Less than ten years ago, Barcelona were the most distinctive football club in the world. They had a flawless long-term plan in place and an uncompromised identity. They turned over record-breaking financial profits while greedily hoarding every trophy available to them.
In 2020, they’ve just swapped the prodigious Arthur Melo for over-the-hill Miralem Pjanic to keep their FFP ticking over for another 12 months. Their boardroom is in unprecedented state of turmoil, they’ve just shipped eight goals to Bayern Munich, and their incoming manager is someone who was sacked by Everton less than three years ago.
Barcelona’s decision that Ronald Koeman is the man to lead them into a new era might prove to be a far more carefully considered decision than it seems at face value, but that’s giving too much credit to one of the worst-run clubs in 21st century football.
Let’s face it. All signs suggest the Dutchman is not a good enough manager for the task at hand.
Superficially, it may seem like a good fit. He’s a respected figure at the club at which he won four league titles and a European Cup as a player. A student of Johan Cruyff, he also has the stylistic principles that are a key mandate for any manager at the Nou Camp.
Are we ready for the ‘no’ column now? Here it comes.
Even if we side-step the obvious trap of defining him by the disastrous ending to his Everton spell, his previous track record doesn’t even whisper ‘world class manager.’ He’s had nine club jobs and been sacked four times – we’re being generous and not including his ‘resignation’ from Ajax in 2005.
His four-year stay with the Eredivisie giants was the longest spell of his career to date, but even that was an outlier. His average stay at a club is around 18 months.
He’s won the odd trophy – eight major honours in 17 years as a club coach isn’t bad going – but he has never figured out how to sustain that success.
Do Barcelona, then, really see him as a long-term appointment? Or is this yet another desperate, short-termist decision, designed to win them next season’s La Liga, before worrying about the rest of it when it comes?
Koeman leaves his post in charge of the Netherlands, where he has restored his managerial reputation under difficult circumstances. He took over a Dutch side in dire straights, alarmingly low on morale and suffering from their own identity crisis; in a short space of time he had them firing on all cylinders, strolling towards Euro 2020 with swashbuckling aplomb.
It’s easy to see why Barcelona feel they can use elements of that, but they have once again missed the point.
International management, after all, is a world away from elite club football. It’s essentially a different job, more streamlined with a less demanding schedule, and some managers find that suits them – which perhaps explains Koeman’s Dutch revival.
So yeah, why not take him out of the simmering frying pan and chuck him into the Barcelona cauldron? I mean, he has a whole four weeks to gut out the most bloated, fractured, unmanageable squad on planet earth and put it back together on a shoestring budget. What could go wrong?
Barcelona in its present state is a vat of uninhabitable toxic waste, but rather rooting out the causal issues, they are intent on finding a manager capable of succeeding, and sustaining success, in these impossibly hostile conditions.
If that needle in a haystack does exist, it is not at-all likely to be Koeman – regardless of the fact he has ‘Barcelona DNA’ or whatever they are telling themselves to justify another ludicrous decision.
Koeman’s likeable nature means most of us will be rooting for him to get it right at Barca. Unfortunately, all evidence suggests he will be chewed up and spat out by a club with no identity, direction, or common sense.