Having replaced Quique Setien at the helm this summer, Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman very recently completed his first 100 days in charge of the former champions.
Koeman’s first 100 days were undoubtedly a roller coaster ride for him and the team alike. One week he is the leader capable of overcoming constraints Blaugranas were facing in the past, another week he is on the verge of facing the sack for being incapable of adjusting to the change of cycle that was desperately needed.
A couple of days back, in the Champions League game against Ferencvaros, Barcelona enjoyed a stunning win even though the team started with fringe players. The same week, in a match against Cádiz on Saturday, Barcelona, suffered another embarrassing defeat by conceding two painful goals landing to the 7th position on the La Liga table. This defeat made Koeman be in hot water once again.
Looking at the stats, two questions arise; will Blaugranas have the patience and stamina to keep the Dutchman as their coach for long? Did he deliver enough to stay at Camp Nou when the new Board arrives? To answer these questions let’s see what he has achieved and failed so far.
Different style of play
Although the results of his attempts to change the style of play are not very favourable, still the Dutchman’s efforts to experiment are admirable to some extent. Right from the start, he is continuously trying to change the shape from a 4-3-3 to a 4-2-3-1 formation. His decisions have thoroughly helped to get strong grounds in the Champions League (until the Juventus loss) but in La Liga, the results are very substandard.
When the team is out of possession, the players try to press high. On the other hand, they suffer when it comes to the ball: the team constantly struggle to make an impact due to the slow circulation of possession. With Frenkie de Jong alongside Sergio Busquets in midfield, this style of play is still questionable.
Unlike his predecessors, authority is the first and foremost thing that the Dutchman was able to achieve in such a short period. This authority enabled him to gain respect from the players for the decisions he has been making and the measures he has been taking — but how long will that continue if results don’t start to come?
Relationship with Messi
The sigh of relief for the fans lately is Koeman’s positive relationship with the Captain — at least better than what Argentine had with former coach Quique Setién. Koeman is trying to get the best out of Lionel Messi.
Vocal for defending the team
Koeman’s first 100 days proved himself as a supportive coach. He is known for taking a stand for his team at various moments. When it comes to speaking against the referees for their biased decisions, Koeman does not hold back. He is not afraid of facing authorities after criticizing the referees and defending his team. Whether it is press conferences or the dressing room; he knows what he is trying to convey and is clear in his speech.
Intense training and interest in youth (?)
Since the new Barca boss has taken charge, he has been adding intensity to the training sessions to prepare his team for the challenging times. His commitment to the youth is also a welcoming factor. Ansu Fati and Pedro González López are two of the emerging talents which Koeman has been relying on. However, at the same time, La Masia-born Riqui Puig has only had a total of 85 minutes under the Dutchman, which raises questions.
Victories are still inconsistent as the team embarrassingly struggles in La Liga. This by far is the most disappointing La Liga season the club has witnessed in the past 29 years. Apart from Fati and Pedri, young talents like Carles Alena and Riqui Puig have not had the chances they deserve, despite the fact that they have proven to be promising in the very little moments they were on the field.
The important part of the team in terms of reliability and effectiveness is still shaky, and that is the defence. Last but not least, the Dutchman is still confused with his gala-lineup, even after 100 days. It all seems to be a guessing game on his end; who plays, and where.
Barcelona’s rebirth is inevitable, but it will take time
Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner. In early March, the club will finally get their long-awaited new president following the tyranny that was Josep Maria Bartomeu’s tenure. And perhaps ‘tyranny’ may be a bit too harsh of a verdict, but how else would you call years of systematically destroying the club, consciously or subconsciously, plunging it deeper and deeper into the abyss? On second thoughts, ‘tyranny‘ will just have to do.
But all of that is firmly behind us now. In just weeks’ time, the Catalan giant will rise once more, reborn from the ashes of its fallen self to conquer the world anew. But things in football are never really that easy, are they? Everyone knows you can’t win all the time.
Even the greatest of teams such as Pep Guardiola’s very own Barcelona had their rise, peak and subsequent downfall. And there are not many clubs out there who have faced the harsh reality of building new dynasties from scratch as much as Barcelona have.
So if history is any indication at all, change takes time and the upcoming presidential tenure at the club will be no different. But let’s get one thing clear right away – this is not meant to bash any of the three candidates nor promote them either. All three of Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Antoni Freixa have their own visions of the direction in which to take their beloved club.
However, to think everything will suddenly and immediately change upon their appointment would be foolish. No, in March, we’re not getting the rebirth; we’re only getting the very beginning of one. With a new president sitting in that chair and appointing a new board, Barcelona will once again lay the groundwork for future success.
The immediate appointment of the new upper hierarchy might boost the morale, of course. And that in itself could then translate to a boost on the pitch as well. But a new president can only do as much in such a short amount of time. The real battles are always fought on the pitches and there, Barcelona are still looking like a broken team.
This too, of course, can be fixed over time. With the appropriate staff behind the scenes, a much better scouting department, physios, psychologists and a step-by-step tactical and squad overhaul, we can start hoping for result. But those are all long-term goals that require patience both from us the fans and the team itself.
Unfortunately, years of failure in the market, chasing ghosts of our pasts and blind picks, have resulted in a financially distorted club. Where once was wealth and prosperity now we only have crumbs of former glory. Yes, Barcelona are still a powerful outfit that can and should be aiming to attract only the very best.
But we also have to remember that each of the three candidates is seemingly putting a lot of emphasis on going back to the roots. ‘The roots‘ here mean La Masia, the academy and the youth. But just as is the case with any sporting project, especially the ones founded on the strength coming from within, this takes time to develop. Rome wasn’t built overnight. Nor was La Masia or Barcelona’s legacy, for that matter.
The Azulgranas really do have incredible talent in their youth ranks and this is definitely a pool of players that should be utilised in the future. We shouldn’t, however, expect to find the new Golden Generation right around the corner.
We have been fooled into thinking the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi are the standard and the rule. Unfortunately, as much as we like to keep telling ourselves otherwise, they are very much the exception to the rule; the standout and likely a one-in-a-million crop of players that flourished under a brilliant manager.
So many things had to be in the right place for them to make it, and somehow, the stars had aligned back then to ensure their development into footballing giants. It would be foolish to expect the same thing to happen again, or rather, to happen that quickly.
But with the right foundations, the right personnel, trust and hope, why shouldn’t we believe in it happening once more? After all, we have the secret recipe for success but are too afraid to use it. Why? Well, the times have changed since Barcelona last ruled the world.
Back in 2009, success was not guaranteed nor was is so expected and the fans were nowhere near as spoilt as they are now. Back then, the coach actually had the time to build a squad, groom them and mould them in his image. That’s what Pep did and miraculously enough, it didn’t take him years, not even months, to start making something truly incredible.
And in so many ways, 2021 mirrors that exact same situation. Before Pep’s time, Frank Rijkaard had been struggling for a while and his team, despite having some big names, was in a need of an overhaul. In that regard, Barcelona were entering their transitional period, the same one they are experiencing now.
Rijkaard bowed out from the stage having finished third in La Liga and having exited both Copa del Rey and the Champions League in the semi-finals. It was a valiant effort for a broken team but ultimately, he finished his tenure with a trophyless season. But in so many ways, that 2007/08 campaign was a start of a new story; one that promoted trust in the youth, power from within and confidence in the beginning of a rise to glory.
So what can we learn from that? We must accept that change is sometimes necessary but that it can cost a lot. In football, results and trophies matter, that’s in the nature of the sport. But sometimes you have to take a step back before you jump two steps forward. 2020 wasn’t easy and 2021 is looking equally as exhausting and challenging. But it’s also necessary.
Already, in a season that may seem full of pain, anger and disappointment, we’ve seen glimpses of what’s to come. Players like Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ronald Araújo rising to the occasion to guide us to a better future. That future may also be without Lionel Messi, the one player who embodies this club the most.
But we should also remember Pep had to lose, or rather let go of Ronaldinho to kickstart his great overhaul. Both players were and still are icons of the club but a new era requires new heroes and new leaders. So even if Messi leaves this coming summer, the world won’t suddenly stop, nor should Barcelona’s strive for greatness.
In March, a new president will get elected and the foundation for a better future will finally be set. It will take time and it won’t suddenly solve all of our problems.
But it will give us a push that we oh so need. Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner.
Don’t give up hope in the moment of our greatest triumph.