Barcelona had its best era in history with Pep Guardiola. The only team that has achieved the sextuple and a dominant system like no other were some of the things that the Catalan left at Barça. However, replacing him has been one of the most difficult tasks in recent years. In this article we will be rating the five managers since Guardiola left Barcelona from worst to best.
Pep Guardiola made history in his time as coach of Barcelona. Despite the countless titles he achieved in his four years at the Camp Nou, he is not mainly remembered for that, but for how that Barcelona played. It was not the big names of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta or Lionel Messi who permitted the success. It was the role and structure that Pep gave to the team. As a consequence, all of these footballers became superstars.
What Pep accomplished was unique. A sextuple, two Champions Leagues, almost total dominance in La Liga, brilliant football and, last but not least, a practically complete influence on the Spanish national team when they had their golden age in winning the 2010 World Cup.
?️ — On this day in 2012, it was Pep Guardiola's last Champions League match in charge of FC Barcelona. pic.twitter.com/Vvt7QeKsJ4— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) April 24, 2020
However, everything that was valuable from Guardiola has been very difficult to replace. It is not enough to have the team with the best players in the world, but someone who arranges his pawns correctly in the game of chess. Since Pep’s departure in 2012, Barcelona has tried to repeat the spell that led them to glory, but different paths have been taken. In particular, five coaches were chosen to try to replicate such success, but very few have managed to convince the fans.
5. Gerardo Tata Martino
In the last position of the ranking, we have Gerardo Tata Martino. The Argentine coach arrived to Catalonia in the summer of 2013 to play the 2013/14 season with the azulgranas. After a series of successful campaigns, Barcelona went trophyless that season being one of the worst seasons in the decade. Also one of the most unlucky. Well, they hardly lost by 3 points La Liga and reached the final of the Copa del Rey.
Moreover, El Tata was in charge of training Neymar Jr in his first season as blaugrana. Despite the injuries, the coach knew how to adapt him with Lionel Messi in a great way. Similarly, Martino brought out the best of Alexis Sánchez so that the Chilean could exploit his full potential playing as false 9 or as a winger. In addition, Gerardo’s stay in Catalonia had many obstacles with the injuries of Carles Puyol and Víctor Valdés, which was not easy to assimilate, considering that Valdés had a unique replacement and the team had to adapt with 3 defenders during almost the entire season.
While unlucky in the decisive games, it was not coincidence that the team went trophyless in the 2013/14 season | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
The level of tactical football of Gerardo Martino was highly underrated, he knew how to unite all the pieces of the team, continue to dominate the games with the possession of the ball and a visionary when it comes to experimenting. At least in the first leg of the season, he was superb. His debut in La Liga was 7–0 against Levante at Camp Nou, he started off on the right foot.
Nonetheless, the months passed and El Tata fell into incompetence. Martino began to want to gain the trust of the locker room in a friendly way, without character and fulfilling their wishes. This ruined all the football work that Gerardo had behind him. He lowered the intensity in training, something that could possibly have caused Messi’s problems with vomiting and team injuries, just as he began to give preferences to heavyweights.
“A lot of times, when you work at the top level, you feel like your part really isn’t as important; you don’t feel as involved in the growth”
As a consequence, what was a potential Treble that season ended in a disappointing trophyless, although the team came very close to achieving glory. Second in La Liga with just three points away from Atlético de Madrid, who beat the Catalans in a dramatic matchday 38 victory to win the competition. Likewise, the blaugranas were eliminated from the Champions League in the quarterfinals after drawing the first leg 1–1 but losing to the minimum in the Vicente Calderón against Simeone’s team.
And finally, the culés reached the final of the Copa del Rey but lost it 1–2 in the last minutes against Real Madrid with a late goal by Gareth Bale. At the end of the season, Gerardo Martino announced that was the end of his era at the club. Sad ending considering his style of play, but understandable by the character he represented.
4. Quique Setién
Too early to draw conclusions and it would be unfair to consider him as the last place on the list, but also in a higher position since he has not yet completed a season with Barcelona. Quique Setién arrived in January 2020 in the middle of the 2019/20 season with many difficulties such as the injury of Ousmane Dembélé and that of Luis Suárez. In addition, he had to face the long break of the pandemic and rescue a Barcelona that had a totally different approach before his arrival.
His style of play has also been devoid of options and with difficulties such as the Arthur Melo’s saga, the exits of Carles Pérez, Carles Aleñá and Jean-Clair Todibo without Setién’s consent. This caused the coach to have to adapt to the circumstances. We have not yet seen a consistent and dominant game but little by little Barça is on the right track. So far we have seen a couple of brilliant games, the most recent being against Villarreal, and he has had interesting approaches.
Some of Quique Setién’s achievements have been recovering defensive solidity by having six of nine matches with clean sheets, finding the perfect system to make MSG shine in a 4–3–1–2, experiencing Sergi Roberto in a back three as well as Nélson Semedo and Jordi Alba in more advanced areas of the pitch and give confidence to Riqui Puig, along with Ronald Araújo. Perhaps there are negative aspects, such as Lionel Messi’s goal drought, problems against compact teams, and the ability to read games. Notwithstanding, little by little he is improving the details.
?️ — Bartomeu: "Setién will lead the team in the Champions league next month." pic.twitter.com/w1zfn7vghR— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) July 12, 2020
Despite losing the leadership of La Liga, Setién’s work cannot be considered to be bad. Quique received Barcelona with around 40 points in the first leg, something that has not been seen since the Gaspart’s era at the beginning of the century. In addition, with insignificant points of advantage over Real Madrid.
With Setién, the leadership was lost with three draws against Sevilla and Celta Vigo as visitors and against Atlético de Madrid at the Camp Nou. Overall, good results. In short, we cannot judge a coach without even having done a preseason at the club. There is still the Champions League to play and everything seems to indicate that he will have his chance in the following season.
3. Ernesto Valverde
Two La Liga trophies in two consecutive years is a deserved job to be in third place. His tactics and philosophy never matched the Barça’s DNA, and he had a soft character for a squad that needed just the opposite. However, Ernesto Valverde was a professional and an expert in the Spanish league making him a great coach.
Valverde, like Setién and Martino, had a big obstacle. When he arrived in the summer of 2017, he was contemporaneous with the departure of Neymar Júnior to Paris Saint-Germain, a sale that caused a lot of controversies and a serious problem in the Barça’s front-three. The successful MSN trio fell apart and the team’s second-best player had left the club, along with his creativity, goals, assists, and Brazilian samba. Similarly, a year later, Andrés Iniesta left the elite’s football to play in the Japanese league.
? — Ernesto Valverde: “All clubs leave their mark and I have been incredibly fortunate to train Barça. I have been a player there. I know when you go to a club of this calibre what it means from all points of view and I am delighted to have been there.“ pic.twitter.com/sLfGBxjBoh— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 15, 2020
These two problems forced the club to sign two quality players as soon as possible, investing more than 250 million in Ousmane Dembélé and Phillipe Coutinho. Two stars who have not achieved success in the club. On the one hand, the problem of Dembélé’s injuries and, on the other, the role of a Coutinho who had been signed as Iniesta’s substitute but was wasted in the left-wing.
Despite this, Ernesto managed to make a very solid team in his first season with his famous 4–4–2, having interesting players like Paulinho Bezerra and knowing how to adapt his scheme in each of the matches. In the 2018/19 season, he somehow knew how to make Messi shine in a magnificent way. Despite the fact that the collective game was not the best, and the club depended too much on the Argentine, Valverde led Messi to his sixth Ballon d’Or.
That said, the two leagues he won were overshadowed by Champions League failures. In his first season, he was eliminated in the quarterfinals in Rome after having a 4–1 advantage at the Camp Nou, an advantage that disappeared when AS Roma made a 3–0 comeback. The following year he reached the semifinals and the team dominated Liverpool with a 3–0 and a great game from all the team, but once again the rivals came from behind by winning 4–0 at Anfield.
In the end, Ernesto Valverde was removed from his charge in the middle of the 2019/20 season after being eliminated from the Spanish Super Cup against Atlético de Madrid. His accomplishments were short-term, but long-term damage to the club was poor, tough, under the influence of the board. Only looking on the bright side, Valverde has to be in this place.
2. Tito Vilanova
Francesc Vilanova, or better known as Tito Vilanova, was the successor of Guardiola after he left his legacy. Tito was part of the technical body of Pep in the previous seasons and finally, as the saying goes, the student surpassed the professor to take his place. Pep’s ward was the closest thing the club wanted to get. He remained, and even adopted an impressive tactical level, innovating Messi’s position as false 9, using him as the maximum reference to build from deep.
His approach made Messi score 60 goals in 50 games that season and manage to increase his numbers to later beat Gerd Müller’s record for most goals in a year. Apart from that, without many signings, only with the arrival of Jordi Alba, he managed to give more minutes to players who hardly had such as Thiago Alcântara and Christian Tello. Overall, Vilanova always had great football, despite the complications.
?️ — Tito Vilanova: "We're different. Winning alone is not enough. We have an ideal of youth team players & attacking football, as Barca's culture demands. We have our faults but being cowards will never be one of them." pic.twitter.com/pshXPDHxIu— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) August 13, 2019
The most historical was the record for the most points in the history of La Liga, achieving a total of 100. The team only lost two games and draw four, scoring the ridiculous number of 115 goals and conceding only 40. Moreover, Tito almost always had overwhelming victories…always looking for goals.
Unfortunately, Tito did not have the season of his dreams due to external problems. A bigger obstacle than any other a coach has passed in a club. Vilanova had already been diagnosed with parotid cancer in 2011 but had already been recovered. Nevertheless, midway through the season, he was in command of the Catalans, his illness returned, having him at some dates away from the team to undergo different treatments. This caused a great depression in the entire blaugranas‘ entity and lowered the spirits of the team. In addition, Jordi Roura, Tito’s second coach, was assigned to several meetings as interim coach of the club.
Tito Vilanova: "Football is not a job, but my best therapy." pic.twitter.com/KdwdNE8imU— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 22, 2018
These problems were largely responsible for the fact that the Catalans were eliminated from the Champions League with a 7–0 defeat on aggregate against Bayern Munich. In addition, the culés were eliminated from the Copa del Rey in the semifinals against Real Madrid.
1. Luis Enrique Martínez
We reached the end of this rating with Luis Enrique Martínez, who was the longest-standing of the aforementioned coaches. He arrived in 2014 to start his first season as a Barça’s coach after good jobs at Celta de Vigo and AS Roma. Luis Enrique probably had one of the best transfer markets in the history of the club. In his first season, the blaugranas signed Marc-André ter Stegen, Claudio Bravo, Iván Rakitić, and Luis Suárez. All these players ended up being important and historical in Catalonia.
Luis Enrique had the difficult task of achieving chemistry between Messi, Suárez, and Neymar in the azulgranas‘ front three. Three superstar players, but that ego may have been the biggest problem. Nevertheless, Enrique with his great character and tactically offensive level, arranged all the pieces to form one of the best trios in the history of football: the MSN. A ridiculous number of goals, assists, and individual awards for the three at the club, in addition to always shining when all three played together.
? | Happy birthday, Lucho. Thank you for giving us one of the most memorable seasons in the club's history. pic.twitter.com/bAtHPERWcn— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) May 8, 2018
Moreover, Luis chose to use the 4–3–3 throughout his time as a coach, managing to adapt Rakitić to be Xavi’s replacement, along with a solid defence and the most offensive style in history. Enrique had the mentality of hunger for a goal, that it is not the same to win 3–0 than 5–2, because the more goals the more dominant the team was. Surreal matches of 7–0, 8–0, 6–0 in a constant way. Also, it was not a surprise to see Messi and Suárez score four goals in one match or Neymar score a hat-trick since they did it in almost every match.
Luis Enrique’s first season was historic. He won La Liga with 94 points and a 2 points advantage against Real Madrid, made the team champion of the Copa del Rey sweeping the best Spaniard’s clubs, and won the fifth and last Champions League of Barcelona in its history, beating all the champions of the best European leagues in the knockout stage: Manchester City, PSG, Bayern Munich and Juventus. Thus achieving, the second treble in the history of the blaugranas and the first team in history to achieve this feat.
?️ — Luis Enrique: "Before the final in Berlin, I half-jokingly asked the players: 'what do you think is the worst thing that can happen to us today?'. Xavi and Alves said: 'We're not faithful to our style'. I said: 'the worst thing is to be a Juve player and face Barça'." pic.twitter.com/N9RkbpZnfi— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) June 5, 2020
Some time later, Luis Enrique also managed to win the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup but unfortunately, Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Bilbao managed to beat the invincible Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup, thus avoiding another historic Sextuple to de Catalans.
After the successful 2014/15 season, Luis Enrique continued to shine with his game system and making matches with a ridiculous number of goals scored. They won La Liga in the 2015/16 campaign and the Copa del Rey, but were eliminated in the UCL quarterfinals against Atlético Madrid.
Similarly, in Enrique’s last season in 2016/17, Barça only won the Copa del Rey, since Real Madrid won the Spaniard’s league with a 3-point advantage. Moreover, Barcelona that season was the protagonist of the most historic comeback in the history of football, after losing 0-4 to PSG in the round of 16 and winning in a dramatic 6-1 at Camp Nou in the second leg. However, the Catalans were disappointingly eliminated against Juventus in the quarterfinals.
On this day, three years ago:— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) March 7, 2020
"If they can score four, we can score six."
– Luis Enrique
The rest, as they say, is history. pic.twitter.com/wbC7OR9I3V
His stage was over but we will always remember Luis Enrique. An exemplary coach, full of character and always looking out for the principles of the club and putting them above any player. In addition, his ambition to win, but not only to win but to dominate in every game was priceless.
Lucky and blessed were those who witnessed Luis Enrique’s Barcelona, the closest thing in ambition to Pep’s game. While Guardiola liked control and being dominant in every game, this was not Luis Enrique’s main mission, but always to score as many goals as possible and instill fear in the rival when they faced powerful FC Barcelona. Undoubtedly, one of the best coaches who have ever walked the doors of the Camp Nou.
The causes and effects of Barcelona’s inability to cope with pressure
On the back of a 1-4 trouncing at home to Paris Saint Germain, Barcelona had the opportunity to extend their 7 game-winning run in the league to a phenomenal eight, and against probably the easiest of competition to do so.
After all, Cádiz were on the back of a four-game losing streak in La Liga, having won a meagre 5 points from a possible 33, and up against a team that had won 31 from their last 33. This was as perfect a game as they came, but, as has been a motif at the Catalan club in recent years, they crumbled under pressure.
Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The defence gave away two big chances, one of which came from a ludicrous and much too easily avoidable penalty two minutes from time. As for the forward line, despite having had eleven and a half chances more than their visitors to hit the back of the net, amassing a whopping 3.56xG, they could settle for only one goal, and this too from a penalty. Ronald Koeman had a mostly tolerable afternoon, but at this point, the complaints about the team make the ever-demanding fans sound like a broken record.
In this article, Barca Universal explores some events that have become all too common when the team faces minimal adversity, stretching from the managers in the dugouts, the pressure the collective falls over for in crucial moments and finally, individual mistakes which, like a bad rash, spread to all corners of the team continue to plague the club.
Managerial incompetence in crucial moments
Barcelona’s last three managers, Ronald Koeman included, have each shown, and on plenty of occasions, certain character traits that, rather than improve the team, contribute to its inevitable downfall. What is most shocking is, despite being akin to water and oil in terms of their tactics, they each have an uncanny ability not only to fail to learn from each other but, more surprisingly, themselves.
Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setién, and Koeman have each shown a palpable level of a lack of tactical ingenuity whenever called upon. In one way or another, each one of them has taken the club farther and farther away from its roots, all while failing to replace them with anything sustainable enough to win points, or at the very least, make games enjoyable.
It comes as a shock that even in-game, whenever their set systems start to show fissures, neither one of them has consistently shown the most basic of requirements in a manager, this coming in their ability to rectify their errors.
In 2019, leading 3-0 against Liverpool, Barcelona needed just but a goal to gain a spot in the UEFA Champions League’s final. Rather than set his side up for an offensive tussle with the Merseyside club — who mind you were bereft of any real attacking talent —, the then manager deployed a controversial and rather defensive 4-4-2 formation, providing little to no width and with a clear disconnect between the midfield and the two up front.
Down by a just goal at half time, Valverde had the chance to add Malcom to attack the right flank given Andy Robertson had been taken off at halftime, but he opted not to. He had a chance to add Arthur Melo to improve ball circulation after conceding two in two minutes to Georginio Wijnaldum but instead decided to go for Nelson Semedo.
The sheer lack of order in the team, and his inability to react to reach the goals they scored, meant Barça would inevitably give up the aggregate lead and the tie as a whole. Impervious to criticism, he would continue to show this very same level of incompetence for the nine months that led up to his sacking.
Quique Setién did much of the same here too. Once admired for his Cruyffist tendencies, he fell apart under the unspoken power dynamics set in place by the heavyweights in the club, leading him to never make changes to his starting elevens regardless of how poorly an individual had played. Even when the game was crying for an intervention via a substitution, he, like Valverde, before him would cower in fear and take refuge in the dugouts, which for much of his tenure remained untouched.
Despite having three years worth of evidence on what not to do at Barça, Ronald Koeman continues to make the same exact mistakes as his predecessors. He at least makes rotations in the starting eleven every once in a while, but unless, of course, the team is in a comfortable winning position, he will wait until at least the 80th minute to effectuate any changes to the team’s shape, tactics, or personnel. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that almost every game that has seen Barca trail this season in La Liga has gone on to end as either a draw or a loss of all three points.
Against Paris, many fans observed the gaping holes left in between the defence at the halfway line and the poorly dispersed midfield and attack. This was at halftime, yet in the second period, he left it as it was rather than change up the team’s shape. The exact same mistakes occurred at home against Cádiz in both the first and second period and was only met with a change in the final minutes of the tie.
In La Liga, where the level is lower, managers can get away with a draw here and there, but in the Champions League, where every mistake is punished, they all falter, and to the surprise of no one. When push comes to shove, they all look clueless, lose their train of thought, and as has been the case in each of the last four years, the Blaugrana have lost and lost heavily to equal opposition.
Players that simply don’t make the cut
It comes to reason that not every defeat is as a result of managerial or tactical mishaps. Sometimes, and as has been the case for many years now, tactical flaws have been compounded with some ghastly individual errors, some of which lead fans to question how it is that these players became professionals in the first place.
There are many games that can illustrate this, but none more so than Barcelona’s almighty collapse against the new sextuple winners, Bayern Munich. It is quite unjust that subsequent to such defeats, only the manager’s contract is cut short. Some of the mistakes made by the entirety of the team in that game were so blatantly unacceptable that at least half the team should’ve been sacked at the end.
A score of 4-1 against Paris, or 3-0 against AS Roma this year and in 2018 respectively could be attributed to a manager’s inability to take a firm hold of the game, but when it goes beyond five, it is imperative that the players, perhaps more than their manager, be put to question.
Despite the average age of the squad on that night being over 30 years of age, everyone on the team, from Lionel Messi upfront to Ter Stegen in goal, made rookie mistakes. Leading from the front, the Argentine couldn’t be bothered to press for the ball, despite his individual mistakes directly leading to a quarter of their goals.
Luis Suárez partnering him, made just eighteen passes, nine of which were from the centre circle at the start of one half and one for each of the eight goals that Ter Stegen, a man whose capacity to play under pressure, is being questioned more and more by the year, conceded.
The entirety of the team has this impeccable ability to collectively fall into pieces, with mentalities that shrink to the sub-atomic level when faced with the slightest of adversity. The usual suspects in defence, these coming in Jordi Alba, who almost singlehandedly won Liverpool the second leg at Anfield, Samuel Umtiti, whose career essentially came to an end after the 2018 world cup, Clément Lenglet, whose in-game reactions can be outpaced by a tortoise, are often the catalysts to the team’s failure.
Football is a team game, but individual errors often do have a profound impact on the collective. How is Barca supposed to be challenging for La Liga when their defence is the one with the most individual errors leading to a goal in the entire division.
How are clean sheets meant to be preserved when individuals like Clément Lenglet concede 3 penalties in the same campaign, each leading to a loss of points. It is borderline impossible to challenge for anything when half the time, in do or die situations, you have defenders that shoot themselves, and thus the team, in the foot.
But it’s not only the defence to be blamed. The attack and midfield, charged with finishing chances and creating an air of stability, respectively, do none of the like when called upon. Against the Bavarians, the midfield was essentially inexistent, with next to no pressing, and even when applied, none of it had any coordination or impact on the much superior German machine. Passing somehow from a trio or quadruple of players whose careers are built on just that, all inexplicably goes awry or loses all meaning at the slightest instance of pressure.
The forward line, as seen on innumerable occasions this campaign and during their European disasters, somehow collectively forgets how to find the back of the net. No one can be spared from this judgment, not even Messi.
Ousmane Dembélé had the chance to kill off the tie against Liverpool, but rather than blast the ball past Alisson in a 1v1 situation, he chipped it into his arms and did basically the same thing against Paris last in midweek when he wasted a chance to take the game to 2-0, only for the visitors to equalise within seconds. The same was the case as recently as yesterday against Cadiz, whereof 23 shots made, only one via a penalty found the back of the net.
Barcelona not only have to contend with managers who show complete ineptitude at understanding or implementing the one style of play asked if them, but also a team that, when needed to perform, has not the slightest idea how.
As Johan Cruyff once famously said, “football is a game of mistakes, and whoever makes the least mistakes wins.” When it comes to Barcelona, winning goes from something that should be a regular, weekly occurrence to a proverbial mountain crafted from the tiniest of anthills.
These errors span all the way from managers in the dugouts who, despite years of experience, keep making the same mistakes to the players on the pitch, who, through a lack of attention to detail, ridiculous mistakes and otherworldly missing, never cease to contribute to the demise of the team.