Who is FC Barcelona’s Newest Coach, Ernesto Valverde?

Time to meet the new boss.

Ernesto Valverde left Athletic Club Bilbao after a four year spell to become FC Barcelona’s newest coach, taking the reigns from Luis Enrique. Who is he? Let’s dive in.

He was born in Viandar de la Vera, in the province of Cáceres, in Extremadura in 1964. As an infant, he moved to the Basque country. Eventually, he made his way to the Deportivo Alaves youth system, the club which gave him his debut in the Segunda Division, before moving on to the Basque team Sestao Sport Club, also in Segunda.

He eventually wound up at RCD Espanyol, where he made his La Liga debut. After two years, he moved crosstown to FC Barcelona, where he would stay a further two years. During that time, he won a Copa del Rey and an UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. He was not frequently used under Johan Cruyff, in large part due to injury problems, though Cruyff revealed later that he always liked him.

In 1990, he moved to Athletic, being eligible to play under the club’s Basque-only policy due to having lived as a youngster in the Basque country. There he spent the biggest chunk of his playing career, becoming an important player for the Bilbao-based club. He finished his playing career with one season at Mallorca.

As a manager, he began as an assistant at Athletic, then coached Bilbao Athletic (their B team) before taking the reigns of the senior side in 2003.

He did a good job in his first season, getting into the UEFA Cup thanks to a fifth place finish. In his second season, his team finished a respectable 9th. He left after disagreements with the club president, Fernando Lamikiz.

After taking a years’ sabbatical, he coached another team he used to play for: Espanyol, who had finished 15th previously. He took them to a comfortable 11th place finish, Notably, he took Espanyol to the UEFA Cup Final as well, where they lost in dramatic fashion. Despite having equalized in added time a man down against Sevilla, they lost on penalties. In his second and last year at Espanyol, his team finished 12th.

He took over Greek side Olympiacos FC for a year, winning the domestic double. He was not renewed due to financial issues despite his success and signed for Villarreal back in Spain after Manuel Pellegrini was signed by Real Madrid.

He was considered a disappointment at Villarreal, who finished fifth the previous season. They had a very sluggish start and though they improved as the season went on, Valverde was sacked midway. His team was 9th when he was sacked and ended the season 10th.

He returned to Greece to get his career back on track. Olympiacos failed to win the league while Valverde was gone, but they won it again the season he came back, and once more for the next year Valverde managed them. He also won the Greek Cup once more.

Once again he returned to Spanish football in 2012, this time as a replacement for Mauricio Pellegrino after he was sacked during the season by Valencia. Los che were in 12th place in December, and Valverde was tasked with bringing them up to European places.

It was at this time that his former boss, Cruyff, praised him: “It’s a great decision by Valencia. When he was a player, he was very smart, and he always showed interest in learning. He is one of the most accomplished and promising managers in Spanish football.”

Valverde backed up the Dutchman’s high praise with a job well done, finishing the season in fifth place. During his time as coach, only Barcelona and Real Madrid were ahead of him in terms of points. However, he decided not to renew his contract at Mestalla.

He was appointed Athletic Club manager once more in 2013. The lions had just come off a middling season under Marcelo Bielsa, who the season before had brought them to the Europa League and Copa del Rey final. But in Bielsa’s second year, they finished 12th and were eliminated very early from both the Europa League and the cup.

Valverde’s first season at Athletic was an unmitigated success as they finished fourth and got into the Champions League. His second season saw them finish a respectable 7th in the league but return to the Copa del Rey final, where they were undone by Luis Enrique’s treble-winning Barcelona and a Lionel Messi goal for the ages.

They got their revenge in due time, and how. Valverde’s men faced Barcelona in the Spanish Supercup, where they thrashed them in the first leg 4-0. The second leg finished 1-1, and at last, Athletic had a trophy. – their first in 31 years. They also had another strong finish in La Liga – 5th. In this past season, his fourth and final, Valverde’s Athletic finished 7th again.

Valverde was on Barcelona’s radar for a very long time and had previously been considered when Tata Martino left and the job eventually went to Luis Enrique. Now, he finally has his chance.

So, we all know Josep Guardiola went by Pep. Francesc Vilanova went by Tito. Gerardo Martino went by Tata. Luis Enrique Martinez went by Lucho. What cute, simple nickname does Ernesto Valverde prefer? Txingurri.

Come again? It’s the Basque word for “ant.”

Controversial Luis Enrique Leaves Barcelona with a Raft of Trophies

After three seasons.

The Luis Enrique era is over after the latest Copa del Rey triumph. Ernesto Valverde of Athletic Club Bilbao will by every account be named his successor. But before we get swept up in the plans for the future, let’s talk about the era we just completed.

It’s sometimes overlooked that Luis Enrique was an important player before he was a manager. He spent 8 seasons at Barcelona, where he developed a reputation for being a jack-of-all trades and a reliable goalscorer. He also captained Barça and was one of their best players of the mid 90s to mid 00s.

After retirement, he became a manager. Lucho was a coach linked with Barcelona often because he had been highly successful as B team coach. He brought them back to the Segunda Division after an 11 year absence. After, he left to start a project at AS Roma in 2011, hoping to export the Barcelona model to Italy. Here he had a middling season while he tried to reformat the side. His team finished 7th, about par for Roma in those times (in the preceding season they finished 6th, in the next one 6th again.)

He left after one year and wouldn’t return until 2013, when he took over Spanish side Celta Vigo. Here he achieved his first success as first team manager. The year before Lucho arrived, the Galicians had finished two points above the drop thanks in large part due to top scorer Iago Aspas. When Lucho arrived, Celta sold Aspas to Liverpool. Yet Lucho’s men got into the top half of the table. They finished the season on a flurry of good results, four wins out of five… including a 2-0 victory over Real Madrid that ended Los Blancos‘ title hopes.

For his good work at Celta and longtime association with Barça, Luis Enrique became the Catalans’ manager in 2014. His first year started off very strongly but almost fell apart at the midway point. A loss in el Clasico and a memorable defeat to Real Sociedad started talks of a crisis that ended in the sacking of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta.

Despite the doom and gloom, the team was not doing all that bad. They won their Champions League group, were in striking distance of the league, and were progressing in the cup. However, that shock seemed to jolt them into form, and from then on, they looked nigh-unbeatable.

Finishing with just the second treble in history – and becoming the first club to have two – was a phenomenal success for Lucho. More so when you consider his perilous Champions League path, which included Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage, Manchester City, PSG again, Bayern Munich, and Juventus.

His follow up season was almost as successful, with a domestic double, the European Supercup and the Club World Cup, and an iconic 4-0 win over Real Madrid. But Barcelona fell short in the Champions League, where they were eliminated by Atletico Madrid.

In this past season, it was another reduction in the number of trophies: just the cup this time. They were close in the league, missing out by just three points. But the Champions League campaign was chaotic. Yes, it produced one of the most memorable comebacks of all time, when they defeated PSG 6-1 in the second leg, 6-5 on aggregate. But the fact is they lost to PSG and Juve by appalling scorelines away from home (0-4 and 0-3). Against the Turin based club, they could not overturn it.

Luis Enrique was criticized for a sometimes confusing youth policy. He gave playing time to Munir El-Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez but both were shipped off for the expensive Paco Alcacer, possibly with little improvement in the process. Marc Bartra was let go partly in favor of veteran Jeremy Mathieu. Andre Gomes was bought with Denis Suarez, Rafinha, and Sergi Samper already in the team. Alex Grimaldo was never given a chance while Lucas Digne was bought.

Equally, he did oversee the renaissance of Sergi Roberto and brought along Marlon, who looks like a good player. Rafinha has Lucho’s fingerprints all over him, having coached him in the B team, brought him to Celta, then brought him back to Barcelona. Luis Enrique gave several young men their debuts, though it remains to be seen how many have a long term future at the Camp Nou.

A fitness freak, Luis Enrique emphasized maintaining physical condition with a very aggressive rotation policy, which sometimes landed him in trouble after fielding under-strength sides. He had a prickly personality that rubbed some the wrong way, but he was also a very witty guy that the players seemed to eventually warm up to.

There were also complaints about playing style and tactics, with a team set up to counterattack more often and a de-emphasis on midfield play. It was sometimes hard to forget that yes, Barcelona did dominate possession in nearly every game they played. And that over the years, the team was not always a model of tiki taka, and probably won’t always will be.

The complaint is there, but it’s a matter of taste. When it comes to results, there’s no arguing Lucho brought a slate of trophies most managers would be envious of. And in truth, only Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff surpass him when it comes to winners’ medals in Catalonia.

Luis Enrique might fall short of that high bar, but there’s hardly any shame in coming close to such a stratospheric standard.

Speaking earlier this year, Gerard Pique reflected: “When Luis Enrique came, we came from being absolute sh*t. I would like everyone to remember all the work he’s done with us and all he left us in his time as player. We are with him to the death.”

More recently, Pique went further: “He is one of the best managers in history. It’s easy to just remember the titles, because there have been so many. However, the thing I’ll remember is him as a person. He didn’t always have the best relationship with all of us, but he eventually conquered the locker room. It’s been three wonderful years.”

How will you remember Luis Enrique?

Paris Saint-Germain Star Marco Verratti To Decide Future Amid FC Barcelona Interest

It may be now or never

Marco Verratti is about to take some time off and go to Ibiza, where he will wait for FC Barcelona to make their move. According to a report from Mundo Deportivo, Verratti has told his teammates he’s staying at Paris Saint-Germain, but his friends know that the temptation to play with Lionel Messi and win the Champions League with Barça is strong.

His exit would be complicated, since PSG consider him an important building block. But if a good enough offer comes in, Verratti could be tempted to talk to the club president about allowing him a move. The report says if Verratti leaves PSG, his only choice is Barcelona. He is not tempted by Bayern Munich or Chelsea.

The report also says that Robert Fernandez, Barcelona’s sporting director, thinks the team needs a Verratti-like player: an organizer who sits a bit deeper, a “Xavi.” That means his priority is not Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool – a more attacking midfielder. It remains to be seen what Ernesto Valverde, widely assumed to be the incoming coach, thinks.

That would also mean they don’t see Angel Di Maria – another PSG player – as a priority signing. Their main goal then, is Verratti.

The PSG club president, Nasser Al Khalafi, for his part, doesn’t want to hear it. He’s promising Verratti he’ll strengthen the team to compete for the Champions League crown. Of course, that’s what he said last year… and PSG didn’t win even Ligue 1, and were knocked out by Barcelona in Europe.

We’ll see if that’s enough to make Verratti decide to leave. If he doesn’t now, he may never. The coming vacation weeks may prove a turning point.

Transfer Rumor: Barcelona Set Sights on Manchester United’s Ander Herrera

Valverde is said to be a fan.

By all accounts, Athletic Club Bilbao’s Ernesto Valverde is going to be Barcelona’s next coach, and a new report in Diario SPORT says he has an ex-Athletic player in mind to solve Barça’s midfield problem: Ander Herrera.

He is coming off a good season at Manchester United, capped off by a Europa League win. He only has one season left in his contract, meaning, if he doesn’t renew, Barcelona would have a much simpler path to getting him.

Valverde coached Herrera for a season at Athletic, where the midfielder became an important player and attracted United to pay his release clause.

Barcelona have kept Herrera on the radar for a while, but they have yet to make a formal approach.

Barça are in the market for a midfield signing, but their top priorities – PSG’s Marco Verratti and Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho – may be out of reach.

Jose Mourinho wants to retain Herrera, though, so United could throw a lot of money his way. If Herrera doesn’t sign a renewal, Barcelona could be in for him either this coming window or in 2018.

Luis Suarez Injured for Copa del Rey Final Between Barcelona and Deportivo Alaves

Disappointing news.

The good news: Luis Suarez is on vacation now. The bad news: it’s because he’s injured for Barcelona’s last game of the season, against Deportivo Alaves.

Suarez picked up a muscle injury in training and will be out for around two weeks. He will miss the friendly between Italy and Uruguay on June 6th as well. Therefore, he won’t be back playing until Barcelona’s next preseason.

Luis Enrique is already missing Sergi Roberto through suspension, this is another setback in what could be a very complicated Copa del Rey final.

Is it Paco Alcacer’s time to prove his worth after a slow start to the season following his summer switch from Valencia?

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in for Barcelona Target – Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin

Will Barça look elsewhere?

Diario SPORT is reporting that Manchester City are pursuing Arsenal right-back Hector Bellerin, a Barcelona target. Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and former Barcelona director Txiki Begiristain, now occupying those posts for City, are said to be heavily interested in the player.

Begiristain is preparing an opening offer, and Pep insists on Bellerin, the report says.

The transfer is difficult given Bellerin has a long term contract in London, but there could be an opening depending on the situation if current boss Arsene Wenger leaves Arsenal. He said he “doesn’t know” if he’s on the brink of his last match with the Gunners.

In any case, it would take a massive amount of money – no less than 40 million euro, says SPORT, to pry Bellerin away from Arsenal.

Meanwhile, Barcelona are not making progress in their pursuit of Bellerin. According to the report, they are not at the moment making any further movement towards the Gunner.

Bellerin is a former Barcelona academy player.

Jeremy Mathieu Intends to Stay at Barcelona, But Barça Don’t Want Him

Awkward…

According to a report by beIN SPORTS, French defender Jeremy Mathieu wants to remain in Barcelona until the end of next season. After all, he still has a contract for one more year. Just one problem: Barcelona don’t want him.

Mathieu has not played a single minute since Barcelona’s 3-0 loss against Juventus, when he was hauled off at half time, having played a bad match up to that point.

Officially he has an injury, but there’s good reason to believe Luis Enrique simply froze him out of the team for good.

True, Lucho won’t be the coach come next season, but it seems that FC Barcelona are no longer interested in the Frenchman’s services regardless of who takes the reigns… especially with the emergence of Marlon from Barcelona B in the last few weeks.

Mathieu arrived in Luis Enrique’s first season, taking a pay cut from his Valencia contract to join. Despite proving crucial at certain points (quite memorably, a goal against Real Madrid), Mathieu has fallen out of favor.

There’s one obvious solution for both parties, though: pay him money to buy up his contract.

Aleix Vidal Recovering Quickly, Still Doubtful for Barcelona’s Copa del Rey Final vs. Alaves

He is set to be back in training much sooner than expected.

Barcelona right-back Aleix Vidal is progressing quickly after a long injury layoff, but he is not expected to be fit for the last game of the season. Vidal is set to return to training and will travel to the Copa del Rey final against Deportivo Alaves after being out for three months.

Vidal has been praised for his positive attitude during his time out, and his recovery has surprised doctors, who predicted he would be out for five months.

However, it would be an incredibly difficult task to go from three months out to playing in a cup final. Thus it would seem very unlikely that Vidal will play any role at all.

This is too bad, as regular starter Sergi Roberto is suspended. Will Luis Enrique bow out with a 3-4-3 formation? Javier Mascherano at right-back? Or, perhaps in the most Luis Enrique way possible – with Andre Gomes playing fullback? We’ll see.

WATCH: Barcelona Youth Sensation Lee Seung-woo Scores Wondergoal for South Korea vs. Argentina at FIFA U-20 World Cup

His team won 2-1.

Ninteen-year-old South Korean attacker Lee Sung-woo, who plays for Barcelona’s academy, scored a worldie as his team defeated Argentina 2-1 in the U-20 FIFA World Cup.

Picking the ball up near the halfway line, he dribbled past one defender, outran the rest, and chipped the onrushing keeper to give South Korea an early lead.

Paik Seung-ho, a Barcelona B player, doubled the hosts’ advantage with a spot kick before half time. Argentina got a late consolation via Marcelo Torres to make the final score South Korea 2, Argentina 1.

Lee arrived at La Masia in 2011, at the age of 13, and became one of La Masia’s most hyped talents. In 2014, when Lee was 16, he was banned from playing any official matches until he turned 18 due to Barcelona breaking FIFA’s eligibility rules concerning young players, which also resulted in the club being banned from registering players for two transfer windows.

Back now playing for Juvenil A, Lee is trying to get his career back on track, and by the looks of it, doing a fine job of that. He also scored in South Korea’s opening win over Guinea, which ended 3-0.

Uruguayan defender Santiago Bueno, another Juvenil A player, is also present at the tournament.

Former Barcelona President Sandro Rosell Arrested As Part of FBI Investigation

Serious charges of money laundering are involved.

Former FC Barcelona President Sandro Rosell and his wife, Marta Pineda, have been detained by Spanish police as part of a joint FBI probe of money laundering in football.

Police raided offices and homes in Catalonia as an investigation alleges impropriety over the sale of the Brazil national team’s image rights. Authorities say nearly €15m may have been laundered.

Before becoming Barça’s president in 2010, Rosell was the head of Nike Brazil, which manufactures uniforms for the national team. He also had close relationships with the former president of the Brazilian FA, Ricardo Teixeira, who is also under investigation. Rosell and Teixera had several deals in the 90s, some of which are under suspicion.

Rosell quit Barcelona after allegations of impropriety in the transfer of Neymar from Brazilian club Santos. The then-president insisted he was innocent but nonetheless resigned his post.

Josep Maria Bartomeu was Rosell’s vice president, and he won the right to serve the rest of the outgoing president’s term in an election he won with a clear majority among the socis (shareholders/members) of the club. Bartomeu is expected to serve until 2021.

It bears repeating that we do not know yet if Rosell is guilty, but these are very serious allegations.