Inside Barcelona’s historic week Messi threatens to depart, Setien’s shortcomings, how they employed Koeman

Inside Barcelona’s historic week Messi threatens to depart, Setien’s shortcomings, how they employed Koeman

With further reporting by Rodrigo Faez

BARCELONA, Spain — Ronald Koeman’s first act as Barcelona coach was a working lunch along with his new bosses on Wednesday. He dined with president Josep Maria Bartomeu, sporting director Ramon Planes and director Javier Bordas at La Venta within the swanky Sant Gervasi-La Bonanova neighbourhood. They’d lots to debate.

Koeman has changed Quique Setien as one of many many modifications promised by Bartomeu within the aftermath of their Champions League embarrassment towards Bayern Munich final Friday. Nevertheless, sources have instructed Football4cast that though Koeman was receptive to a lot of the essential modifications, he wished one factor to stay the identical: preserve Lionel Messi on the membership.

The brand new coach was anxious to rearrange a gathering with Messi, round whom he hopes to construct a team. The ahead has been annoyed, disillusioned and, at occasions, offended over Barca’s European shambles and, in keeping with studies, is contemplating his future. (On Friday, the Barca board have been divided over whether or not they need to really take heed to provides for his or her talisman given the wants of the squad and the size of the rebuild required.)

Messi, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, has flirted with leaving the Camp Nou earlier than, however the specter of him leaving has by no means felt extra actual. His silence through the week since Barcelona’s Champions League exit, which has been some of the turbulent weeks within the membership’s current historical past, has solely elevated issues that he may depart.

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And so, a face-to-face between the brand new coach and the membership captain was shortly arrange on Thursday. Messi travelled again from Cerdanya, the place he was on vacation with Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba and their households, to satisfy with Koeman. The star wants persuading that Barca will be capable of bear a rebuild whereas nonetheless competing domestically and in Europe. Sources near Messi would not expose how the assembly went, however the membership confirmed that he instructed Koeman he has doubts about staying. Additional talks are deliberate.

Messi’s contract runs till 2021 and features a prohibitive €700 million launch clause. For Koeman, persuading the No. 10 to remain could be a very good begin to his tenure, however the scale of the duty at Camp Nou stays enormous.

“It isn’t a straightforward problem,” Koeman acknowledged as he was formally introduced after Wednesday’s lunch. “Even throughout good occasions, it isn’t straightforward to be at Barcelona as a result of the membership calls for the easiest. However I like that, it is the way it must be.

“I believe there need to be modifications. The picture of the opposite day [against Bayern] will not be the picture we would like. We’ll work exhausting to get well the status of a membership that’s nonetheless best on the planet.”

Messi is Barca’s undisputed chief throughout the squad, however his frustrations in regards to the path of the membership have led to recent hypothesis about his future. Michael Regan – UEFA/UEFA through Getty Photos

It is simple that Barcelona have misplaced a few of that status, particularly over the previous eight months. In January, Barca sacked Ernesto Valverde, when the membership was high of La Liga, and Setien’s reign has been outlined by a host of errors, on and off the pitch, that culminated with final week’s 8-2 humiliation towards Bayern. That defeat introduced all of the membership’s woes effervescent again to the floor.

Along with the potential of Messi leaving, Barca want to exchange an ageing core of gamers, scale back the sport’s greatest wage invoice and do it whereas coping with a €300 million deficit brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. That is with out delving into the disaster at board stage, which resulted in six members stepping down in April, and even touching on the truth that, in March, a brand new president shall be appointed and every thing accomplished this summer season could possibly be ripped up in favour of beginning once more, once more.

The demise of Setien

After the heavy loss to Bayern, Setien refused to reply questions on his future, however he already knew he was going to be sacked. He did not even want to talk to Bartomeu to know that; as a substitute of being relieved by Bartomeu, Setien obtained the information over lunch on Monday from sporting director Eric Abidal, who stepped down from his personal function with the membership 24 hours later.

It had been 217 days since Setien had been appointed — with nearly 60 of them spent in pandemic lockdown. A supply near the primary team quipped there may be “nothing constructive” to say about Setien’s fleeting Camp Nou keep.

Setien, left, and Messi had little rapport, and their strained relationship was emblematic of rigidity between Barcelona gamers and the teaching workers since Setien’s appointment in January. Pedro Salado/High quality Sport Photos/Getty Photos

Issues did not get off to a fantastic begin in January when Setien changed Valverde, who had been a preferred determine amongst senior gamers, they usually shortly went downhill. Sources clarify that enormous sections of the squad, together with Messi, did not click on with Setien and his teaching workers from day one. It shortly turned obvious that the gamers’ relationship along with his assistant, Eder Sarabia, was notably bitter. In the meantime, Setien’s goalkeeper coach, Jon Pascua, wasn’t even tasked with working with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. That job remained with Jose Ramon de la Fuente, who has been within the function since Tito Vilanova employed him in 2012. He has labored with Ter Stegen since 2014, and the 2 have constructed a detailed bond.

Nevertheless, it was the strain with Sarabia that spilled into the general public sphere. Messi ignored a briefing from Sarabia through the 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo on June 27; tv cameras caught the No. 10 strolling away from Sarabia as he tried to subject directions. It was a scene acquainted in coaching, in keeping with sources, the place gamers did not purchase into the “depth” demanded by Setien and his workers. They thought a few of his workouts have been infantile and others overcomplicated. This led to rigidity between Sarabia and Messi; on event, Setien even needed to step in and preserve the peace between the pair.

Because the rift between gamers and coaches grew, coupled with dropped factors post-lockdown in La Liga towards Sevilla, Celta Vigo and Atletico Madrid, Bartomeu quickly realised one other managerial change was wanted. Setien’s destiny was sealed when Barca misplaced to Osasuna within the penultimate recreation of the season, handing archrivals Actual Madrid the title. Sources clarify that the highest brass on the Catalan membership believed that Setien’s lack of expertise on the high stage counted towards him, which was why he did not garner respect among the many gamers.

Regardless of that, after a sequence of conferences, there was a consensus among the many gamers and the teaching workers that Setien would stay in cost for the Champions League marketing campaign. Everybody on workers agreed to drag collectively for the sake of the membership; nonetheless, per some sources, Setien appeared to have checked out. He did not give a correct team discuss forward of the Aug. Eight win towards Napoli, as a substitute telling the gamers they have been skilled sufficient to know what they needed to do. Within the build-up to that recreation, some gamers turned to different members of the backroom workers to ask for info on Napoli’s strengths and weaknesses — evaluation Setien would normally ship.

Barca survived that recreation, profitable 3-1 (4-2 on combination), however their preparation for Bayern was simply as haphazard. Setien did attempt to exert some authority, asking gamers to step up throughout coaching classes. After the Bayern recreation, even though gamers knew what it meant for Setien, sources say the gamers did not even say goodbye to the coach.



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There are two sides to each story, after all, and sources near Setien say he realised inside one month that he had an “unattainable job” on his palms. He and his workers imagine the gamers have an excessive amount of energy. They sought to vary that, however with out the board’s backing, they have been combating a misplaced trigger. Ultimately, Setien staffers Sarabia, Pascua and health coach Fran Soto all left too.

How Barca courted Koeman

On Saturday, the day after the Bayern recreation, Koeman started interviewing for the job. The Dutchman dined at La Cupula Garraf, a flowery restaurant down the coast from Barcelona. He lately bought a home in Vallvidrera and makes common journeys to the Catalan metropolis, however this time his go to felt extra pointed. He was one in all three candidates sounded out by Bartomeu because the Barca president sought to keep away from the mess that underpinned Setien’s appointment in January. After all, Barca had landed on Setien solely after being turned down by Koeman and Xavi Hernandez firstly of 2020. Regardless of rejection seven months in the past, Bartomeu turned to the identical two males, together with Mauricio Pochettino, when in search of Barca’s new coach.

As soon as once more, sources say it shortly turned obvious after discussions that Xavi — a Barca membership legend as a participant, now managing in Qatar at Al Sadd — was nonetheless not able to return, which left Pochettino and Koeman on the record.

Former Tottenham boss Pochettino dined informally with Barca’s then-assistant sporting director, Planes, final week, and sources instructed Football4cast that at one level — at the least within the minds of Bartomeu and Planes — Pochettino had an actual probability of touchdown the job. (Planes was confirmed as Abidal’s substitute when the previous defender stepped down from the function.) The Argentine coach beforehand stated he would quite “return to his farm” in his homeland than coach at Camp Nou due to his historical past as a participant and coach at rivals Espanyol. Pochettino quickly backtracked on these feedback, showing to open the door to the highest job at Barca. Nevertheless, sources clarify that the overwhelming negativity in direction of Pochettino amongst supporters and on social media — in addition to doubts amongst some members of the board — propelled Koeman into pole place.

Koeman’s fame for being assertive and forceful earned him the Barcelona job, however he’ll must be extra diplomatic if he’s to get this team again on observe. Urbanandsport/NurPhoto through Getty Photos

Koeman performed for Barcelona as a participant and wrote his identify into the historical past books when, as a part of Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Workforce,’ he scored the aim that secured the membership’s first European Cup in 1992. A supply near the Barca hierarchy says they settled on Koeman this time as a result of they imagine he’ll command respect from the gamers.

The membership additionally really feel he is able to overseeing an overhaul of the taking part in workers. He is by no means been afraid to face as much as big-name gamers — as proven at Valencia when, in 2007-08, he compelled out senior stars Santiago Canizares, David Albelda and Miguel Angel Angulo as a part of a rebuild — and given Setien’s energy battle with the squad, Koeman’s assertive nature goes to be wanted. Football4cast reported earlier this yr that solely three gamers weren’t on the market, and Bartomeu confirmed on Tuesday that principally each participant over the age of 30, excluding Messi, can depart.

“They’re legendary gamers and they should depart with honours, however we’ve to speak case by case,” he instructed Barca TV.

There have been minor doubts in regards to the taking part in model Koeman has used all through his managerial profession and another minor problems, akin to agreeing on a severance bundle with the Dutch FA, however with a scarcity of different choices, it was full steam forward.

For Koeman, sources recommend that he felt this was a practice he may let cross solely so many occasions. It was time to board it. Individuals near him say he’s in “excellent well being” after a coronary heart scare earlier this yr and, after main the Netherlands to their first main event since 2014, feels energised for what lies forward.

The dimensions of the duty awaiting Koeman

In a exceptional interview aired on the membership’s in-house tv channel on Tuesday, president Bartomeu successfully made over-30 gamers akin to Gerard Pique, Alba, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and Suarez obtainable for transfer. (These huge earners are throughout 30, coming into the ultimate years of their careers and deemed expendable.) Others, together with Philippe Coutinho, Samuel Umtiti and Junior Firpo, have been talked about in conversations (formally and informally) with half of Europe’s high golf equipment.

Barca have the most important wage invoice in football, with this season’s accounts revealing that it is available in at over €500 million a yr. Bartomeu admitted this week that that may be a “drawback” and, with the membership predicting a €320m fall in income subsequent season as a result of coronavirus, they should scale back it. That shall be simpler stated than accomplished in the course of a pandemic, not least as a result of nearly all of these gamers want to keep. It is for that purpose, maybe, that Koeman struck a extra conciliatory tone on Wednesday. He stated that age does not matter however that he’ll demand starvation and dedication from his gamers.

“I do not need to point out names; we’ve to look within the membership’s greatest pursuits and make one of the best squad doable to attempt to win video games,” he stated.

“There are gamers of a sure age who you can begin to doubt, though a participant who’s 31, 32 and even 33 will not be essentially completed — all of it relies upon on your starvation and whether or not you need to give every thing for the membership. I solely need to work with gamers who need to be right here, and if they aren’t completely satisfied right here, then they need to say so. I solely need people who find themselves going to present every thing for Barca.”



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To assist him, Koeman will herald Alfred Schreuder and Henrik Larsson as his assistants, one in all whom already has a constructive rapport with one in all Barca’s key gamers. Sources say Schreuder arrives with Frenkie de Jong’s blessing, given their relationship, and former Sweden worldwide Larsson is a well-known face, having performed for Barca 14 years in the past, and boasts that institutional reminiscence of what the membership expects to be.

De Jong shall be central to Koeman’s plans. The coach has dined out with the midfielder — together with Patrick Kluivert and household — on a number of of his journeys to Barcelona over the previous yr. A supply on the membership say there’s pleasure to see how De Jong, a €70m signing from Ajax final summer season, will blossom beneath his compatriot.

Different children shall be introduced by alongside De Jong — Riqui Puig, Ansu Fati and up to date signing Francisco Trincao, for instance — and new signings can even be chased. Sources say Eric Garcia and Lautaro Martinez stay targets, however all that issues proper now’s one participant: Messi.

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