Why Ernesto Valverde isn't worthy of a second season at Barcelona
Hiring and sacking is part of football. In fact, it somewhat dominates, adding to the game's beauty.
In 2014/15, Barcelona produced one of the greatest campaigns in history to secure the treble. Blaugrana possessed a deadly attacking trio in 'MSN'. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar tore opposition to shreds. Under Luis Enrique's tutorship, no side wanted to face the Catalans.
In the space of two years, however, Barca had fallen. They were dismantled by Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup, failed to advance past the Champions League quarter-finals twice before eventually losing their La Liga crown to fierce rivals Real Madrid. The Camp Nou needed change. Enrique's exit last summer was anticipated. Neymar's was not.
Ernesto Valverde replaced Enrique. The former Bilbao boss was tasked with returning Barcelona to glory days. Lifting the Champions League trophy was the chief target.
Having built a strong side, Valverde seemed capable of delivering. Neymar wasn't missed. The Spanish coach can't recreate the old Barca, though. His tactic is simple: get the ball to Messi.
Messi has shown outstanding form this season. Valverde’s decision to play him as a false number nine is producing wonders. In a free role, the Argentina international dictates play, creates chances and scores goals. Usually all without assistance. He has netted a staggering 40 times in all competitions this campaign, as well as recording 14 assists.
With an 11 point lead atop La Liga, while remaining unbeaten through the season's 33 games, Barcelona are cruising to the title. It's a result of Messi's masterful performance, though, not brilliant tactics from the man in the dugout.
Messi's rejuvenation is Valverde's biggest achievement so far in charge of Barca.
Valverde has made a major mistake, however, making Barcelona more dependent on Messi than in previous years. Remove the Argentine and the Blaugrana squad looks empty.
Xavi has left the Camp Nou. Andres Iniesta will soon follow suit. Messi, meanwhile, can't perform at his peak forever. Barca must prepare for life without their talisman. Valverde has the necessary tools to build a balanced team. Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho can cover midfield. Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez could share greater responsibility up top. With those weapons, a good coach would remove individual dependence, not increase it.
When Messi failed to perform, Barcelona crumbled against Roma. Having travelled to the Stadio Olimpico with a 4-1 first-leg advantage, the Catalans eased off, conceding three times without replying. For one of Europe's biggest hitters, suffering Champions League elimination to a team of the Giallorossi's calibre is a disgrace. That was reason enough to sack Valverde.
To become the ultimate team, maximum consistency and determination are required. No mistake can be tolerated, particularly from managers. That was key to Real Madrid's recent European successes. Los Blancos began this season poorly, but they are now on course to win the Champions League for the third time in a row. Zinedine Zidane knew the exit was looming if he didn't deliver. No wonder his side play like beasts in Europe. Barcelona's board should take note.
Zidane's men will look to further undermine Valverde's position with victory in El Clasico on 6 May. Barca's undefeated streak will face a severe test.
Winning only the Copa del Rey and La Liga isn't good enough for Blaugrana. The Champions League is the real measure of success. Valverde failed spectacularly in that regard.
Only a new manager can rectify the situation. Valverde tried but failed. He shouldn't last beyond the season at Barcelona.