With the Basque boss taking over from Luis Enrique at the Catalan club this summer, we look at what he will bring to the table at Camp Nou
Luis Enrique’s reign as Barcelona coach is over. The former Spain midfielder went out on a high on Saturday by beating Alaves and claiming one final piece of silverware. Now, it is time for the Catalan club to look ahead to next season.
Ernesto Valverde is the man who will take over at Camp Nou after he brought to an end his four-year spell at Athletic Club. So what can Barca expect from the 53-year-old coach?
As a player, Valverde began his career at Alaves and had a two-year spell at Camp Nou under Johan Cruyff. Barca are always keen to hire coaches in tune with their philosophy and in that respect, the Basque fits the bill — even if he featured sparingly during his time at he Catalan club.
As a coach, Valverde has had two spells at Athletic, two at Olympiacos and one each with Espanyol, Villarreal and Valencia. Tactically astute, he has played a number of formations in his career, including 4-3-3, 3-5-2, 4-1-4-1 and, latterly, 4-2-3-1.
In his second spell at Athletic, he opted for 4-2-3-1 with the evergreen Aritz Aduriz as the focal point, the Spain striker playing the finest football of his career over the past two or three seasons. And he could consider that system at Barca too, with 4-4-2 another alternative featuring Neymar and Luis Suarez up top and Messi in a deeper role. However, it is unclear at this stage as he has always adapted to the squads at his disposal.
Valverde brought stability back to Athletic after a turbulent second season under Marcelo Bielsa and did a fine job getting the best out of a squad of players all from the Basque County due to the club’s policy of only fielding footballers from in the local areas.
That meant he had possibly taken the club as far as he could. The first Athletic coach to win a trophy in 31 years (by beating Barca to win the Spanish Supercopa in 2015), he racked up 102 victories in his second spell and 140 across his two tenures to leave him just one short of the record of 141 held by Javier Clemente.
Valverde’s biggest strength is his man-management, although at Barcelona he will be working with a different set of players altogether and will need to respect the hierarchy of the MSN in the dressing room, and the importance above all of Lionel Messi — as Luis Enrique found out in his first season in charge following the high-profile fall-out at Anoeta.
A deep thinker and strong tactically, Valverde is also an expert at exploiting the weaknesses of his rivals, while he likes his teams to press high up the pitch. However, if there is one question mark over his time at Athletic, it is a poor record away from San Mames. At Barca, he will be expected to win almost all the time — both home and away.
“Ernesto has done a great job at Athletic the last few years,” Gerard Pique said last week. “He played here for Barcelona as a player and I think he could be a good option, as could others.”
And before Valverde was formally announced Monday, Andres Iniesta added: “If it’s him, he’s prepared for the job. The teams he has been at, the general opinion is that they know what they are doing and they know how to play.”
There is little doubt about that, but he has never coached a club of Barca’s magnitude and, in that respect, the jury is out. Valverde took Espanyol to a UEFA Cup final and has won three league titles in Greece, while his record at Athletic is good. He is undoubtedly a safe pair of hands who should do well, but it remains to be seen whether that will be enough to revitalise a Barca team somewhat in decline over the past two seasons.