After last week’s loss against Osasuna, many doubts arose over the future of Barcelona manager Quique Setién, as there were rumours that the board could have been considering sacking him once the league was over.
Barça coach Quique Setién obtained his first defeat after the coronavirus break last Thursday against Osasuna. A defeat that could be classified as a failure or a disappointment as it was the same day that Real Madrid were crowned La Liga champions. Despite Los Blancos‘ 2–1 win over Villarreal already gave them the title, Barcelona’s loss brought even more frustration to fans. Fortunately for Quique, he managed to end La Liga campaign with a 0–5 away victory against Deportivo Alavés.
“We have talked a lot, and it has helped ease the situation for us”
after Barcelona’s 0–5 win over Alavés
Quique Setién has tried to implement some tactical changes at Barça compared to his predecessor Ernesto Valverde, but for several reasons, the changes between both managers has not been highly noticeable in the eyes of fans. In most games the team continues to have the same problems to kill off games and the impact in the third final can be minimal against compact low blocks. In addition, it is increasingly difficult for the best player in the side, Lionel Messi, to score goals or be more decisive from a tactical level.
Nevertheless, Setién has exponentially bolstered the defensive solidity by bringing out the best of Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet, by knowing how to accommodate Nélson Semedo at right-back, and by trusting Jordi Alba, who has found some of his best form this season after the return of football. Moreover, he has also given Barça B starlets Riqui Puig and Ronald Araújo the chances to adapt to the first team, apart from obviously 17-year-old winger Ansu Fati.
“We did our self-criticism behind closed doors. We didn’t have a great league season. We can’t let teams want the win more than we do. We need to be more consistent”
after Barcelona’s 0–5 win over Alavés
That said, current Barça B boss Xavier García Pimienta probably is the most prepared man for the manager post at FC Barcelona. Apart from his time as a player in the academy, he has been coaching in the lower categories of La Masía since the beginning of the 21st century, and little by little he has been climbing positions until reaching the reserves. A man who is full of character and knowledge and who possesses and transmits the Barça DNA as well as few others. But to what extent would it be sensible to give the job to García Pimienta at the moment?
Pimienta certainly deserves an opportunity in the first team. However, that opportunity should have probably come when Ernesto Valverde was sacked. After all Pimienta has done, and for being one of the few coaches who can fit in Barcelona, it seemed the right moment to promote him in January and inherit a squad that needed a fresh air in terms of tactics and youth.
Barcelona must ask themselves how much have the current circumstances influenced Quique Setién’s decisions | Photo by Alejandro García via Imago
But times have changed. In January the club hired Quique Setién and it doesn’t make much sense to dismiss him right now with the Champions League yet to be played. The Cantabrian received a weakened and very limited team in which he could not avoid the exits of the likes of Carles Aleñá, Carles Pérez and Jean-Clair Todibo. Furthermore, the Catalans were the leaders in La Liga with a two-point advantage over Real Madrid but with the worst points’ sum for more than ten years in the first half of La Liga.
Quique Setién possibly deserves to have a preseason, to start a new campaign by making his own decisions, to choose which players he wants to count on, and to have the opportunity to show his true football with the freedom he needs. Even so, García Pimienta is an almost perfect profile for this job, but not at this time, since it would mean wasting his undeniable talent by giving him a squad packed with problems.
“Now, we have the confidence we needed. We have done a deep analysis about the situation of the team. I certainly feel that I have the support of Messi and the rest of the team”
after Barcelona’s 0–5 win over Alavés
The best thing at present would be to keep Setién at Barcelona, to let him be in charge of the blaugranas in the Champions League, and then to trust him for the following season. If in Europe or in the following course everything crumbles, then there could come the real opportunity for García Pimienta. Yet, while not having Pimienta as the Barça coach is unfair to him, sacking Quique Setién would be much more unfair due to the poor circumstances he has had to deal with.
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.