In 13 league matches, Ronald Koeman has proven to be one of the most hard-headed managers that Barcelona has had in years. In certain circumstances, his sort of attitude would be appreciated, however here, it comes off as arrogance or perhaps a case of willful ignorance at the errors in his ways.
There are a panoply of flaws within his system that show a complete incapacity to learn from his mistakes. They are so repetitive, and their repercussions so dire, that, perhaps, it might be time for the ex-Oranje manager to wave his goodbyes and pave the way for the next manager because the Catalans’ next president will certainly not be as lenient on him as Carlos Tusquets is — assuming that even is the case.
A case of poor man-management
One need only look at how poorly managed the civil war between Riqui Puig and Ronald Koeman is to get a glimpse of how incapable he is of bringing up a healthy atmosphere within the club. Arguably the most talented midfielder in the squad, the 21-year old has found himself ostracized from the group, and for reasons that can, at best, be described as petty.
For the most incomprehensible of reasons, Puig has barely featured in matches this season, like today’s draw at home to Valencia, even when they were crying out for his particular skill set. The same goes for Carles Aleña, who despite having played one of his best games as a Blaugrana — or perhaps in his career —, has barely featured in a match since.
Rather than belly up to the bar and look for solutions to curb this most ludicrous of problems, Koeman seems too proud, and holds his own ego too high up. He has had cases awfully similar, if not identical, to this. Real Betis legend Joaquin knows about this sort of mistreatment all too well, and he grew up to detest him.
The fact that he failed to learn from errors he made all those years ago and is replicating them even today shows a lack of maturity or a glaring sense within himself that he is infinitely right, even when everything points to it being otherwise.
Incompetence during games
It is not once that we here at Barça Universal have called Koeman out for his logical fallacies. In spite of how many times he has been proven utterly wrong, the Dutchman remains adamant on playing four, five, even six attackers simultaneously when he finds himself a goal down. He also chooses to let Philippe Coutinho stay on the pitch for extended periods even though the Brazilian does more to harm the team than benefit it.
At times his tactic, which is all about abandoning tactics, seems to almost work and then reality kicks in. While Koeman strongly believes that he provides Barça with an easier access to goal by opening the floodgates and raining every forward down on the team, he could not be more wrong.
Barcelona is a club that was known, in its most fruitful times, for its balance and composure even in the face of defeat. What Koeman does, by voiding the team of the very midfielders whose job is to provide said balance, is invariably setting the team up for failure, even when his primal objective was the polar opposite.
Questionable starting lineups
If his substitutions were completely bizarre, then the same, if not worse, could be said for Koeman’s initial setups. For the umpteenth time, the Champions League winner deployed a starting eleven with four players who essentially occupy the same exact positions, and whose actions nullify one another.
Against Cadiz, manager Álvaro Cerveza took a dig at him for his paper-thin offensive tactics, and how easy it was for his newly-promoted side to stop all of them. He fields sides that have no wingers even when they are available, and worse, despite all his experience, he expects four “10s” – case in point against Valencia – who will inevitably get in each other’s way, to perform well together consistently.
When setting the team up in such a manner, all he can do is hope that an individual from his rake-thin midfield or his congested front line will come up clutch with a game-saving moment. Such tactics, if at all they can even be called that, are far from sustainable, far too risky, and all too recurrent under the current Barcelona regime.
Ronald Koeman has one of La Liga’s most talented squads, however, he shows complete ineptitude in his ability to manage it. He should be doing significantly better than the likes of Atlético de Madrid or defending league champions Real Madrid. Yet, he constantly makes the same mistakes and shows a complete inability to learn from them.
These are the hallmarks of a poor manager, and perhaps, even though coaching Barcelona was his lifelong dream, letting go of them might just be the best decision he could make for the club he holds most dear.
The psychology at Barcelona: A leaf out of Jurgen Klopp’s book
Guest Contributor: Darren Looney
“When I came here, the size of the club was a burden. Now it’s our safety net, it’s our trampoline, it’s our home, it’s our basis, it’s everything to us. Now we are Liverpool before the club was Liverpool and we were just the guys who were trying to be good enough”.
In Melissa Reddy’s book ‘Believe Us’, Jurgen Klopp, the man who led Liverpool to become champions of England, Europe and the world, details how a change in psychology from having the clubs past success being used as a noose around their necks to becoming fully confident individuals, helped the club end their 30-year wait for a league title.
FC Barcelona has a noose of its own hanging over the Camp Nou at present. It has been placed there by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, having left the club in a state that is unable to match the success seen over the last two decades.
The incoming president and manager will be the ones left to cut it free, and with limited economic resources to do this, a change in the mindsets of the lads could play a part in helping the club get the most out of what they already have.
Barcelona’s current state
The Josep Maria Bartomeu’s presidency oversaw a circus rather than a football club. In this timeframe, Barcelona lost the respect of its fellow European giants through humiliating performances in the Champions League, selling Neymar Jr. to Paris Saint Germain, poor recruitment, and a squad constantly breaking under pressure.
Players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, and Ousmane Dembele, of those that started in the latest Champions League match, have all been through the most of these embarrassing moments, which has no doubt left some trauma.
Others in the squad have laid witness to Bartomeu disregarding the club’s motto ‘MÉS QUE UN CLUB’ with his handling of club legends Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s transfer situations in the summer. That could not have inspired the non-senior members of the squad with any confidence.
Adding to that, players like Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Junior Firpo, and Antoine Griezmann have had their names constantly attached to rumoured player plus cash deals, such as the Neymar offers, which can lead to them questioning if they are good enough. This is the sort of psychology you do not want around a club trying to compete.
When asked about whether a sports psychologist would benefit FC Barcelona back in December, Barça manager Ronald Koeman stated, “I don’t believe in psychologists and mental [issues]. If you play for Barca, pressure exists, you know that, and you have to overcome it”.
This answer shows the Dutchman’s ignorance of the importance of a player’s psychological state. Additionally, it also shows arrogance about the club and the stress that comes binding with it. Ignorance that is evident in the pictures of Lenglet, as he left the Camp Nou after Sunday’s match in tears, most likely due to a lack of support. The kind of lack of support that eventually leads to careers dissolving.
In the same press conference, Koeman stated that “this team has enough personality and experience” to get through bad moments. This “experience” is also susceptible to being psychologically overwhelmed, the dressing room at halftime at Anfield is evidence of this.
Whether it is Koeman or the next president’s manager, one will have to get a hold of this problem. Luckily for them, the blueprint of how much power the manager can have over this can be seen in the place Jordi Alba shed his tears.
The Jurgen Klopp effect
When Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool, one of the first things he addressed was a change in psychology from the supporters. He wanted the fans to believe in the process, and in his first press conference, he enforced this by saying, “we need to feel the confidence and trust of the people”.
In ‘Believe Us’, Klopp speaks about the psychological state he found the players in when he first arrived. He claims that “The players were obviously listening to all the voices saying they are not good enough for the club or that I can’t wait to get rid of them.” A situation some Barca players find themselves in now, as mentioned earlier.
One of the German’s first instructions was for the players to pay no attention to comments outside of him and his coaching staff, a message that took longer than expected to resonate, as the team collapsed in the title race halfway through the next season.
Klopp explains that the collapse was down to the players not complying with this request. The German explained how the players were focused on people saying, “they don’t have a plan B for deep-defending sides, they can only play one way”. A criticism that Cúlers this season know too well.
Klopp emphasises the importance a strong mentality within games had on the Red’s fortunes and claims new players alone would not have been enough. This is a note worth taking for those looking at Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to change Barcelona’s fortunes.
It took Klopp years to convince some players that they were good enough to play for a club as big as Liverpool. New players added to the quality of the squad but that psychological attitude to keep going for the full 90 minutes, no matter the score, is what led the club to their recent success. This was visible countless times over last season as well, as Pool continued to take hits at teams till the last minute till they eventually broke. Barcelona, too, have been on the receiving end of their incredible mentality.
Koeman might be right in that the players do not need a sports psychologist. However, Lenglet’s incident exhibits that the psychological state of his players is something that he must take control of and not ignore.
Next season has the potential to be an important one for Barcelona’s near future. With a new president at the helm and a potential new manager. The Catalan side needs to banish the psychological doubts leftover by Bartomeu’s reign and move forward as one unit.
The fans and players need to get behind the project put in place, as Jurgen Klopp puts it “when you agree on a common idea and work towards it together, you can create something special”.