, he now strikes a forlorn figure at the end of the tunnel. He has made mistakes during his tenure, yes. But by far, his biggest mistake was taking up this job.
Barça was far from its best while the board were looking for a change at the helm. Half the season was done, and the team had already dropped a lot of points. The injury list was huge as well. It is always difficult for a new manager to step in midseason as it won’t let him dictate his style, nor would it give him a chance to have a preseason to know his ranks or the leeway to tinker with the squad and drop some points earlier in the season. Setién should have known that a few names on the list had already refused the job and with good reason.
Barcelona’s issues are no one man’s problem | Photo by Manu Fernández / Pool / AFP via Getty Images
It is not really fair to crucify Quique for having inherited such a depleted side, or for the utter lack of planning that the club’s sporting / scouting department exhibited. But that is not to say that he did not make errors. He failed to communicate to his squad and this lack of translation was evident in the side. He could not unite the squad to be a cohesive unit.
But more importantly, he did not learn from the mistakes of his predecessor and repeated those errors. Trying to play safe, many times his strategies looked exactly like those of the man he was supposed to replace. Above and beyond all this, he stood by and watched as his assistant got into a war-of-words with some members of the team.
It is therefore a fact that Quique Setién’s future was already hanging in the balance even before the Champions league resumed. And now, being at the receiving end of a historic humiliation, it is difficult to see him return to the dugout at the Camp Nou. Which brings us to the key question: who should replace him?
1. García Pimienta
It is next to impossible to find a better candidate for the job at the helm of Barca than Barça B manager García Pimienta right now. Pimienta has an experience spanning more than one and a half decades at the club. But unlike some other candidates, his experience is not as a player, but as a coach. As a player, he spent a few years in the academy and represented the senior side only once. But as a coach, he has managed more than six thousand games at various levels with La Masía.
Starting his coaching career as an assistant coach at the Cadet level in 2001, Pimi spent two years in the role. He left in 2003 only to return as the main coach at the same level in 2006. From that point onwards, he has progressed across the different levels. In the 2017/18 season, he took the Juvenil A side of the club to the top of Europe as they won the UEFA Youth League. It was following this success that the club promoted him as the manager of the B team by the end of such campaign.
In short, Pimienta’s coaching career has seen him tutor the seniors at the Barcelona team as well as the juniors. This ideal position enables him to garner the respect of the seniors in the dressing room, whereas his familiarity with the youth makes him the best person to handle the rejuvenation of the team. In addition, the fact that he has renewed his contract at the club very recently, makes him available for the position, and shows his willingness to step up.
2. Pep Guardiola
Has there been any list of possible Barcelona managers in recent times without this name on it? I doubt it. Even so, had it not been for the abrupt and unexpected exit of his current team, Manchester City, from the Champions League, he would not have been included here.
This fact has nothing to do with his capabilities. Pep Guardiola still remains one of the top coaches in the world, despite the fact that he has not won a Champions League trophy since he left Barcelona in 2012. His four-year stint as the Barça manager, during which he won 14 trophies, is regarded as the reference point by much of the team’s fanbase.
It was heartbreak for Man City against Lyon, but Pep Guardiola will continue at the Etihad | Photo by Miguel A. Lopes / Pool via Getty Images
Nonetheless, he clearly seems committed to the project that he has started in Manchester. He promised to stay with the club in spite of the penalties and ban imposed on them. Whether the recent defeats will encourage him to leave is a different matter. In addition to this, there is also the fact that he is not in great terms with those at the helm of Barcelona right now. Barça president’s remarks applauding UEFA for enforcing Financial Fair Play in the light of the ban on Manchester City was not well received by Guardiola, and the latter warned the former that other clubs too could find themselves in similar situations.
In light of these circumstances, it certainly seems unlikely that Pep would step into the dugout at Camp Nou soon. Even so, if there is a change of guard at the top in Barcelona following an election, things may change.
3. Mauricio Pochettino
Another name that has been making the rounds is that of former Espanyol and Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. Like Guardiola, if it wasn’t for a recent development, his name would not have been on this list. Once again, the reason is not his capabilities as a coach.
For even though Pochettino has not won any remarkable silverware during his stint at Espanyol, Southampton or Tottenham, his style of play and integration of youth in his teams has been acclaimed. He also took all those sides to good positions in his stints there. This in spite of the fact that he had to work with limited resources, especially at Tottenham. He is also rumoured to have offers from various established European sides at the moment.
The reason why his name would not have featured in the list is political in nature. Pochettino, as mentioned before, has coached Espanyol for three years. This was after his two stints there as a player for a total of almost ten years. Now it so happens that Espanyol are Barcelona’s city rivals. There is no love lost between the two clubs.
Mauricio Pochettino has a relationship with Barça president Josep Maria Bartomeu and sporting director Ramon Planes | Photo by Bryn Lennon via Getty Images
Barcelona giants like Gerard Piqué have taken a dig at Espanyol in the past and the Periquitos haven’t shied away from responding to it either. To put the context straight, it was a loss to Barça that condemned their city rivals to the Second Division towards the end of this season. Until recently, this rivalry was upheld and declared aloud by Pochettino as well. He has stated repeatedly that he will not take up a job at Barcelona or other rival teams. “I would prefer to work on my farm in Argentina than go to work in certain places”, he was reported as saying with reference to Barcelona, Arsenal and Argentine side Rosario.
Why then is he on this list? Well, the man recently went back on his words. “I didn’t want to disrespect Barcelona. You can say things differently”, he said recently. Add to this the recent rumour of him meeting up with president Bartomeu and it looks like an indication. Of course, he is free to make his choices and change them as he wishes. But the question is how the Barça faithful would take to him, if he were to take up this job. There are already rumours of the board being divided with reference to him. There are also reports that this could be the final nail to Bartomeu’s coffin.
Another issue is that the presidential election is charted for the next year and if a new board swears in, they might want to bring in a coach who they believe in. And this may not bode well for Pochettino, for unlike Pimienta and Guardiola, he is not really a fan favourite at the club. Would Pochettino want to step into these uncertain waters in such a scenario?
4. Other candidates
The list doesn’t end with those three. There are several other names that are being brandished and depending on which media outlet you believe, the front runner could be different. Barça legend Xavi Hernández is one such name. This however seems highly unlikely as Xavi has repeatedly expressed that the time is not right yet for him to take up the job at Barcelona. He has extended his contract at the Qatari side Al Sadd. It would actually be wise for him not to take it up just yet and the reasons have been detailed in a previous article.
Former Barcelona player and current manager of the Dutch national team Ronald Koeman is another name that has been doing the rounds. In fact he has been in and out of these lists for quite some time now. But with the Euros being pushed to the next season, and him expressing his determination to fulfil his commitment with the Dutch team till then, he looks unlikely to change ships right now.
“Everyone knows that my dream is to coach Barcelona one day. It always depends on your journey. I know that, as a coach, you have to have lots of experience to coach a team like that. In my contract, I have the possibility to leave the national team after the European Championship, but it’s not the time to think about that because I’m really happy with my job with the Netherlands”
Another name that has been making the rounds is that of Patrick Kluivert, former player and currently the Director of youth football at Barcelona. Apart from his great contributions as a player, Kluivert’s experience as a coach is next to negligible. Notwithstanding, that he has been associating with the club and the board for the past year means that he has been touted as an option, as unlikely as it is.
Thierry Henry has also been dragged in as an option by a few media outlets. Henry’s coaching experience is slightly better than Kluivert. But frankly speaking, he is yet to achieve something or leave a mark on any of the sides he managed. His stints as a coaching assistant in the Arsenal youth team and Belgium national side was praised and applauded by the players. But his first attempt at managing a team on his own came down crashing at Monaco after his team won a measly four games and lost eleven out of a total twenty. He was sacked within four months. Currently employed at MLS side Montreal Impact, he hardly seems fit to take up a mammoth task like managing Barcelona.
There is no dearth of names being listed for what is one of the most challenging jobs in world football right now. Nevertheless, between the complications of politics, elections, availability and suitability, most of these names can easily be struck off. The one name that stands out –– as ironic as it is –– is already on the club’s payroll, in García Pimienta. Whether he is given this opportunity or not is for us to wait and see.