On Jan. 13, Futbol Club Barcelona (FC Barcelona), in somewhat of a surprising move, decided to sack their manager of two and a half years, Ernesto Valverde, mid-season.
Since his hiring in 2017, Valverde won the La Liga league title twice, once in the 2017-18 season and again in the 2018-19 season. He also won the Copa del Rey title in the 2017-18 season and the Supercopa de España in 2018. Nevertheless, after FC Barcelona’s high-profile losses in the UEFA Champions League semi-final to Liverpool FC and the Copa del Rey final to Valencia CF in 2019, as well as their recent performance in the 2019-2020 La Liga campaign, including a 2-3 defeat in the Spanish Super Cup semi-final in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Atletico Madrid on Jan. 8, it was decided at a meeting between president Josep Maria Bartomeu, board member Javier Bordas, CEO Oscar Grau and director of football Eric Abidal that Valverde would be relieved of his duties as manager. Enrique Setién Solar, also known as Quique Setién would be his replacement. Setién, who recently served as the manager of La Liga’s Real Betis, received a contract that runs through June 30, 2022.
Officially the Campeonato Nacional de Liga de Primera División, La Liga is the men’s top professional football division of the Spanish football league system. La Liga is one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the world, with an average attendance of 26,933. This is the sixth highest for any domestic professional sports league in the world, and third highest among professional association football leagues, behind the Premier League and the Bundesliga. Currently sitting in second place in the La Liga standings, FC Barcelona are three points behind rivals Real Madrid CF after 23 matches played this season.
Allegedly, Setién was FC Barcelona’s sixth choice for new manager, following Mauricio Pochettino, former manager of Tottenham Hotspur FC, Massimiliano Allegri, former manager of Juventus and Xavi Hernandez, FC Barcelona legend and current manager of Al Sadd, a football club in the Qatar Stars League.
Since Setién’s hiring, FC Barcelona has a 3-1-0 record in La Liga, beating 10-man Granada at Camp Nou 1-0 on Jan. 19, losing 0-2 to Valencia on Jan. 25, a 2-1 home win against Levante on Feb. 2., as well as winning 2-3 over Real Betis on Feb. 9. There was also a questionable performance against UD Ibiza, in the Segunda División B, which is the third level of the Spanish football league system in the Copa del Rey Round of 32, which ended in a 2-1 win. Most shockingly, FC Barcelona crashed out of the Copa del Rey tournament, along with Real Madrid, against Athletic Bilbao in the quarter-final due to an own goal from midfielder Sergio Busquets in overtime.
Many fans of FC Barcelona have been yearning for a return to the tiki-taka style of play, which is characterized by short passing and constant movement, made famous by Pep Guardiola, former manager of FC Barcelona. Many critics of Valverde have cited his heavy reliance on Lionel Messi, as well as his disappearance during important matches. There have been short glimpses of this tiki-taka style with Setién’s side, but it is impossible to say if it is here to stay and more importantly, if it will be successful in today’s game.