Valverde’s Barca: A Perfect Example of Revisionism in Football
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Valverde’s Barca: A Perfect Example of Revisionism in Football

31/01/24 16:07

El Txingurri is a genius. There are no doubts about that. Johan Cruyff acknowledged it. The numbers back it. As Barca manager he won 108 games, drew 35 and lost only 20 games in 2 and a half years at the club. Yet, I would go as far as to call him one of the worst managers in the history of the Blaugranas and up until a few months ago, the masses would agree with me. However, today, a large chunk of the fanbase and the media portray him as a hero. And that is the power of revisionism in football.

Ernesto Valverde’s arrival at Barcelona was met with a mixed reaction from the fans and media alike. Some argued that he was yet to prove himself at a big club whilst others praised his work at Athletic Bilbao and believed that he could do wonders with the likes of Messi, Iniesta and Suarez etc in his arsenal. What was clear though is that despite having one of the best squads in Europe at his disposal, it was always going to be extremely difficult to replace club hero Luis Enrique. The fans wanted both Domestic and European glory and they also wanted the team to continue playing the “Tiki Taka” brand of football that they become accustomed to watching. The manager had a lot to deliver.

Valverde faced a huge blow right off the bat with the departure of Neymar Jr to PSG. Neymar was one of the best players in the world and an integral part of the team so his departure took the team and the fans by surprise. Barcelona did however receive a staggering total of €222m for their superstar. This would have given Ernesto ample funds to bring in a replacement of his choice. Under the disastrous management of a certain Josep Maria Bartemou, the money was destined to be mismanaged though. A good manager should always have the guts to stand up to his President to get what he wants.

We saw it with Cruyff and Nunes as well as Pep Guardiola and Joan Laporta. However the money was spent on a teenage Dembele, a staggering €105m which he failed to live up to in the 6 years he spent at the club. Phillipe Coutinho was also signed for a transfer fee of around €160m and yet Valverde never really found a proper role for him in his team and it seemed like there was planning behind his arrival, sporting wise. Transfers like this seemed to have much more of a commercial importance than sporting and they made El Txingurri seem like a “yes man” for the board.

Valverde shifted the team to a 4-4-2 formation in his first season in charge. The team continued to bring in results though and it was easy to see why. Its always easy to win when you have players like Suarez, Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitic, Umtiti and Ter Stegen etc performing at a very high level. And of course, a certain Lionel Messi was in incredible form.

So, the players did manage to cover up the cracks in the system but the warning signs were visible. In the 2017/18 season, Barcelona resorted to a rather defensive approach compared to the football Luis Enrique played. The team also lost a certain intensity in their football. Thus, whilst the team coasted in La Liga, losing only 1 game in the entire league season, the team was exposed in Europe. The 3-0 loss against Roma remains one of the most embarrassing moments in in the history of the Blaugranas. The team was completely humiliated and exposed by a far inferior team.

The good results of the previous season persuaded the club to give Valverde atleast one more season at the helm. Whilst the manager did switch the team back to the traditional 4-3-3, the football played was far from Guardiola-esque. The team looked slow, sluggish and the lack of intensity was becoming clearer.

El Txingurri did have an ace up his sleeve though. He was called Lionel Messi. Messi pulled off arguably his greatest ever season in a Barcelona jersey in 2018/19. Not only was he scoring the majority goals for the team, he was also their primary creative outlet. The team took Messi dependency to another level. Messi felt like the entire system of the team. He almost carried the team to a historic treble but unfortunately, not even Lionel Messi is capable of that. That historic night at Anfield will always remain the most painful night in recent memory for the Cules. Heading into the second leg of Champions League semi final with a 3-0 lead, courtesy of a Lionel Messi brace, Barcelona were already booking their tickets to the final.

However, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool played Valverde’s men of the pitch that night. He exploited the lack of intensity and pressing and gave the Spanish giants a proper schooling. Perhaps the best representation of Valverde’s failures would be the image of Jordi Alba crying in the dressing room at half time. Valverde’s side was manhandled and the Barca fans wanted answers. The team won La Liga again thanks to Messi’s incredible form and they lost the Copa Del Ray final with another demoralised performance.

Consecutive humiliations in the Champions League might have been a recipe for sacking at any other club but Bartemou and co were ready to give Valverde another chance. They bought him Antoine Griezmann for €120m. As expected, the manager had no role for him in the team and the Frenchman was made to play in multiple positions and failed to make a huge impact. Despite this, the team made a decent start to the season.

Unfortunately, the football they played was nothing like what you would expect from a Barcelona team. The fans were no longer behind the manager and he was sacked in January 2020, after losing the semi final of the Spanish Super Copa to Atletico Madrid.

The team was still top of La Liga when he left. However, Valverde had already sowed the seeds for the 8-2 drubbing against Bayern Munich that took place later that season.

There were celebrations from the fans when Valverde left and yet in early 2024, he is looked back as a hero by some. People remember the trophies he won but overlook the many flaws of his era. He had the opportunity to set Barcelona up for the future. The club was in a better state financially than they are currently and Valverde could have looked to bring in long term replacements for players like Busquets, Alba and even Messi.

Instead, we got big money commercial signings that only led to an inflated wage bill and mediocrity on the pitch. Valverde also had the opportunity to make Messi’s last season be memorable for triumphs instead of the humiliations.

It is easy to look back fondly on Valverde’s time here because of the illusion of winning. His time at Barcelona took the club down a path which made them unrecognisable. Whilst Xavi may not be enjoying the success of El Txingurri, it is important to understand that he has to undo the damage caused by his predecessors before he can create a legacy of his own. Today, Barcelona is far from what it used to be but the team is still on the right track. The revisionism on Valverde’s time at the club has already begun but you just have to follow the first signs of decline and they will lead you back to those two-and-a-half years. Do not let the nostalgia blind you.

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