Obviously, just prior to the Blaugrana being ritually humiliated in a tactically bizarre and spiritually empty performance against Atlético Madrid, Joan Laporta gave Koeman a very public backing, but that loss, combined with the thrashing they received from Benfica, leaves them with a very real chance of missing out on Champions League qualification, must change things.
Furthermore, Laporta was the man who publicly stated that Messi would stay before allowing him to depart. Before allowing Emerson Royal to depart, he publicly stated that he would stay. So, with Ronald Koeman, he’s trying for the trifecta?
The fact that the Dutch coach has publicly stated that the Blaugrana lack the ability to compete with the finest teams in the world is also telling. It’s usually an indication that things are coming to an end when someone expresses such outspoken hatred against their own team.
So, what are Barcelona’s choices if they decide to change managers? We took a look at the four front-runners to succeed Koeman (according to William Hill odds), weighing the benefits and drawbacks of appointing them.
So there you have it: the five managerial candidates for Barcelona.
Pros: Xavi’s appointment as Barcelona’s manager has more than a whiff of destiny about it. Pep Guardiola served as Johan Cruyff’s on-field commander before rising to become Barcelona’s supreme manager. As a result, it’s only natural that Xavi, Guardiola’s on-pitch commander, should follow suit. Xavi has been demonstrating the effectiveness of his coaching philosophy by transforming Al-Sadd into a powerhouse in Qatar, winning two of the last three titles in flawless, Barcelona-style fashion. Xavi is intimately familiar with the club, its culture, and its system of play (indeed, he was the system of play). There isn’t a better candidate to lead Barcelona.
Cons: Is it possible for lightning to strike twice? On paper, everything points to Xavi being the next coach, but while he’s done well in his brief managing experience, it’s only Al-Sadd. He hasn’t worked in Europe, hasn’t worked with superstars, and, unlike Guardiola, has only ever played for Barcelona (and Al-Sadd), foregoing the crucial spells abroad that Pep had under Carlo Mazzone, Fabio Capello, and Juanma Lillo. On paper, Xavi appears to be a wonderful fit for Barcelona, but football isn’t played on paper, is it?
Pros: He’s Catalan, thus he’s already fluent in both languages. He’s also known for having a well-defined system (3-4-2-1) and playing style that largely reflects Barcelona’s beliefs. The club already has the majority of the players required to carry out his tactical vision, and he has demonstrated that he can apply it to both superstars (Belgium) and journeymen (Wigan). He’d probably also bring Thierry Henry, and who doesn’t like Titi?
Cons: While Martinez has successfully transferred his style of play to the Belgian national team, it remains to be seen whether he can do the same at club level, given his legendary failure to improve Everton beyond their current position. While his FA Cup victory with Wigan is legendary, the fact that he has won nothing with Belgium or the Toffees must be a cause for concern. Furthermore, he is under contract with the Belgian national team until the 2022 World Cup.
Pros: Conte knows how to get things done. The fierce Italian is a master at persuading opponents to adopt his tactics and style of play. On the break, his sides are vicious. Many Blaugrana players would benefit from his knowledge of fitness and physical health, and older Blaugrana players’ careers would be extended as well. Winning a league title, for example, is nearly a given.
Cons: Winning one league title isn’t nearly enough for a team like Barcelona, and to make matters worse, Conte is obsessed with the short term. He prefers physically-developed veterans and has little faith in new players, which contradicts the importance of La Masia in Barcelona. Furthermore, he is known for his volatility and is prone to quitting if he does not get his way in terms of squad recruitment. He doesn’t speak the language, which is a problem considering how focused he would be on learning new topics. Finally, Conte shares Barcelona’s major flaw in that he consistently underperforms in the Champions League.
Erik ten Hag
Pros: He’s young and he’s from Ajax, so he’ll immediately fit in at the Camp Nou. His Ajax side came agonizingly close to reaching the 2019 Champions League final, thanks to a fantastic attacking style centred around Frenkie de Jong. He knows how to bring out the best in weaker players and how to develop young players, so it’s easy to envision him bonding with every member of this Barcelona group, especially given that he’s won the Eredivisie twice and has that winning mindset.
Cons: Despite popular belief, Ten Hag’s Ajax do not play a Cruyff-style of game. Sure, it’s terrific football, but Ten Hag’s approach is more direct, so the smooth link that usually exists for the Ajax-to-Barcelona pipeline might be a little rockier for him. Furthermore, the fact Ajax has struggled in Europe each season he has coached them suggests that, like Conte, even if he takes them to domestic triumph, he may not be able to solve Barcelona’s biggest footballing problem.
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