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.”