While sacking Ronald Koeman seems like the ideal scenario for several Barcelona supporters at the moment, it might not be the best course of action to take, especially if their complaints are put into proper context.
Despite a rather bright start to the season, Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona finds itself sitting fifth in the La Liga table, eight points off the top following a turbulent run of form that has seen them drop 18 points from the 39 available.
For this reason among many others, Culés are calling for his sacking. They have shown complete distrust in his tactics and its reflection on the results. They also find his treatment of Riqui Puig unnecessary and completely unfair given his quality, and are sick of the lack of changes, especially when the team finds itself trailing.
Are these reasons valid enough for a dismissal and will a change in scenery offer some much-needed respite for this ailing club?
Understanding the Riqui Situation
The infamous hashtag “KoemanOut” was born right at the start of the season, and out of nothing more than a rumour. Several reports from Catalan and Spanish media suggested that he wanted nothing more to do with Riqui Puig and that he was more than ready to get rid of him.
Koeman responded, saying that he wanted the 21-year old to simply leave on loan, contrary to what the media had suggested, because he sees him as one for the future, also owing to the fact that players his age need game-time to progress. The Dutchman affirmed that Puig would not have that much game-time if he stayed, given the number of players ahead of him, and wanted the best for him.
Reports came out recently stating that part of the reason why Riqui has been ostracized from the team stems from this very same media controversy. Koeman reportedly called him a “leaker” since this was meant to be an in-house matter, and overall, was disappointed with how he handled the situation.
In addition to this, Koeman also seems to have a problem with Riqui’s attitude in training sessions. He reportedly does not train as hard as the rest, and this inevitably leaves him no choice but to bench the 21-year old. Simply put, he has absolutely no incentive whatsoever to reward a player who fails to train as he would like with minutes on the pitch. All this will do is spur an air of complacency within the dressing room, one that will certainly lead to him eventually losing it as a whole.
Previous managers have neglected Puig for one reason or another. There is no need to deny minutes to the sort of talent that he possesses, however, talent without discipline is worth next to nothing. It is almost impossible for both Quique Setién and Ernesto Valverde to have seen what Puig is capable of, only for them both to reject him over some personal vendetta. There surely has to be something within the youngster’s character or his attitude towards training sessions that prevents him from playing.
Additionally, it has been reported that several players within the squad have “no sympathy for” Puig. Assuming these rumours are true, and the rest are as well, then the problem is far more the 21-year-old’s than it is his manager’s.
If at all he has an attitude problem, then sacking the manager will not, by any means, fix it. It is up to Puig to take an introspective look and find out what it is about him that is causing all the distrust and disdain from multiple managers, as well as his colleagues in the dressing room. Simply put, he has to step up and do what is expected of him or step out and play elsewhere.
An out of control situation
Bar his tactics and substitutions, which are well within his power, Ronald Koeman has been essentially powerless since the start of the campaign. While he started the season with a relatively strong squad, a panoply of systemic issues have hampered his progress.
From the onset, he found himself in a club completely bereft of money and was unable to make the necessary signings ahead of his first league game of the current campaign. The one signing he did make, however, has proven to be fruitful in every possible way, with Sergiño Dest often among Barcelona’s top performers on every matchday.
How much better would the current campaign have been had he gotten Memphis Depay from Olympique Lyonnais, Georginio Wijaldum from Liverpool, or Eric García from Manchester City? That is only up for speculation, however, given the success of his solitary recruitment, the odds are that he would have been much more successful than he is now.
Bar the financial troubles the club continues to suffer from, Koeman has been on the end of a losing battle against an injury epidemic that continues to plague the club to this day. He faces much criticism for not starting wingers, with many ignoring the fact that he simply lacks any reliable alternatives, given the double blow in the injuries succumbed by Ansu Fati and Ousmane Dembélé.
At the back, he lost both Gerard Piqué and Sergi Roberto. All these players were key to the functioning of his system, and he has found himself without either one of them when they are needed most. This has led to the team struggling in the defence, calling out for reinforcements in January.
Not only is he incapable of controlling the players’ injuries, but he also finds himself uncertain of his players given how utterly inconsistent half the team is. His front line includes Lionel Messi needing next to ten shots per game to score, while Antoine Griezmann has missed a whopping six big chances thus far, Martin Braithwaite loitering around the pitch aimlessly, unproductively, and Philippe Coutinho consistently underperforming.
He also has to witness one of the worst versions of Sergio Busquets ever seen, and a Clément Lenglet who, for whatever reason, is in the worst form of his career.
Had anyone heard at the start of the season that the club would be in a financial crisis, that Fati and Piqué would each at one point be injured for four months, along with Roberto for three, that Lenglet would be error-prone, Griezmann would struggle to finish, Coutinho would barely contribute, Francisco Trincão and Miralem Pjanić would turn out to be underwhelming signings and Messi, of all people, would be on one of the lowest points of his career, would one not say that Koeman would be in enormous trouble, and worse, the trouble he had no control over?
Some argue that he should simply start Konrad de la Fuente and Francisco Trincão on the wings with Messi and Griezmann centrally. That is not a gamble worth taking. If the two wingers fail to perform, and the odds are that they might most probably do so, then he will suffer a barrage of complaints and criticisms at how he should instead have played Coutinho and Braithwaite in their place, and vice versa if the latter two play poorly. It is a lose-lose situation, with only him getting the blame.
Sacking him would solve nothing
One would think that a change of scenery would act as an immediate fix for the problems going on in the club, but the reality is far from this utopian ideal. Eder Sarabia — Setién’s assistant manager —, said a few weeks back that too many things at the club had been done too wrong and for too long. Neither the time provided to him nor the circumstances surrounding his and Setien’s arrival were ideal for any significant changes to be effectuated in the club.
Ronald Koeman has found himself in waters far more troubled than those his predecessors were sailing in, and despite this being a transitional season for the club, he is expected to fix every last mistake in the squad.
Imanol Alguacil has even appreciated Barça’s style of play, saying that it was the best he had seen the team in years, owing to their new-found intensity levels. There is surely something good in the works when one of the league’s best tacticians lauds him in such a manner. The same goes for interim president Carlos Tusquets, who by his own accords is an avid admirer of the Dutchman’s work. On more than one occasion, the team has shown what Koeman’s ideal Barça is capable of playing like, so why stop him in his tracks?
Sacking Koeman will change nothing, and if anything, it will add to the confusion the players might be in. Barely a year ago they were playing Valverde’s pragmatic and overly disorganised style of play, followed by slightly more structured football under Setién. The decision to sack Valverde midway through the season turned out to be rather regretful, and it would be foolish for the club to make the same mistake again.
Assuming García Pimienta or Xavi Hernández were to be appointed now, they would find the exact same systematic issues that have plagued Koeman thus far and would be next to powerless to stop them from worsening.
Lastly, given how dire the economic situation is for Barça, so atrocious in fact, that they could barely afford an extra five million to acquire Eric García from Manchester City, terminating Koeman’s contract would mean that they would be forced into garnering up money they simply do not have to pay Koeman.
In sacking him, everyone from the players to the club as a whole, loses, so why go on with it?